When it comes to generosity, the Tennessee Valley has no shortage of people and companies willing to invest in their community. There is also no shortage of financial need from the hundreds of worthy non-profit organizations, community projects and church missions. All of the components are in place – the need for assistance, the presence of organizations able to facilitate change, and those companies, organizations, and businesses that are willing to give back to their community financially. The missing piece, however, is the third party keeping an eye on the high-level goals of Huntsville and Madison County – goals that have a big impact and are long lasting.
The Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County is that missing piece in north Alabama.
“There are a couple of ways that the Community Foundation is fulfilling its mission of raising the quality of living in Huntsville and Madison County,” says Stuart Obermann, CEO/President of the Foundation. “Our strategy is to become a facilitator of philanthropy while keeping a long-term vision of what the community is trying to accomplish. Secondly, our aim is to become a resource for the non-profit community, which will help them get more impact from their donor dollars.”
In order to help accomplish those dual goals, the Community Foundation offers two strategic professional development events throughout the year to reach out to donors and non-profits alike. On June 10, they will host Non-Profit University (NPU) at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center. This half-day event provides non-profit professionals, board members and volunteers with ten separate tracks of study. Everything from non-profit 101, to effective fundraising and marketing, to board management will be offered to the expected 650+ guests. The afternoon even concludes with a networking reception, which as Obermann points out, is often something non-profit professionals do not have the luxury of attending since they are busy on the front lines.
In the fall, the Community Foundation will present their 7th annual Summit on Philanthropy, geared towards donors, prospective donors and professionals in the financial advisory industry. Speakers will discuss the importance of reinvesting in our community, while honors will be awarded to distinguished community philanthropists. The goal of the summit parallels one of the goals of the foundation: to create an atmosphere where philanthropists, non-profits and financial specialists work together to create long-term solutions for deep-rooted community issues, while encouraging potential philanthropists to give back to their communities.
The Community Foundation’s commitment to tackle projects that result in enduring change is what attracted Bill Roark, CEO of Torch Technologies, to join their Board of Directors. “Torch has historically been a very charitable company, but typically our grants have been geared towards short-term needs easily addressed with smaller grants. However, we really wanted to do something that lasted long-term in the community,” says Roark.
That is where the Community Foundation’s startup Community Catalyst Fund was particularly intriguing to Roark. In the past, the foundation has only been able to host funds that would be designated for use by each donor. The Catalyst Fund, however, will be the Community Foundation’s resource for providing its own grants in the community. “All of our grants thus far have been driven by the donors. The Catalyst Fund, an unrestricted endowment, will allow the Foundation to invest in long-term systemic issues in our community,” says Obermann.
Oftentimes, donors tend to be what Obermann calls “compassionate philanthropists.” They give because they care about certain people groups or areas of interest. This is not necessarily always done with a long-range vision of the systemic problem they are seeking to solve. The Catalyst Fund would prioritize and pick specific projects addressing the most pressing systemic issues. From there, the goal would be partnerships with other grant-makers to leverage funds and tackle projects on a larger scale.
“We could take on projects that involve many different organizations, both private and government, and collaborate on large-scale projects that would have a material and long-lasting impact,” Obermann stresses.
Roark, along with his Torch Technologies staff, made the decision to become the initial company donor to the Catalyst Fund. He has also played an integral part in recruiting other local businesses and individuals to invest. “The Catalyst Fund is in its infancy right now, but over five or ten years, it will become millions of dollars that will make a meaningful and lasting impact, and that’s what we’re after,” says Roark.
Think about it. Instead of just buying books for children in the inner city who are struggling to read, a fund like this working with other grant-makers could sustain an intensive tutoring program to ensure they know how to read, and are assisted throughout their school experience. “For us,” Roark says, “to leave something that would still be giving to the Huntsville area 100 years from now is huge. I can’t think of a better legacy to leave in the town that’s been so kind to me.”
It is this kind of strategic philanthropy that is at the heart of the Community Foundation’s mission. Their goal for 2015 is to continue spreading the word about the Community Catalyst Fund with the hopes of attracting additional donors. They also want to encourage professionals, volunteers, and board members in the non-profit sector to attend their upcoming Non-Profit University event. Mostly, they want to connect a generous community to the needs within it in a way that makes a lasting impact, making this a better place to live, work and play.
“If people can recognize they have become successful in large part because of this incredible community, a legacy will be built as they turn around and pour back into it,” says Obermann. And here at the Community Journal, we have to agree.