Each month the Regional Foundation Center’s Inforum newsletter features a local funder, nonprofit, or service provider who discusses their organization's services and how they support the social sector.
Please describe your organization
Foundation Center's mission is to strengthen the social sector by advancing knowledge about philanthropy in the US and around the world. How do we accomplish this mission? We gather and analyze philanthropic data, share it worldwide, and empower nonprofits and other social organizations in order to increase philanthropy's ability to improve the world.
How do you support the nonprofit community?
Foundation Center provides tremendous support to the nonprofit community by creating, curating, and sharing capacity building resources and trainings, and of course, we produce fundraising databases like Foundation Directory Online (FDO) to help you track funding trends and identify new prospects. The vast majority of our resources and services can be accessed for free online or through partner organizations (like the Free Library) in your community. We also play an important role as a convener for nonprofits and social-good organizations through special events held at our regional centers and partner organization locations.
What is your role?
I am very lucky to manage Foundation Center's Funding Information Network. This Network includes more than 450 libraries, nonprofit resource centers, and community foundations across the US and around the world that provide free access to Foundation Center's tools and resources. The Free Library is an outstanding example of one of our Network partners. At locations like the Free Library, you can try out FDO at no cost, take a class or two on grantseeking basics, and get connected to your local social sector community. I absolutely love my role at Foundation Center—not only because I'm also a librarian and enjoy working with so many colleagues in the field, but because I believe the Network fully delivers on Foundation Center's mission to strengthen the sector and advance knowledge in communities that need it most.
What does your organization do best?
Foundation Center thrives because of our data-driven approach to building amazing resources and because our diverse and talented staff is plugged into the sector, actively working to understand the needs of foundations and nonprofits. It's very cool to work for an organization that is, in many ways, a tech company, but on the other hand, provides direct service to its users. Here in our New York City center, our application development and web services teams work on building FDO, Foundation Maps, and other tools, while just down the hall, our library is open to the public 24 hours a week and staffed by social sector librarians providing classes and reference support. I think it's pretty special that we work towards our mission in such a range of ways.
Are there any future programs or plans you would like to highlight?
While many professionals in the nonprofit world are familiar with FDO, you should keep an eye out for some exciting upcoming data additions and enhancements. Last year, we launched a new Enterprise Data Management System that will enable us to process up to 10x more grant records in the next year than we were able to in the past. These additions are so important to providing new funding possibilities for nonprofits.
I'd also love to highlight our training resources and programs. We are always adding and announcing new in-person and online trainings, while also continuing to build up our self-paced e-learning course curriculum. These self-paced e-courses let you access trainings at your own pace and on your own time, and have built in assessments to help ensure that you're understanding the content.
What's the biggest mistake you see nonprofits make?
While I've only been with Foundation Center for a little over two years, a consistent mistake I've seen some nonprofits make is not being fully prepared or empowered as an expert on the social issue they want to address. Nonprofit founders and professionals bring incredible passion to their work, and I am always full of admiration for those willing to tackle complex issues. However, I would always, ALWAYS encourage nonprofits—whether they are just starting up or have existed for decades—to continually research their field. Foundations rely on their nonprofit grantees to be the experts on social problems and on the best/new/emerging solutions for those problems. Understandably, research takes time, and time can be hard to come by when help is urgently required by the constituents you serve. However, good research will help you in the long run—especially when it comes to critical components of organizational success, like prospecting the best potential funders, creating effective grant proposals, and identifying potential collaborators.
What is your best advice for nonprofits?
Aside from doing your research, I always advise nonprofits and nonprofit professionals to get networked and stay social! Take every opportunity to connect with other nonprofits in your community at meet-ups, trainings, or support groups. Informal connections can very often lead to professional collaborations. Keep an eye on local event postings at your library or nonprofit resource centers and don't forget your business cards!