Omaha Community Foundation: A Giving Connection Serving Those Who Serve
Omaha is regarded as being an especially giving community. The corporate and foundation sectors here are known to be particulalry generous. As my cover story in Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/) points out, the Omaha Community Foundation is a facilitator and catalyst for philanthropy in the city and the giving that happens through it touches many organizations and lives.
Serving Those Who Serve
OCF is bringing a collective of donors together to make more impact
Since its 1982 inception the low profile but high impact Omaha Community Foundation has been a facilitator and catalyst for philanthropy that improves quality of life and helps local nonprofits best use resources.
Making a dent
Over a 31-year history the foundation has made cumulative gifts of $1.2 billion, including $906 million in grants. More than 1,200 active donors support 3,000-plus nonprofits. Nationally, OCF is in the Philanthropy 400 despite a totally local focus compared to many peer foundations with national giving models.
OCF granted a record $125 million last year and has $654 million in assets. It has ranked as high as fourth in per capita giving among U.S. foundations.
If you’re wondering how an organization that does this much has so little name recognition it’s because new president and CEO Sara Boyd says “we’ve been pretty quiet about how we’ve done our work.” That changed somewhat in 2013 with the May 22 Omaha Gives campaign that brought the foundation into the millennial age. The 24-hour online charitable challenge raised more than $3 million, attracted in excess of 10,000 donors, many of them first-time givers, and benefited 100 percent of the 318 participating nonprofits.
The campaign’s success has other cities inquiring how Omaha did it.
Boyd says Omaha Gives coalesced the foundation’s mission “to increase giving and its impact when we come together as a community.” OCF has three main ways of fulfilling that mission.
“We are here to strengthen the nonprofit community. We’re here to bring people together around issues of importance so that there’s some collective movement as a community towards progress. And then we’re here to grow the resources available for our community in the charitable arena,” says Boyd. “Omaha Gives is one of those unique things that actually touches on all of those.
“We can’t do any of that without our donors and the partnerships we have with the nonprofit community because they’re the ones on the ground pursuing missions to actually make the change happen. We’re an amalgamation of lots of different people. We’re a participatory organization. We don’t exist on our own without the 1,200 or so individuals, families, companies making donations in our community to make it better. When we focus together on different efforts that’s where the ultimate benefit to our community is that much greater.”
A new approach
Omaha Gives provided an accelerated community donor platform.
“The idea was we can come together in one concentrated period of time as a community and really do some pretty amazing things,” says Boyd. “And by coming out in that visible way we can reinforce and demonstrate what it means to participate in a bigger universe of community.”
OCF board member Jennifer Hamann, who championed and helped organize Omaha Gives, says, “It wasn’t about necessarily bringing donors to us, it was really about bringing people to philanthropy.”
Boyd says, “It’s an easy, accessible, low-entry way to support organizations that align with donors’ interests. They learn about more opportunities to give and ways to plug-into the community. The long term goal is that people get more involved, not even monetarily but through volunteerism.”
Part of the appeal the effort held is what Omaha Steaks senior vice president Todd Simon calls “the gamification” aspects that included a time limit, a countdown and prizes. He’s says the fun ways Omaha Gives could engage people “captured our imagination.” It’s why Omaha Steaks provided a $1,000 match to individual donations picked hourly at random for a grand total of $24,000 in matching donations by the company during the 24-hour challenge.
Similarly, American National Bank supported participation prizes to small and large nonprofits netting the most unique donors.
“We wanted to encourage further and deeper giving and saw this as an opportunity to do that,” says American National Bank executive chairman John Kotouc. “This seemed like an exciting way to encourage giving, especially encouraging smaller gifts to bolster the charitable framework we rely on in this community.”
Omaha Gives generates buzz
Boyd says the excitement around Omaha Gives events that many nonprofits held was palpable: “The energy and enthusiasm made me feel like it was bringing the community together in a way I haven’t seen for awhile.”
That excitement extended to The Literacy Center, whose executive director Kirsten Case describes Omaha Gives as “a powerful fundraising tool” to increase visibility and connect with new donors. As with many participating groups, the Center exceeded fundraising expectations.
“Our goal was to raise $2,500,” says Case. “We raised a total of $7,551, three times our original goal. Two thirds was raised through small individual donations The remaining amount consists of matching dollars as well as a participation prize of $1,000 for the number of unique donors that participated. The funds raised are supporting our growing GED program where we are helping adult students move towards self-sufficiency.”
Nebraska Humane Society development and communications specialist Elizabeth Hilpipre says Omaha Gives aligned well with the organization’s heavy online and social media presence. The nonprofit raised $72,000 during the campaign, including a $10,000 participation prize for having the most unique donors among large organizations.
“We are already using those donor dollars to provide medical treatment and care for animals in our facility,” says Hilpipre.
Kotouc says Omaha Gives is just the latest expression of OCF “applying themselves in a creative way to bringing together those who want to give money to those nonprofits with needs. That day stimulated a lot of interest and it spurred others on to make donations.”
Boyd notes that OCF is far more than a transactional organization funnellng monies. Its Capacity Building program, for example, is designed to enhance and strengthen participating nonprofits.
“We take on about 10 organizations a year. Our leadership does a 12-month assessment of where the organization is and what it needs to take it to the next level. It’s a pretty intense, deep, time-intensive program. A lot of analysis goes into it. An organization has to be in the right space for that to work well.”
She says capacity building “is increasingly focused on strategic planning as a way to focus the energies of organizational leadership. If we have organizations that have some longer term thinking behind where they’re headed and a more focused resource allocation attention then we’re going to be better able to help them meet their missions. They in turn will be more effective and the outcome for the community will be greater, So, it’s really an investment in those organizations.”
Additionally, OCF offers fiscal sponsorship, account management services, including planned giving support, and some turnkey marketing assistance.
“Nonprofits are always welcome to call us with questions if they get in a spot or better want to understand an opportunity.”
Responding to community needs
To better meet pressing and emerging community needs OCF is partnering with the United Way of the Midlands and the Iowa West Foundation in doing a needs assessment through Wilder Research.
“It really came out of our strategic planning dialogue,” says Boyd. “We asked ourselves, If we’re bringing people together around specific issues how do we prioritize what the issues are? What we thought we were lacking was the voice of the community. We did a survey and we went out and had conversations in different pockets of the community.
“The best value we add in our community is as a lever. By having the Omaha Community foundation involved in philanthropy in Omaha we’re able to increase what we’re able to accomplish as a community on the back end. That means the kid that needs a flashlight from Youth Emergency Services or the homeless person that needs assistance finding housing stability or somebody hungry not only finding food but meeting with prevention specialists. If we’re doing our job well more of that is happening across the community. We’re part of a chain of organizations trying to affect that positive change.”
Boyd says the success of Omaha Gives is further evidence of the metro’s generosity and suggests “there’s a lot of energy and support around the idea of giving that we can still do more with.”
Learn about giving opportunities at omahafoundation.org.
“It’s an easy, accessible, low-entry way to support organizations that align with donors’ interests. They learn about more opportunities to give and ways to plug-into the community. The long term goal is that people get more involved, not even monetarily but through volunteerism.”
~ SARA BOYD, PRESIDENT, CEO | OMAHA COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
- The Community Foundation requests nominations for philanthropy honorees in Madison County (al.com)
- Community Foundation of Northern Colorado launches flood relief funds (northfortynews.com)
- Thursday is North Texas Giving Day (star-telegram.com)