More Than Mere Funders: Foundations as Partners

Guest Correspondence

“A toolbox with intelligence and heart.” That’s how we described Gulf Coast Community Foundation in an annual report 13 years ago. The imagery might seem quaint now. But it still applies, quite well, to how community organizations should view—and utilize—a community foundation like ours.

Many people think of Gulf Coast and other foundations first and foremost as “funders.” In fact, we just entered our new fiscal year, and the most-asked question in recent weeks seems to be, When and how can I apply for a grant this year?

And that’s important. Gulf Coast’s Board of Directors has discretion over funds from which millions of dollars in grants are invested into the work of our region’s nonprofits each year.

But like we said 13 years ago, money is a tool; it can open doors and buy supplies. A community foundation is much more than money. It’s that toolbox, with intelligence and heart, which come from the community members it serves.

As a community foundation, Gulf Coast is a safe harbor for new ideas. It’s a catalyst for partnerships and collaboration. It’s a training ground for future leaders. (Speaking of which, congratulations to the 26 new graduates who just completed our Gulf Coast Leadership Institute yesterday!) And it’s a sentinel for emerging issues on the horizon.

Next week, Gulf Coast kicks off a series of information sessions for nonprofits. We call them Partner Leaders Breakfasts, because that’s what nonprofits are to us: partner leaders. A session like this back in 2004 might have focused mostly on funding rules and guidelines and deadlines for applications. But community foundations have evolved, as have our nonprofit partners. Next week, we’re excited to share details on resources like:

  • Research on future risks to our quality of life and priority areas we should address together to ensure our region keeps moving forward. 
  • Consulting, workshops, and a dedicated web portal to help nonprofits build their staff and governance capacity.
  • Expert guidance on donor development, including fundraising strategies, help with donor discussions, and assistance structuring and accepting a wide range of charitable gifts to benefit your organization.
  • And, yes, grant guidelines and application deadlines for the next 12 months.

The Gulf Coast region is fortunate to have a number of respected foundations, both community and private, that invest in the incredible work of our nonprofit community. But there isn’t enough philanthropic capital to solve every challenge we face. And it really doesn’t help to just throw food or door keys at systemic problems like hunger or homelessness.

With competition for increasingly scarce public resources and growing demands on our civic and nonprofit systems, it’s imperative that we work together toward shared solutions to our biggest challenges. Our region’s nonprofits are leaders and partners in that vital work. Gulf Coast is eager to work side-by-side with them in the months ahead.

To register for one of Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s “Partner Leaders Breakfasts,” go to GulfCoastCF.org and click “Our Events.”

Mark Pritchett is president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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