By Michael Easterbrook
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s grantees all have novel ideas, says Tom Reis, its program director of philanthropy and volunteerism.
What some grantees don’t have, he says, are leaders with the financial and management experience needed to build organizations able to weather the challenges nonprofits often face.
“The idea may be great,” Reis says, “but if you can’t execute the idea, it’s worthless.”
Ensuring that its grantees survive to make their good ideas reality is the goal of a new partnership the foundation created in June through a three-year, $9.3 million grant.
The grant brings together the Fieldstone Alliance and the Nonprofit Finance Fund in a partnership whose aim is to help Kellogg’s more than 800 grantees improve their performance, effectiveness and financial sustainability.
The foundation picked Fieldstone Alliance and Nonprofit Finance Fund because they’re the best at what they do, Reis says.
Based in St. Paul, Minn., Fieldstone Alliance helps nonprofits fine-tune their organizational planning and management structures.
The Nonprofit Finance Fund, with headquarters in New York, provides groups with financial analysis and access to capital – an investment bank of sorts for the nonprofit sector.
“By combining our two approaches, we’re providing a unique combination of organizational and financial assessment that will help Kellogg Foundation grantees thrive over the long haul,” says Chris Jenkins, vice president of program and product development at the Nonprofit Finance Fund.
Fieldstone Alliance will serve as the grant recipient and primary project manager.
The program, which has not been named yet, will have its own director and the two groups plan to begin working with grantees in September.
“A lot of the details are still to be decided,” says Carol Lukas, founder and president of Fieldstone Alliance. “All we can say at this point…is that this is a concentrated effort on Kellogg’s part to boost the effectiveness, impact and sustainability of its grantee organizations.”
Although Reis says the program will in one way or another reach out to all the foundation’s grantees, its focus will be on small and medium-sized groups, which make up at least three-quarters of Kellogg’s grantees.
The program will offer one-on-one consultations, training and access to capital.
It will also organize workshops and conferences and provide grantees with publications and other tools to help them improve their financial and organizational structures.
Not all of the assistance will come from Fieldstone Alliance and Nonprofit Finance Fund, Lukas says. If a grantee needs help with something that falls outside the specialty of either of those two groups, an outside organization will be contracted.
“We hope to identify providers from around the country who are good in their area of work,” she says.
The creation of the program comes at a challenging time for nonprofits.
While there is no shortage of financial and management wizards leading larger nonprofits, smaller groups often rely on leaders with little experience in those areas.
At the same time, says Lukas, audit requirements are getting stricter and the needs in communities where most nonprofits are working are growing more complex.
“There is an invisible corps of nonprofits working in neighborhoods across the country whose organizations are very fragile,” she says. “Running a small nonprofit is as difficult as running a good-sized business.”