January 9, 2018; The Daily Nonpareil
The Iowa West Racing Association (IWRA) was created when Iowa passed laws requiring gaming licenses to be either held or sponsored by nonprofit organizations. The Iowa West Foundation is funded by the IWRA, which receives contracted fees paid by local casino operators Ameristar and Harrah’s. The Foundation began its grant program in 1996 and is headquartered in Council Bluffs, Iowa, near Omaha, Nebraska. To date, it has disbursed about $400 million in grants, which works out to roughly $20 million a year. Grants made by the foundation are dedicated to the local community of southwest Iowa and eastern Nebraska, with the result that the foundation is a place-based funder, which, at least in its grant disbursement acts similarly in many respects to a community foundation.
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But there are many different ways that one can serve as a place-based funder. Traditionally, the Iowa West Foundation disbursed its funding in discrete organizational grants. But practice has shifted at the Iowa West Foundation in recent years. Prodded in part by a national call by nine nonprofit leaders to philanthropy to adopt grantmaking practices that are more actively supportive and respectful, Iowa West Foundation CEO Pete Tulipana outlined some of the ways the foundation has sought to become more responsive to community needs. In his op-ed, Tulipana outlines some of the key steps that his foundation has taken since 2015:
- Focus on building capacity: In 2015, the foundation awarded its first capacity building grant. Tulipana notes that the foundation’s message to the nonprofit board was, “We think you’re doing important work. We would like to support not only the work, but your ability to continue to do the work in the most efficient and effective manner in the future.”
- Multi-year operational support: In 2016, a multi-year funding pilot program was launched. “We researched organizations critical to the delivery of essential human services in Pottawattamie County,” says Tulipana. “Our Board had already demonstrated a commitment to funding these organizations over a number of years. These organizations were then offered a three-year commitment of general operations funding to direct toward their most important needs. This commitment included an opportunity for each organization to receive training and consultation to grow the organization’s capacity.”
- Listening sessions to guide strategic planning: Tulipana noted that over the past year the foundation “conducted extensive listening session” to get grantees thoughts on the successes and shortfalls of the past five years and favored priorities for the next five years, which “has helped shape our next strategic plan.”
- Commitment to joint evaluation and learning: In 2015, the foundation “streamlined our grantee reports and introduced a feedback mechanism so we can provide comments to grantees. We have committed to investing in evaluation with our partners so that together we can evaluate the impact of our investments. The learning is not one-way.” The foundation has shifted its focus to favor long-term partnerships and initiatives: “Over the past five years, our funding has shifted from being mostly grants-driven to a focus on partnerships and initiatives…We understand that transformational change takes 10–15 years to accomplish and requires strong partners to lead the work.” Focus areas for initiatives have include education, economic development, the arts, and children’s mental health.
- Support for community organizing: Prodded by a University of Nebraska, Omaha, report issued in 2013 titled Invisible and Voiceless: Latinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the foundation committed to providing support for the nonprofit Centro Latino in Cedar Bluffs and in particular their community organizing efforts in the region’s growing Latinx community.
All of this, of course, is self-reported, but Tulipana closes with an acknowledgement that the foundation’s shift in practice is still in its early stages and confidence that the foundation will continue to progress in its efforts. “We are just scratching the surface in some of these areas,” Tulipana writes, “but by listening and through engagement, we are able to constantly grow and adapt.”—Steve Dubb