HillaryBig vs. Small and the Traditional Community Foundation “model”

By: Hillary Nather-Detisch In: 2011 Fall Conference| Community Foundations| Endowments and Investing| Governance

20 Sep 2011

I am a morning person.  This may be a result of having three small children who are age 5 and younger, but I find myself most productive and inquisitive at that time of day.  I approach morning plenary sessions bright-eyed, cheery, and ready to learn.  This morning’s session didn’t disappoint.  The knock-out panel comprised Emmett Carson, Andrew Bangser, Brenda Chumley, Benjamin Pierce, and John Kobara, and they knocked it out of the park.

I left the session pondering Emmett’s provocative challenge to review and recreate the traditional community foundation model. The Omaha Community Foundation (OCF) is considered mid to large size. (This is where I should talk about our stats, such as $606 million in assets and 1,000 funds…or you can check it out at www.omahafoundation.org). Our growth has happened mainly during the past five years-we credit not only our generous community, but also a synergy between marketing and development.  Last year, we completed a five-year strategic plan that pushes us into the community leadership arena. But along with moving in that direction, the discussion has centered on resources needed to make changes, impact philanthropy, and grow into the role.  Everything Emmett said resonated with daily discussions I have been having the past year.

Emmett challenged the big vs. small perception of the model and suggested defining a new model, similar to higher education with private and state-funded universities, and community colleges.  They all serve the same purpose, but they have different business models for sustainablility reasons.  Is that where the community foundation field is headed as well?

If I have learned anything from the four fall conferences I have attended the past five years, it is that there seems to be a break between large and small foundations.  I was attending a session yesterday, and Boston Foundation staff mentioned that their foundation employs 74 staff. This fact immediately caused a flurry of whispering amongst participants.  At my table, we murmured that 1 or 3 staff members was a luxury.  My first reaction was the same as many: I can’t do what they do-we don’t have 74 employees!  But then, I thought about it, and I realized I can. I can take the concept of that structure and collaboration and implement it internally.  And I realized I have done that in the past.  When I first started at OCF, we had fewer than 500 funds.  We looked at models from the “big guys” and began to assess what would work for us to implement.  I called Silicon Valley and East Bay to learn more about their models.  We all realize and appreciate the sharing and collaborative nature of community foundation work, and that makes it possible to make positive changes within our own organizations.

We are all busy serving our donors, making impactful grants in our communities, creating change, so we should take Emmett’s challenge seriously and make time to further discuss our models and what will take us successfully the next 100 years.  I’m in-are you?

Hillary Nather-Detisch is director of donor accounts for Omaha Community Foundation.

2 Responses to Big vs. Small and the Traditional Community Foundation “model”

Jessica Janssen

September 21st, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Great post! As a neighboring community foundation in Nebraska, the scale we are working within is significantly smaller than most CFs I have met at this conference. It could be easy to get bogged down with the thought of “no way can we ever pull that off, we’re not big enough”, but I agree with your perspective. It’s more about learning from the successful models and adapting to fit your size and staff capacity. Thanks!

Omaha Community Foundation | Big vs. Small and the Traditional Community Foundation “model”

September 30th, 2011 at 10:51 am

[...] was originally posted on RE: Philanthropy on September 20, 2011. Hillary Nather-Detisch was a guest blogger during the 2011 Council on [...]

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