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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published May 27, 2010                                                    

Foundation helps partners be
all they can be
Community Memorial works to help nonprofit agencies grow stronger and more effective

By Pamela Lannom

   Theresa Forthofer certainly appreciates the grant money The Community House receives from Community Memorial Foundation.
   But the executive director said the other kinds of support the foundation offers can be just as valuable.
   “They invest in the organizations that they spend their dollars with, so they make us better and more productive, more efficient, so their dollars end up going further when they do make grant awards to us,” she said.
   Jeannie Cella, executive director of Wellness House, agreed.
   “We get funding from other foundations, but we don’t get the kind of building organizational effectiveness support that Community Memorial does,” she said. “They really want their partners to be better at what they do, so it’s not just handing them a gift; it’s giving them the tools to improve.”
   This year, for example, The Community House and Wellness House are two of 15 nonprofit agencies to receive a human resource grant, which provides a year-long membership to the Management Association of Illinois.
   An association representative was in Hinsdale Tuesday to conduct a human resources audit at The Community House. Leaders there plan to address the areas in which the organization is weak.
   Without some outside help, Forthofer said, making improvements in HR would be tough.
   “It’s been on my ‘to do’ list forever — just to update policies and procedures and employee manuals and to become more familiar with the state laws and regulations, which have changed tremendously in the last couple of years,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to spend the time or the dollars to get as much in-depth detail as I’m getting with this grant and this partnership.”
   Cella said having access to management professionals should mean less learning by trial and error.
   “Hopefully it will help us make fewer mistakes,” she said.
   The two agencies also are taking advantage of a series of six HR seminars, which are sponsored by the foundation and presented by the management association.
   Forthofer has appreciated the opportunity to send multiple staff members for training, all at no cost.
   Tracy Boucher, director of social services for The Community House, attended last week’s session on performance evaluations. She is responsible for evaluating three employees and had no training in doing so prior to last week. She also attended the previous two sessions on interviewing and hiring.
   “I’ve been very impressed with the way the information has been presented,” she said. “I found it very user-friendly and very understandable and I feel like, especially the performance evaluation, I can take what I learned at the workshop and apply it immediately.”
   Human resources is one of five areas of need grantee partners identified, said Tom Fuechtmann, a program officer for Community Memorial Foundation. The other areas are board development, media awareness, planning and evaluation.
   “We take seriously and we put our money and our resources behind connections, behind trying to meet the grantees where they are and address their needs,” Fuechtmann said.
   Even though nonprofits have a different bottom line than for-profit businesses, they face many of the same issues.
   “The challenge in the nonprofit world is a lot of the people who are leading nonprofit organizations don’t come from a business background,” Fuechtmann said. “A number of our executive directors were promoted up from within, so they were a nurse or they were a case manager.”
   The foundation has been working to help its grantee partners be more effective since its inception. Agencies can apply for a technical grant to help pay for a feasibility study or a strategic plan. Executive directors can join learning circles where they meet with their peers to solve organizational and management issues. A nonprofit looking for better direction can do a quick assessment online or take part in a three-month, in-depth analysis.
   The challenge grant program might be one of the best examples of how Community Memorial Foundation helps grantee partners help themselves. The foundation agreed to provide a match for new dollars raised and worked with agencies to help them improve their fund-raising efforts. The 63 organizations that participated over the past five years brought in more than $5 million in new donations, Fuechtmann said.
   Because foundation staff aren’t dealing with the day-to-day needs of feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, they can devote time to looking at the big picture and finding the best consultants to assist partner agencies.
   And by helping partners develop a more capable staff, a stronger board and better programmatic outcomes, the foundation also helps itself.
   “We strongly believe as a foundation that if we’re going to have an impact in the community on measurably improving health, our partners need to be as strong as they can possibly be,” Fuechtmann said. “This is integral to the philosophy of the foundation. This is how we see ourselves as change-makers, not just grant-makers.”


— Making a difference is a yearlong partnership between The Hinsdalean
and Community Memorial Foundation, whose mission is to measurably improve
the health of people work live and work in the western suburbs.





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