A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector by Strengthening Nonprofit Boards

By Cheryl Taylor, Foellinger Foundation

Integrity. Responsibility. Accountability. Results.

From our founders’ values, the Foellinger Foundation identified a strategy to realize their intent: We seek to fund effective nonprofits that serve children and families. But to ensure there are effective grantees in our community of Allen County, Indiana, we quickly identified a bigger goal of elevating the region’s nonprofit sector.

We use several approaches to address this goal, including capacity building grants, a lecture series for nonprofit staff and leaders, a sizeable grant to our local Nonprofit Resource Center, and two grant strategies that are particularly popular: The Carl D. Rolfsen Stewardship Award and our support of the local Nonprofit Resource Center’s “Get on Board” project to recruit, train, and retain emerging leaders as nonprofit board members.

We debuted The Carl D. Rolfsen Stewardship Award in 2005 to recognize exemplary board leaders. Using BoardSource’s Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, nonprofits nominate a board member who has significantly contributed to the organization in a way that made the nonprofit more effective. Any county nonprofit may submit a nomination, whether or not they are grantees, and we have received 250 nominations in the past 8 years.

Nominees are recognized during a formal lunch; PSAs on local public television and radio stations identify the nominees and their organizations; and the award winner—dubbed a “Rolfsen”—receives an engraved compass for himself and a $25,000 grant for his organization ($15,000 for operating support and $10,000 for board leadership training). The goal is to lift up for public recognition the service of these exceptional volunteers, and encourage others to volunteer their time as well.

The Stewardship Award works hand in hand with the “Get on Board” project, created by the local Nonprofit Resource Center with our support, after we asked local emerging leaders how we could encourage their peers to become involved with nonprofits. Introducing the “Rolfsen” nominees to the “Get on Board” participants is key. Award nominees share their stories and give examples of good local governance in action. Nominees also exchange learning with the younger leaders in small group luncheons held throughout the year. The Rolfsens tell us they learn as much from the young leaders as they believe they share.

We have many ideas for extending the value of the foundation’s grantmaking and contributing to the capacity of the region’s nonprofit ecosystem. And we are proud to move forward on those that are consistent with our donors’ intent.

Related posts

Grantee Capacity Building: First, Do No Harm

Making an Impact on a Very Small Budget, describing how one foundation focuses on nonprofit operations and uses other creative grantmaking strategies to leverage its gifts

Cheryl Taylor is president of Foellinger Foundation, a private charitable foundation that awards grants for the benefit of people in Fort Wayne and Allen County, IN. The foundation was created in 1958 by Helene Foellinger, The News-Sentinel publisher from 1936 to 1980, and Esther Foellinger, Helene’s mother.

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