2016 Confessions: Why I Love My Job!

Do you get a buzz from your work every single day? I do.

About a year ago, after 15+ years working inside large nonprofit organizations, I started my own consulting practice. Now I’m providing philanthropic marketing services to social impact organizations of all sizes and types.

In 2016 I served a long list of exceptional clients. Each one piqued my intellectual curiosity and gave me a new reason to feel passionate about my work.

Here are the highlights of my first year in 60 seconds!

Foundations and Nonprofits Seek New Alignment for Challenging Times

Prepared for AFP’s column in the 2/10 Milwaukee Business Journal:

One would think that Wisconsin’s foundations and the nonprofits they fund would strongly agree about what those organizations need to thrive.  Turns out that is only partly the case.

Wisconsin Philanthropy Network (WPN), a statewide membership association of funders, published the Wisconsin Gives Report in 2016.  The report compiled information from national studies and data sources to help guide all those who support and promote effective philanthropy in Wisconsin. The 2016 report was enhanced by a qualitative and quantitative study of Wisconsin grantmakers, seeking feedback on the type and level of support they awarded, their projections for the upcoming fiscal year and their perceptions of the status of Wisconsin nonprofit service organizations.

Grantmakers identified nonprofits’ top four challenges as:  recruiting new donors, succession planning, building an endowment and meeting the needs and interest of clients and members.

The same questions were asked of Milwaukee-area nonprofit leaders in a 2016 survey by the Public Policy Forum.  Their most commonly cited challenges were recruiting new donors, enhancing visibility and reputation, building an endowment and initiating capital improvements.

Clearly, both sides are in alignment about the financial stresses that nonprofits face – a positive sign for the sector’s future.  However, mismatched concerns suggest that grantors and grantees still have a way to go to fully understand each other.

The gap in understanding will be explored – and narrowed – later this month, when the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter and WPN bring these two groups together to continue the discussion.  At Breakfast with a Grantmaker on February 23, grantors and grantees will discuss how to achieve greater alignment – and make a real difference for our community.

Where’s “up” for Milwaukee philanthropy?

On November 8, 500 luncheon attendees celebrated National Philanthropy Day and honored the past leadership of several Milwaukee philanthropists.  But the event also looked forward:  in a panel discussion convened by the AFP and moderated by Business Journal publisher Kira Lafond, area corporate and nonprofit leaders shared their thoughts on “what’s next” for Milwaukee philanthropy…

Matt Walker, Thrivent Financial regional partner and a founder of Echelon MKE, said he was passionate about the growing community engagement among Milwaukee Millennials, envisioning “thousands of young people getting in line to donate time, talent and treasure, to impact the city in a great way.”

Patrick Rath, SVP of Aurora Health Care Foundation, reported that Aurora is now encouraging its nearly 200 SVPs state-wide to serve on at least one nonprofit board and is studying other policies to motivate community involvement by employees and caregivers.

Thomas Rosenthal, said the Northwestern Mutual Foundation’s education grants portfolio he oversees would be studying new opportunities to expand its support of secondary education.

William Martin, outgoing president of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said AFP would be building new relationships to draw the region’s business community deeper into philanthropy.

Jeannie Fenceroy, Senior Program Manager at Greater Milwaukee Foundation, reported that other grantmakers have lauded GMF for its recent activity around racial equity and inclusion, and vowed that GMF would ramp up its efforts in 2017.

Don Layden is also targeting access and inclusion, hoping to “bring more people onto the three nonprofit board I chair that don’t look like the people serving there today.”  Layden is Operating Partner at Baird Capital and a partner at Quarles & Brady, and serves on the boards of several nonprofits.

Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, said her organization would continue collaboration with the city, the Urban League, and Greater Milwaukee Foundation on “Milwaukee United,” a 10-year action agenda for reducing the “very bright line of disparity between downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.”

Gil Cubia said Johnson Controls will deepen funding relationships in its three adopted neighborhoods near its HQ, and will build “pathways to employment” at Johnson Controls by supporting area technology and engineering education.  Cubia is Director of Global Community Involvement and Engagement.

Dean Rennicke, VP of Marketing at KAPCO Inc., capped the session, saying that his company and Milwaukee as a whole must “galvanize human capital” and involve more local talent in “trying to make our world better.”

Clearly, philanthropy is alive and well in Milwaukee – and 2017 will show it.  How will you make a difference?

Let’s grow a culture of corporate philanthropy for Milwaukee

For the Milwaukee Business Journal, January 2017

The secret to expanding corporate philanthropy in Milwaukee?  Helping companies learn how to do it right.

That’s Kira Lafond’s insight, and she should know.  When Kira became market president and publisher of the Milwaukee Business Journal mid-way through 2016, she vowed to meet with “100 CEOs in 100 days.”  Many of those wide-ranging conversations revealed that many companies want to better understand how to give.

Nonprofit development officers might be surprised at the idea that area companies struggle to give away money (they’re only too glad to help, after all!).  But that’s part of the problem:  Kira found that many companies feel inundated by nonprofit requests.  Triaging and vetting requests is only the beginning; there’s also the time investment required to develop philosophies, policies and procedures that would facilitate giving.  What causes does our company care about?  How does our own mission figure in that question?  Who decides what to fund?  Should we give money directly, or to shareholders or employees and encourage them to do so?  Should we give locally, regionally or worldwide?  Should we give in cash, in-kind, or in human capital?  How do we judge impact of our giving?  And, finally, if managing all this takes too time away from running our business, will we have the resources to give anyway?

Companies often must wrestle with the very question of why to give.  Some give because a stronger community is good for business, some to attract and retain talent (especially Millennials), and some simply because it’s “the right thing to do.”  Those motivations influence how and where giving happens, complicating issues further.

The solution?  “Businesses that have a strong philanthropy model have a responsibility to teach others,” says Kira.  The seeds are already there:  in her meetings, she learned that the area’s dozen or so top-tier corporate funders meet together annually to share giving techniques and perspectives on community need.  “These companies give lots of money, but guiding other companies to join in could be an even greater gift to the community.”

Creating a broad platform for philanthropic learning was the impetus behind the Journal’s first-ever Corporate Citizen event this fall.  More than 300 business leaders attended, not just to laud companies that won recognition for their giving but to learn how they do it.  Kira expects even more to attend in 2017.

“If our community is going to thrive, it’s going to take the generosity and thought leadership of more than a few individuals and corporations,” she says.  “If those with experience help others learn from their success, we’ll be a stronger community in every respect.”