When the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne showed up on scene in the early 21st century, life had gotten really hard for most of the world. WWI had just ended, and although America and her allies had emerged victorious, idealism took a back seat to pragmatism, and few were bold in their hopes for a future.
Refusing to give in to that pessimism, a group of Fort Wayne community members laid the foundation for the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. The year was 1922, and throughout the next decades, the Foundation would face its own struggles as it attempted to endure through the Great Depression and another World War. Nearly 100 years later, though, the Foundation has woven a long story of community development, working with countless organizations, donors, and initiatives to achieve its mission. Though some may call its mission vast and idealistic, it is one that has proven successful time and time again. Industries, schools, nonprofits, programs, and more are doing good work today, thanks largely in part to the support given to them by the Community Foundation.
“As a community foundation, we cover the entire community, serving as grantmaker, steward, developer, adviser, and leader for organizations, programs, and initiatives all throughout the county,” says Christine Meek, Director of Community Impact. “We look for broad-based community support, funding sources, governance, and sustainability, and we believe it’s a large part of our mission to help those who are serving the most vulnerable.”
Although finding those organizations in need of support comes easily, Meek says that the true million-dollar challenge is finding enough financial resources to meet all those needs. “We get 45 requests every quarter, totaling $1M to $2M,” she says. “We only have $500K to give away each quarter, so that means that many of the requests coming in will be denied.”
It’s a denial that Meek and the board don’t take lightly, knowing that for many organizations, securing Foundation funding is all that stands between an organization’s ability to survive and thrive or close its doors forever. “So many of these programs are doing great, great work,” she says. “But the hard reality—for all of us—is that we only have so much funding.”
Offering Help Beyond Funding
While the Foundation can’t help every organization financially, it does seek to provide far-reaching assistance in other ways: putting potential donors in touch with organizations or initiatives in need of funding, providing leadership training, and offering specific training on day-to-day topics that can drastically affect the operational ability of an organization.
As the Foundation sets out to achieve its strategic plans by 2020, Meek says the board is spending a lot of its own time talking about and reflecting on the idea of community development—figuring out how and where to be involved, and working to build an unrestricted endowment so they can focus more on funding meaningful initiatives without getting hindered by limited assets.
In 2016, the Foundation provided $10M in grants to nonprofit organizations alone (and many more millions to community development projects, leadership initiatives, and other community programs and organizations). Although it’s guided by its mission to invest in community resources that are improving others’ quality of life, it is also driven by questions of sustainability and uniqueness. “How will needs be met if an organization doesn’t exist?” is a question Meek says the board is always asking. When it came to partnering with NeighborLink, answering that question was simple: “NeighborLink’s model is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. There is no one else out there doing this. Without NeighborLink, some of these people wouldn’t have anywhere else to turn.”