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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Oct. 8, 2009                                                         

Community Memorial fulfilling
its mission
Foundation’s relationship with partner agencies goes far beyond making annual grants

By Pamela Lannom

   When tens of millions of dollars landed in their laps in 1995, it would have been easy for board members of the new Community Memorial Foundation to start passing cash out like Christmas presents.
   “The first thing we decided to do was not to give away money early,” said Jim Durkan, foundation president and chief executive officer. “We would do the research and see what the community really was like.”
   That focus on identifying and meeting needs in the community has remained true for the foundation since it was formed in 1995 following the sale of the nonprofit La Grange Memorial Hospital to the for-profit Columbia HCA. The foundation spent most of its first year gathering information before distributing any funds.
   “It was a massive undertaking and we completed that in the fall of ’96 in time for our first grant cycle,” he said.
   The research pointed the foundation to five areas of focus: supporting youth, strengthening families, supporting older adults, expanding access to health care and encouraging community cohesiveness.
   The board also decided, before making grants, to maintain a local focus, to serve roughly the same area the hospital did and to define health broadly, including the physical, mental, environmental, social and spiritual.
   “Philosophically we really believed that you have to work in all those areas to really bring about the health of a community,” Durkan said.
   Board members allowed the staff to determine which grants to make — and have continued to do so.
   “We use research to keep us honest and to keep us focused on what the community needs versus what we think the community needs,” Durkan said. “I think it’s very easy to get into your own pet projects — what you’re comfortable with, what you have a passion for versus what are the needs of the communities. The research has really prevented us from doing that.”
   The foundation board and staff also decided not to tackle problems alone.
   “We decided we would work with existing assets,” Durkan said. “Most foundations are notorious for starting new programs.”
   The relationship the foundation has established with its grantees — better known as partners — makes the organization unique in the foundation world, board Chairman Allyson Zak said.
   “We approach them on equal footing with us and we want to make them the best they can be and make the programs we’re supporting the best they can be,” she said “We’ll work with them to do whatever it takes to help them be successful.”
   Donald Gralen, who served as board chairman from the foundation’s inception until 2004, agreed.
   “I would say (the foundation is) probably most successful at helping other not-for-profits in the area organize themselves and conduct themselves and become more successful in their own missions,” he said. “I think that’s a very, very important part of what the foundation does in addition to giving them grants.”
   The foundation’s effort to build organizational capacity among area nonprofits has been a constant from the start, Durkan said.
   “The stronger they are, the easier it is for us to carry out our mission,” said Greg DiDomenico, foundation vice president.
   The foundation’s partners are invited to attend seminars on topics such as fund-raising, facility needs, working with consultants and self-assessment. Brown bag lunch sessions held in the area give nonprofit staff the opportunity to meet and learn without spending too much time away from the office.
   The annual challenge grant program, which started in 2006 following the foundation’s 10th anniversary, offers matching fund to area agencies that bring in new dollars. Wellness House, The Community House, Hinsdale Community Service and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education all have participated in the program. These and other agencies have brought in $5 million dollars from donors and the foundation as a result of the program.
   The building organizational effectiveness initiative will remain a priority for the foundation in the future. So will responsive grants to area nonprofits that help to meet the basic needs of the poor, hungry and homeless.
   “We will fund these services so people are not living in the street,” Durkan said.
   But the foundation is pulling back in other areas.
   “Philosophically, if we are all over the board, we probably will not make a major difference in our community,” Durkan said. “It’s important to take care of the basic needs, but we probably need to narrow our focus a bit if we are going to make any difference.”
   Later this month the foundation will formally introduce the Community Health Care Network of the Western Suburbs, a local partnership dedicated to accessible health care. Organizations such as Community Nurse Health Association and Pillars will work to deliver primary health care services to low-income, medically uninsured individuals.
   Before deciding on this new initiative, the foundation conducted research to determine how many uninsured are in the area. Leaders also looked at the foundation’s origins and the greatest need in the community at this time.
   And needs exist, even in an affluent area like the western suburbs.
   “We don’t know sometimes when somebody is in need, especially in this environment,” DiDomenico said. “There is a whole new level of the new poor who are out there, who are waiting in line at food banks trying to get services.”
   Needs are not limited to the poor, Durkan said.
   “There are so many silent needs that affect every household, regardless of the million dollar (price tag) or regardless of the income,” he said.
   And nonprofits do more than help meet needs, Durkan said — they give all of us an opportunity to do something positive in our community.
   “We are not in the business — I always say this — we are not in the business of giving away money,” he said. “We are in the business of trying to make a difference. It’s easy to give away money. It’s difficult to give it away well.”
   Gralen believes the foundation has done just that.
   “I personally am very happy with the way the foundation has matured over time and the amount of money it’s pumped into the community,” he said. “That’s $47 million that wasn’t there before, and the foundation has still kept itself in a position to continue to do that, so that’s a success story.”

A look back

1995 — Community Memorial Foundation is established with proceeds from the sale of nonprofit La Grange Memorial Hospital to Columbia HCA

1997 — CMF launches the Youth Initiative, committing up to $1 million a year for up to three years to support youth development programs in Lyons Township

2001 — CMF announces the continuation of the Youth Initiative, committing up to $1 million a year for up to five years
         — the Leadership for Excellence Series is inaugurated in collaboration with the Donors Forum of Chicago

2002 — CMF commits up to $750,000 a year for up to five years for the Early Childhood Initiative

2003 — CMF awards a leadership grant of up to $10 million to Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital for its new patient care center
         — a community development approach called Aging Well begins to create elder-friendly communities

2005 — CMF celebrates its 10th anniversary

2006 — the Annual Fund Achievement Awards program is rolled out as part of the 10th anniversary year, awarding up to $400,000 (at $10,000) to organizations successful in raising new and increased annual fund support from individuals

2007 — CMF establishes Learning Circles for seven executive directors of local nonprofit organizations as part of building organizational effectiveness program

2009 — CMF launches the Community Health Care Network of the Western Suburbs

By the numbers

$75 million from the hospital sale went to CMF

$46.8 million amount given away since 1996

27 towns in service area

$7,500 available in matching funds to nonprofits for new or increased gifts made by year’s end

74 grants awarded in 2008

$3.5 million in grants awarded last year


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





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