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The Giving wheel keeps turning – Sowing seeds of philanthropy


Omaha’s known for being a giving place. The philanthropic community, whether foundations, corporations, nonprofit charitable clearinghouses, the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Omaha or individuals. repeatedly steps up to identify and address needs. My Reader (www.thereader.com) cover story in the May 2017 issue sheds some light on how the giving community comes to make some of its individual and collecive decisions about where and how many dollars go.

The Giving wheel keeps turning

Sowing seeds of philanthropy 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appears in the May 2017 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

 

Omaha charitable giving turns on a funding wheel of corporate, foundation and individual donors of all levels. There are also funding conduits or facilitators.

This city with its high concentration of millionaires, one certifiable billionaire and large corporate and family foundations is widely heralded for its generosity. Omaha’s no different than any other city though in relying on giving to fill gaps. Philanthropy fills the gulf between what nonprofits may generate and what they get from public (government) funding sources.

The Reader recently interviewed three local leaders intimately involved in the fabric of Omaha giving for insight into how philanthropy gets activated here.

Annually, organizations seek support for ongoing needs ranging from services, programs, events and activities to operating expenses. Special needs may also arise, such as capital construction projects or larger-scale civic endeavors, that require special asks.

The giving sector works collaboratively to identify and address persistent and emerging community-wide needs. Corporate, foundation, civic and other leaders convene to analyze and delegate where resources should go. This vetting and ranking explains why some efforts get funded and others don’t or why some programs are supported at higher levels than others. Curating simply prioritizes some things over others.

Different players on the giving wheel may have their own funding missions or targets but still join others in supporting special initiatives, campaigns or projects that require more collective impact.

All these efforts measure what kind of city Omaha is. Giving shapes the physical and intangible landscape – from infrastructure, skyline, parks and other amenities to health, vitality, livability and compassion.

Everyone agrees no one organization or philanthropist can make much of a difference alone. It’s in the giving power of many that real change can occur.

The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce works with the giving community to fulfill its goals. Prosper Omaha (2014-2018) is the latest funding program for the Chamber’s economic development partnership. President-CEO David Brown said, “We have a bifurcated agenda to provide services to our 3,200 business members and to figure out ways to grow and improve the community. Development and growth assumes if we can make it a better and growing community our member firms will benefit and be able to hire more people – and there’s a great spinoff benefit from that.

“We believe we should be a catalyst organization always thinking about ways we can improve the community at large, which again makes it a better place to live, work and play. We do that by not just working independently of others but in most cases collaborating with other organizations.”

 

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David Brown

 

Examples of the Chamber’s catalytic work include working with community partners to create Careerockit, a week-long event in April that exposed 10,000-plus area students to thousands of career opportunities, and to get Omaha designated a TechHire Community, which adds the city to a national network receiving support for helping overlooked and underrepresented populations start technology careers. The Chamber also partnered to develop The Kitchen Council, a food startup incubator that gives members access to a fully-licensed commercial kitchen and other resources to lower barriers of entry and to spur entrepreneurship.

When the Chamber throws its weight behind something, ripples usually happen.

“We get a lot done in large measure because we collaborate with people who have the authority to get things done,” Brown said. “Our public advocacy work is really important for us to be able to cause change to happen. Frankly, the Chamber cannot pass a zoning ordinance but we can encourage other people to do so.

We can’t fix roads, but we can encourage the city or state administration to do so. Our role can only be effective if we can convene people who have similar goals in mind and can figure out a path forward to solving a problem or addressing a challenge.

“We are always thinking about what’s the next change that should happen. Then the next logical question is, who’s responsible for seeing that that change occurs

and how can we build a collaborative process to bring all the people interested in this issue to the table and actually cause that change to occur.”

The Chamber’s involved in things, he said, “that might surprise folks,” such as supporting education reform, investing in talent development and the retainment of young professionals to address the brain drain issue,” along with community-economic-entrepreneurship development. “We also worry about infrastructure. So transportation, especially the discussion about mass transit, is something we’re involved in.”

On a big picture scale, the Chamber engages in strategic planning.

“Right now we’re going through a Strategic Foresight process. We’ve hired economist Rebecca Ryan from Next Generation Consulting as a Futurist-in Residence. She’s helping us think about what the future of Omaha, particularly from an economic perspective, could be 20 years from now. We’ve asked as partners the Urban League of Nebraska and the United Way of the Midlands to be with us in this. We’re all thinking about what not only the economy needs to look like but what disruptions would happen if that economy were to come to fruition or what disruptions might keep us from accomplishing the kind of future we’re looking for.”

United Way executive director Shawna Forsberg said, “Much to the Chamber’s credit they’re not just looking at it from a business perspective. They’ve invited representation from the human services and inclusivity sides. It’s very thoughtfully run. Numerous stakeholders and influences are being brought to the table during this process so that it is a community weighing in on what needs to happen.”

Part of Ryan’s futurist work is spent with various local nonprofit boards and planning committees teaching them strategic planning tools.

“We’re doing some capacity building for the other partners we have in the community who need to be able to think about the future as well,” Brown said.

Helping nonprofits be sustainable is a focus of the Omaha Community Foundation, whose Nonprofit Capacity Building program’s 24-month curriculum is designed to strengthen organizational and leadership capacity needs. Ten area nonprofits are chosen each year to participate. Forty nine organizations have gone through the program. Currently, 20 organizations are in the program (10 in their first year and 10 in their second year).

 

 

Shawna Forsberg

 

Education is a core focus of the foundation, the United Way and the Chamber.

“I think education is the base for the kind of development we’re going to have to see in the future,” Brown said. “We’ve got to make sure our kids, whether the most affluent or the least affluent, whether in North Omaha, West Omaha, Council Bluffs or Sarpy County, are getting the best education they can get. We have a community with about 3 percent unemployment and yet we know there are pockets of higher unemployment. What causes that higher unemployment isn’t lack of jobs in many cases, it’s lack of preparedness, strong education or a high school diploma.

“There are some extenuating circumstances, such as lack of transportation, that keep people from being an active part of the workforce and we’ve got to mitigate those in some way or another. If we don’t, companies won’t find the people they need here and will look somewhere else. We’ve got to get as many people ready to work as possible in the areas where we know people can be hired and earn a great wage. So, education and transportation are things we’re paying a lot of attention to. Mass transit system improvement is pervasive in all of our conversations.”

Alleviating the high poverty that persists relates back to education and workforce development, Brown said.

United Way’s Shawna Forsberg said, “For people living in poverty it’s not just one thing that’s going to fix it. Typically, there’s multiple things that need to be addressed.” She said responding to complex issues means” being consistent but also flexible and nimble enough ” to adapt as needed. “We’re blessed that we have really strong networks and we work with so many different programs and agencies that it lends itself to really a community-wide understanding of where opportunities can arise.”

She said agencies like hers recognize the “need for more qualified individuals to hit the workforce.” “We want to work in concert with those who can provide those unique opportunities.”

Meanwhile, the state’s budget deficit has cut into public education, services and programs. Possible federal cuts to arts and human services funding loom large.

“It’s a very interesting time politically trying to understand what’s going to be coming regarding funding sources for many programs vital in the community,” Forsberg said. “It’s something we’re watching very carefully. It’s why advocacy and public policy is something we have to be involved with also.”

Omaha Community Foundation executive director Sara Boyd said, “There are resource constraints today because of budget challenges at the state and federal levels that affect the sector at large and changes the dynamics of what funding might look like. What is the affect of that on some of our more vulnerable populations? There are some people who are already vulnerable we don’t want to find in even worse situations. What does that mean for how we think about the work we do and how we invest as a community? Because of the uncertainty of some of the changes that may occur, it’s difficult sometimes to place a bet on where to invest. I don’t think there are answers yet.”

Forsberg said United Way’s historic mission is to “help those neighbors that need assistance” through a “safety net of services.” She added, “United Way will never depart from providing funding for critical programs to help people in dire straits, whether it be food security, safe housing, access to health care, escaping domestic violence. That is core to what we do.”

An example of United Way tracking and responding to such needs, Forsberg said, is its Financial Stability Work Task Force. “It identified a group of people being lost through the cracks called Opportune Youth – 16 to 24 year-olds either not working or not in school. There was a myriad of organizations working with these individuals but it wasn’t a coordinated effort. Now we have 30 different agencies at the table doing essential intake. We’re partnering with Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and leveraging the work of Project Everlast to extend that work into new areas because people can end up in this category in multiple ways.”

The resulting pilot Alliance program launches June 1.

Forsberg said, “A systems approach is crucial because you’ve got to meet the kids where they’re at but then figure out what you can do get them in a different trajectory. That may be helping ensure they get additional school but also connecting them to a financially stable job and making sure they have the support they need to be successful in that. That can’t be one program – it has to be a multitude of programs.”

United Way works across the community on education.

“The Chamber helped us convene a group conversation with superintendents from across the community,” Forsberg said, “We took a really take a hard look at how you measure whether a kid is progressing and what not-for-profit support could assist school systems with.

“Where they really need help is in literacy and ensuring kids stay in school, and so those are the areas in which we’re investing. Instead of looking at just graduation rates we’re looking at ninth grade attainment. That’s a critical pivot point for kids if they’re going to get through school in a successful manner. When they hit high school the supports are less and so to wait until their senior year it’s almost too late. It’s critical we give it earlier to identify a kid that needs some extra support.”

Forsberg said intervention can mean mentoring support but also building awareness within school systems and families to keep kids in classrooms.

“We’re going to measure progress, not only investments United Way is making but as a community how we’re doing in these areas and bring that to light.”

 

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Sara Boyd

 

The Community Foundation’s Sara Boyd said the local Adolescent Health Project led by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, with support from her foundation and other players is another example of “a broader focus” with more partners at the table.” “It’s not one foundation, nonprofit, individual driving that work and there’s some intentionality in the strategies being invested there. There’s work in juvenile justice, on the public service side, on the philanthropic side, on the nonprofit side and people coming to a common table to try and drive that.”

Input from many sources is crucial, Boyd said, but even then solutions can be elusive.

“The challenge is these are really tricky issues, so even when there’s focused attention, energy and investment there’s still stumbling blocks along the way and it doesn’t move quickly.”

North Omaha redevelopment is unfolding at an historic rate and the giving community is investing heavily there. The Chamber’s North Omaha Development Strategy spurred the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan now being realized. Philanthropic dollars are pouring in to support efforts by the Empowerment Network, 75 North, Metro Community College and others.

Boyd said what’s happening there is evidence of how “when conversations come together sometimes there’s synergy that can create momentum.” “I do really like the energy and the amount of real interest and attention focused on North Omaha. It would be awesome to see a tipping point. I guess i don’t exactly know where that lies. To me it would be huge success to say not only are we seeing this accumulation of impressive dollars, but also a tidal wave coming behind that of all these other amazing things addressing what the people of North Omaha want that community to be for them.”

She cautioned, “I’m not naive to think there aren’t some structural issues as a community we will need to wrestle with in order to maximize some of these investments made there that affect more deeply the lives of people who live in North Omaha.”

Boys said whatever the project, nothing happens in isolation. She feels funders are ever more attuned to “the relationship between it all.”

“Something we continue to work at collectively as a community is looking at projects not just as coincidentally being in the same area but how do they they relate to and complement one another.”

Boyd said her foundation’s “mission is to inspire giving to create a thriving community for all.” “If you grow giving you have the opportunity to strengthen nonprofits and to have more people participating potentially or at greater levels and you then have an opportunity to bring people together because of that increased engagement and participation.”

 

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United Way takes a systemic view as well.

“We have been in the community for 94 years and the needs over that time have evolved,” Forsberg said. “We represent a large donor base. Part of our responsibility is to read that and have a community-wide perspective and understand where we can invest that’s really going to be meaningful. We see ourselves as convener, collaborator, information-aggregator. We really are trying to bring thought leaders in the community together to address these issues. It takes a system.

“It means being honest and transparent about what’s going well and what isn’t as a community and trying to figure out the best ways to address that. It’s recognizing it’s never going to be one organization or one funder that’s going to be able to tackle this on their own. It’s very much a collaborative effort across the community.”

That approach has recently become more formalized.

“In 2012 a very robust strategic planning process initiated by some strong leaders in our community really drove United Way to take a harder look at how we did our investment. We initiated a community assessment in partnership with the Omaha Community Foundation and the Iowa West Foundation. ConAgra Foods stepped in for Phase II of it. It took a neighborhood-level look at where the greatest needs were.”

That assessment led to United Way’s 2025 goals.

By 2025, United Way aims to support the delivery of two million-plus services addressing basic needs of people living in or at risk of poverty through a more integrated, coordinated, precise and measurable system of basic needs supports.

Forsberg said, “We pulled together task forces. Part of their focus was looking at who was doing what in these various areas. Based upon input from stakeholders and others in the community we discerned where we could make the greatest difference in supporting things like basic needs (for food, shelter).

Metrics are key to the approach.

“With support from the Sherwood Foundation and the Weitz Family Foundation we’ve implemented an analytics and performance team to ensure we’re being efficient with that send and not just looking at it from an individual program-level but at the whole system. That’s allowed us to take best practices in analyzing whether or not the way you’re investing is driving the change you hope to make. What we’ve found is it helps programs we support improve and it gives them more of an understanding of whether the impact they hope to drive is also being accomplished.”

Forsberg said, “We learned we definitely need to provide those solves but we also need to get into prevention. If you don’t have a full tummy, it’s really hard to do well in the classroom. But we also know it’s important we help people change the trajectory for themselves. Two areas identified are educational support and preparing people to enter the workforce.”

Shaping strategic community goals in partnership with givers is part of the Chamber’s mission, said Brown. Everything the Chamber does, he said, is measured.

“We incorporate most of the public and private foundations executive directors and staff into all of our strategic planning processes. We’ve invited them to be involved in all of our Strategic Foresight work. On the futurist side, they’ve been involved in our discussions of our economic development strategy and as issues come up in the community we find ourselves working on those projects together, too  It’s not unusual for the Chamber and several of the foundations and other nonprofit groups to sit around the table with business leaders talking about how to solve a community problem.

“The philanthropic community also tends to be funders of some programs and activities we do. We’ve been successful in finding those places we have in common and producing something the foundations help fund.”

The Chamber’s David Brown said collaboration comes with the territory but Omaha does it to an unusual degree.

“A lot of collaboration happens in this community between philanthropists and businesses and the not-for-profit world to see what projects should move forward and which ones maybe not. I think Omaha has collaboration in its DNA. I rarely seen an organization stand up and say we are going to work on this project by ourselves and not seek input or not be involved in a strategic discussion about whether it has merit or not.

“When a project doesn’t work out, it’s usually because collaboration and communication hasn’t occurred at the normal level. I think we accomplish more together and that seems to be a common thread I see with most of my colleagues in this community whether on the business side or the not-for-profit side.”

 

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OCF’s Boyd said working with partners like the Chamber and United Way helps the foundation “learn what role we can play.” She explained, “We’re placing some bets on areas where we think, given our history and skills, we might be able to add some value in partnership with things going on in the community.”

She said the discussions arising from collaborative meetings help narrow the focus on what the pressing needs are and where best the foundation can help. Another way the foundation gauges what’s happening is through the grant application process for its Fund for Omaha, “We see over the period of a couple grant cycles patterns and changes in requests for funding that give us a temperature read on some things moving and changing in the community and what that might mean. It might be emerging needs or gaps of service.”

On behalf of donors the foundation has granted $1.5 billion to nonprofits since 1982. In 2016, its donors granted $149 million. Its own Fund for Omaha granted $294,176 in 2016. As of the end of last year, the foundation’s assets number just over $1 billion.

The foundation’s desire to broaden its work and better measure community needs helped lead to the birth of The Landscape project – a public, data-driven reflection of the community across six areas of community life:

Health

Neighborhoods

Safety

Transportation

Workforce

Education

Those markers largely came out of the community perception or assessment study that OCF did with United Way and Iowa West Foundation.

“There are likely other areas over time we will add to The Landscape,” Boyd said.

Landscape information gleaned from experts and residents are available online to anyone.

“We wanted more people to participate in some of that thinking and we wanted more people to be able to iterate it,” Boyd said, “so having something more publicly available and opening that up for feedback can help those of us who interact on personal levels with different partners and residents in the community.”

“We’re looking more and more at how we align with some of these issues now spotlighted in The Landscape to try to reach out in new partnerships and new ways. We have a donor base that is community-broad, many of whom are plugging into some of these issues themselves, and we may be able to serve them better in their giving if we’re focusing our resources.”

Greater impact is the ultimate goal.

“We’re hoping the project will assist in bringing some of our philanthropy to another level by infusing more of that curation with the voice of the community – personal stories that add a greater dimension to our understanding. It’s not to say by any means the work of the foundation and The Landscape is going to be the thing that leads to change. It has to be efforts we all pursue. This just happens to be our particular part we feel we can play in conversation and interaction with all of the other people invested in moving these issues forward in our community.”

She and her colleagues are trying to find ways to get millennials to donate. The foundation’s found success doing that through its Omaha Gives campaign.

Increasingly, Boyd said, “we work to be an organization more inclusive of lots of different people and interests in the community,””I think we’re continuing to build different relationships and find new ways to partner with people who care and want to invest resources.”

Boyd, Forsberg and Brown are aware Omaha’s legendary giving is generational. While wealth will change hands, they say local philanthropists have been mindful creating instruments to ensure future giving.

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Omaha Community Foundation project assesses the Omaha landscape with the goal of affecting needed change

May 10, 2017 1 comment

The Landscape is a data-driven project by the Omaha Community Foundation that tries reconciling cold hard facts with warm personal stories in order to get a better, more intimate grasp of how the city’s doing in key quality of life areas. Ultimately, the foundation hopes the project gives it and the organizations that donate through it and the nonprofits it partners with a more measurable appreciation for the community’s chronic and emerging needs  and ways to impact positive change in addressing those needs through philanthropic giving. This is my story about The Landscape for the May-June-July 2017 issue of Metro Magazine (https://issuu.com/metmago/docs/thegivingguideandeventbook2017).

 

Omaha Community Foundation project assesses the Omaha landscape with the goal of affecting needed change

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in the May-June-July 2017 issue of Metro Magazine (https://issuu.com/metmago/docs/thegivingguideandeventbook2017)

 

Listening and learning at core of project

Seeking a more equitable Omaha for all 

Data points measuring quality of life factors and stories telling people’s actual lived experiences behind the statistics converge in a new Omaha Community Foundation project.

Launched in 2016, The Landscape is a data-driven look at how the metro’s doing in such key focus areas as health, neighborhoods, safety, transportation, workforce and education. Implicit in the project is a reality-check that finds Omaha’s high Best Place to Live rankings  tempered by issues of chronic poverty, gang violence, sexually transmitted diseases, underemployment, educational achievement gaps and other disparities among underserved populations. The project website connects community stakeholders to content that provides snapshot glimpses of where Omaha stands, for better or worse, in these areas.

Though it went live in 2016, the project hallmarks of using date plus stories was conceived in 2014. Even before that, in 2010, the foundation committed to using data and indicators as part of its strategic plan. The Landscape culls together metrics from various sources to create a free, online public access base whose information is not just for academic or public information purposes but to guide the foundation’s donor, knowledge and nonprofit partners to activate positive change.

“We’re not interested in collecting information for information’s sake. We care about what we can act upon and what we can really do to potentially drive results,” said Omaha Community Foundation President and CEO Sara Boyd. “There’s a lot of discourse not only in this community but across many communities in this country around issues of inequity, poverty, race. For us this isn’t a fad or a trend. We care about this community. We believe the real power to change some of these issues is at the community level.”

At its heart are people’s voices that illustrate and intersect the very challenges and opportunities illuminated by The Landscape.

Boyd said, “We’re spending the vast majority of 2017 really being out in the community and with partner organizations to further connect people with the information about The Landscape and to gain the benefit of more personal experiences from people who live with some of the issues highlighted in the project. We’re really interested in the collaboration and alignment opportunities to be in relationship and conversation with people who do experience these things.”

The Landscape is only as compelling as the information fed into it.

“We really rely on organizations in this community who do this on a more regular basis and already have a vast amount of information or a process ongoing for having these kinds of conversations. We are looking at how this project plugs into, intersects and highlights some of that work and the data available in our areas of focus.”

 

 

Keeping it real, keeping it human

Boyd said the goal is to keep people, not numbers, at the forefront since data only tells part of the story. The real essence and nuance about a situation comes not from stats but from people describing their own experiences with everything from domestic violence to unemployment to homelessness.

“We’re trying to balance the data with the voice of people and ground in greater understanding the humanity of what we’re talking about. Looking at the data in isolation, there may be things missed in that study and interpretation that a conversation with somebody who is living in a specific circumstance for some time could help really inform and enlighten.”

The project website, http://www.thelandscapeomaha.org, highlighted the focus areas of health, neighborhoods, safety and transportation to start with. Workforce and education focus areas get rolled out this spring.

A public service media campaign is putting the project’s data-driven descriptor out there. The site tag line reads: “Let’s make our city a great place to call home – no matter who you are or where you live.”

Boyd said the next step is explaining “what this project is all about” and how people can interface with it. The website includes lists of nonprofits to engage, an action kit with specific ways to connect, collaborate and respond and a resources guide for social services and supports. There’s also a page where folks can share their stories. The site is getting traffic and the foundation is fielding calls and emails.

 

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Identifying disparities and gaps

“I think there’s a lot of intrigue,” Boyd said. “There’s certainly questions around what this information really does mean for us. So part of 2017 is also about having conversations about what our intentions are and how we as a community might be able to utilize this information as a place of power to really help us coalesce around issues at potentially greater levels.

“Some of the data is gut-reinforcing because it confirms our sense for how we’re doing as a community in things like healthcare, where people in poverty naturally do not have healthcare coverage at a high rate. Other pieces of information are more surprising because it runs a little counter to the broader narrative of how we talk about things like poverty. For example, there’s a real housing disparity with black Omahans. Black home ownership here is 8 percent lower than the national average.

“Generally, I think we regard the quality of life and cost of living here as being very affordable but when you actually look at what it costs to raise a family and have a home in our community compared with wages earned, it is affordable for some of us, but not for all of us.”

She said The Landscape’s broad scope provides an accurate picture of Omaha across many sectors.

“If you put everything in a bucket and average it all out it might look really good and it does in many areas for Omaha. Many people, myself included, have a very high quality of life here. But what’s the quality of life for the least well-off community member and how do we use that as a barometer for how we’re doing and how do we raise the levels of those circumstances? If we look at it that way, then I think we’re all going to be better off.”

Boyd said foundation staff and board members acknowledge “these are difficult subjects” that greater Omaha needs to focus on. She makes clear the foundation doesn’t pretend “to know all the answers for what are difficult, entrenched challenges.”

“We don’t know everything,” she said, “and we are grateful for the partnership of so many organizations and people who already contribute to our knowledge, and that will continue. The information on the website today isn’t necessarily perfect. I’m sure somebody might be able to find an insight or add a different perspective to some of these things. It’s a work in progress. We expect this project continues to iterate as we work more in the community.”

 

 

No easy answers or quick fixes

The Landscape. she noted, is a resource for the community by the community.

“It takes the community to really wrap around some of these issues to see if we can do better in certain areas. That’s part of the driving force behind this project.”

Boyd emphasized that problems generations in the making will take time to reverse and that the foundation is in it for the long haul.

“We’re not suggesting we throw information out and there’s a tight and tidy solution in six months or even a year from now where we report things have moved remarkably. But it matters. These are large and very consequential issues that require significant attention and persistent focus in order to really get underneath all of the underlying factors and to look at where you might look at drivers of change. Then you have to stick with it as a community to try and make progress. That’s years in the making.”

The reality behind The Landscape’s data sometimes overturns the image of a thriving Omaha and touches on sensitive issues such as race. The truth hurts.

“We don’t want to ignore the fact we see poverty increasing in our community,” Boyd said. “Even if you control for socio-economic status factors there are other points of disparity. If you want to take in the full conversation you have to own that issues of race do present real challenges. Structural issues that have led to poverty or disparity for segments of the African-American, African, Latino-Hispanic communities.

“We have to work to get underneath these issues as a community overall. There is no simple solution. There is no one factor driving this. That’s why we embarked on this so long ago. It just so happens other organizations and communities have been working on these issues and are starting to surface some of the harder conversations. There’s real merit in these discussions.”

 

 

Building on each other

Boyd said The Landscape’s efforts are not meant to compete but rather complement work others do in addressing such matters.

“This isn’t meant to take the place of these amazing things that have already been put in motion. If anything, what we’re trying to do is further reinforce some great work already happening and that we’ve tied together in the Landscape. If we can coalesce with these, add additional momentum to where there’s already momentum and continue to bolster progress in others, then we’re all going to benefit as a result.

“Lots of things have been put in motion and this is a piece of a broader puzzle.”

She said The Landscape is poised to aggregate and extend data others gather to reach new audiences and share more information than otherwise possible..

“We may be able to help amplify the voice of groups and their priorities to potentially different constituencies and find areas we can drive at together and row in the same direction on.”

The hope is that the Landscape serves as a catalyst for Omaha’s giving community to take action.

“We’ve got such generosity, will, ambition and competitive spirit that when we look at how we fare versus other communities, we hope it does get underneath somebody’s skin for donors to say, ‘That’s not right, we can be better,’ and we get after that.”

Getting involved

The Landscape invites people to be a part of the change by getting involved, whether serving on a board, working with their neighborhood association, participating in community forums, running for elected office, voting, donating, volunteering.

“There are opportunities at various levels to consider what you bring to the table individually that can help play a role in driving the change and that’s different for different people. We do work with donors and so investment in some of these areas is certainly a possibility. But investment alone isn’t going to accomplish it either.

“We’re also cultivating a group of people who have agreed to be community listeners. These are individuals already engaged in the community who are interested in this journey we’re on with The Landscape. They’ve made a commitment to make decisions in how they engage with the community going forward based upon what they learn through the project.”

Community listeners are among the change agents The Landscape aims to activate.

“They’ve all said, ‘I’m in, I’m interested enough in where this is headed that I’ll refine or change or add thinking to my own community engagement.’ That could include philanthropic investment, business practices, policy work, leadership, creating connections with social capital. There’s any number of things it could influence. What we want is for community listeners to find where they feel personally they can take the most out of the project in terms of their own activation on these issues. It’s going to be different for different community members and what they care about and where they want to place their time and energy.”

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FROM THE LANDSCAPE WEBSITE:

 

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Going with the flow

The Landscape’s designed to be adaptive and to reflect new facts and best practices as they emerge.

“So much of this project has not been linear. It’s been anything but a straight line,” said Boyd, “and we recognize it’s not going to be a straight line path from here to there.”

With dozens of knowledge and nonprofit partners, combined with so many moving parts – meetings, forums, studies – covering such a broad swatch of the community, she said it’s little wonder the project has been “in process for a long time.” She added, “We wanted to be really diligent with this. In order to do this as thoughtfully as we intend to it really requires a lot of conversations with lots of different people and organizations and understanding their priorities and the work they already have ongoing and where there’s alignment and how we can come together.

“Within that framework we have the flexibility and thinking to say some opportunities may appear along the way we want to be open to.”

Getting to this point has been an education.

“I’ve learned so much on this journey and I know I’m not done in my own personal learning. My colleagues would say the same. Members of our board of directors and others we’re talking with feel that way, too. I think a big part of this project is learning together where we are to have a shared understanding. If we can come together with a shared understanding of an issue, then it’s a jumping off point to work on it.”

Data defines the project but an improved Omaha, not an archive, is the end goal.

“We’re going to stay connected to the data on this project. so three to five years from now we’ll want to see how things are going. But we’re not agnostic, we want to see change in the right direction on these indicators. We very much care these things move in the right direction. When we think about our own strategy and the work of the Omaha Community Foundation, we’re going to continue to be thoughtful about the piece of the puzzle we can be in trying to help affect that.

“We also want to be mindful about where the information goes and how it potentially helps our public servants in the decision-making process at the local and state level.”

Putting a human voice-face to the data

Programs and policies are often shaped by individuals’ personal stories. The men and women profiled on The Landscape website offer intimate stories that have the power to influence and inspire change.

“The storytelling is so important to this project,” Boyd said. “The storytelling really gives life and depth and perspective to this data. There’s making the data accessible and then giving the data meaning. That’s going to be an important part of our work going forward.

“We’re trying to help the community and the people who live here make progress together. We’re trying to set a stage for us to work together.”

In The Landscape, everyone has a story, everyone has a say.

Visit http://www.thelandscapeomaha.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

 

“We’re not interested in collecting information for information’s sake. We care about what we can act upon and what we can really do to potentially drive results.”

“Generally, I think we regard the quality of life and cost of living here as being very affordable but when you actually look at what it costs to raise a family and have a home in our community compared with wages earned, it is affordable for some of us, but not for all of us.”

“It takes the community to really wrap around some of these issues to see if we can do better in certain areas. That’s part of the driving force behind this project.”

“We may be able to help amplify the voice of groups and their priorities to potentially different constituencies and find areas we can drive at together and row in the same direction on.”

“We very much care these things move in the right direction. When we think about our own strategy and the work of the Omaha Community Foundation, we’re going to continue to be thoughtful about the piece of the puzzle we can be in trying to help affect that.”

“We’re trying to help the community and the people who live here make progress together. We’re trying to set a stage for us to work together.”

(Quotes by Sara Boyd)

 

Omaha Community Foundation: A Giving Connection Serving Those Who Serve

September 30, 2013 1 comment

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.

 

Giving Connection

Serving Those Who Serve

©BY LEO ADAM BIGA
Originally appeared in Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/)

 

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.

 

Growing philanthropy

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.”

 

Strengthening nonprofits

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

Omaha Legends: Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Inductees Cut Across a Wide Swath of Endeavors

March 28, 2012 3 comments

Every city of any size has its movers and shakers and star performers in the world of commerce. One function of a chamber of commerce is to recognize its local impact players. It’s no different in my city, Omaha, or with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which has a Business Hall of Fame for just this purpose.  The following story, to appear in the April issue of Metro Magazine, provides mini-profiles of the latest crop of hall inductees, whose diverse cross-section of endeavors proves there are all manner of ways to make a difference in the commerce of a city.  Most of those being honored are not well known outside of Omaha, but both couples being inducted this year are: Paul and Lori Hogan have created a mega national and international business in their heavily franchised Home Instead Senior Care, complete with a line of books and videos, all of which taken together have helped them nearly corner the market on nonmedical home services for seniors; Jun and Ree Kaneko are, outside of Warren Buffett and Alexander Payne, Omaha’s superstar residents for his much-in-demand sculpture and opera design work and for her artist residency administration expertise and, as a couple, for their much admired community art and creativity projects, including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and the KANEKO Open Space for Your Mind complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omaha Legends: Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Inductees Cut Across a Wide Swath of Endeavors

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to be published in Metro Magazine


The latest Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame inductees include a publisher, a PR maven, a businessman-turned-politician, two couples following their passion and “a cotton-picker from Texas” who turned sundries into gold. An April 24 Holland Performing Arts Center gala honors these legends.

Bob Hoig
 

Bob Hoig

Bob Hoig was bumming around New York City when he wound up in the Daily News building. He had no intention of being a journalist, but he needed a job, so he applied. The next thing he knew he was a copy boy. Thus began a 56-year and counting journalism career that’s wend its way from New York to Miami to Nebraska, where the Kansas-Colorado native had roots.

After reporting stints with United Press International and the Omaha World-Herald and editing the Douglas County Gazette, he formed the Midlands Business Journal in 1975 with Rapid Printing owner Zane Randall.

“I felt this market needed a niche paper that looked into small business success stories. That’s something nobody was doing at the time. All this came in the face of many prophecies of doom,” says Hoig, who went solo when Randall bowed out.

Hoig had confidence in his own abilities. “I’ve always been a good salesman and I think I’m a good enough writer and editor that I had the components you need to start a successful paper,” he says. Besides, he knows how to balance a ledger.

The veteran publisher has had hit and miss publications and he’s always learned from his successes and failures.

Satisfaction, he says, comes from “producing a good product that will survive, employ people and not be a burden on anyone,” adding. “I find this work very ennobling because it keeps me alive, involved and thinking.”

 

 

 
Linda Lovgren

 

 

 

Linda Lovgren

When Linda Lovgren left an ad agency to launch her own Lovgren Marketing Group in 1978 she says, “It never occurred to me I could fail. I just kind of looked at it as this is the next step in what I’m going to do, and if it works out that is spectacular, and if it doesn’t there will be another door opening.”

Going in business for herself, she says, was “a defining moment. It takes time to grow a business, to grow relationships, and one connection leads to another connection. It’s this large linkage you begin to build.”

With few women entrepreneurs around, her mentors were all men, among them then-Chamber president Bob Bell. She went on to be the Chamber’s first female president in 2003. She advises aspiring entrepreneurs find the right balance between work and family, just as she did as a new wife and mother.

The Iowa native’s long given back to her adopted Nebraska, volunteering with the State Fair board, Nebraska Kidney Foundation, Mid-America Boy Scouts of America and Habitat for Humanity,

She says she derives satisfaction from meeting the needs of clients, staff and family and “knowing you have accomplished something that has made a difference for all of those people.”

 

 

 Mike Fahey
Mike Fahey
CenturyLink Center Omaha

 

 

Mike Fahey

Heeding his older brother’s advice, Mike Fahey made “the most important” decision of his life when he moved here in 1971 to complete his education at Creighton University. It set him on a path to become an entrepreneur and two-term Mayor.

“It taught me you should never stop trying to improve yourself,” he says.

His next turning point was starting his own business, Land Title Company. “That certainly changed my entire life. It put me on the road to success. No longer was I working for a paycheck per se, I was really trying to build a business. There’s a lot of risk in that but I had confidence in my abilities. It taught me right away you’re only as strong as the people you have around you and I was very fortunate to get myself surrounded by some really good people.”

He regards growing his business his biggest success. “It brought me the greatest joy and with that it brought success. Creating jobs for other people was very rewarding as well.”

He says he applied a maxim from business to the mayor’s office: “Surround yourself with smart people, give them all the authority they need to do their jobs, and then hold them accountable for their outcomes. You get better results.”

He’s proud to have moved Omaha forward with signature projects like the CenturyLink Center and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Today he chairs the Omaha Community Foundation and sits on several boards. “Community service is a great way to pay back a city that’s been extremely good to me and my family,”

 

 

Paul and Lori Hogan
Home Instead Center for Successful Aging

 

 

Paul and Lori Hogan

A confluence of events led Paul and Lori Hogan to conceive Home Instead Senior Care. As he learned the franchise model working for Merry Maids he noticed his failing grandmother rebound with the help of family caregivers.

“I saw that you didn’t have to be doctor or a nurse to really have a huge impact on   someone’s health, particularly a senior,” says Paul. “That experience helped me see the opportunity that existed. Back when we started there were just two options for seniors needing support, a nursing home or your daughter’s home. Now there’s a whole proliferation of options. We’re one of them. Preparation and opportunity met, and we took the risk.”

Lori says having a passion for what they consider their mission is part of their success. Another is filling “a real need” among seniors. Quality caregivers and franchisees are critical, too.

Paul credits mentors Tom Guy and Dallen Peterson of Merry Maids with helping make Home Instead a reality. But

The company’s success has allowed the Hogans to pay forward their good fortune through the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation, the Center for Successful Aging and various resources for family caregivers. “When you are given much, much is expected,” says Lori, “and we really feel it is important to give back to our community and we’re so grateful we’re able to do that.”

 

 

Jun and Ree Kaneko
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
KANEKO

 

 

Jun and Ree Kaneko

The former Ree Schonlau was an Old Market pioneer when artist Jun Kaneko came at her invitation. Among the few who saw potential for the old wholesale produce district, she established the Craftsmen Guild and Alternative Worksite, Artist-in-Industry Program. Jun shared her vision and the couple formed the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, whose artist residency program is world-renowned.

More recently they opened KANEKO, a complex of creativity spaces.

Together, they’ve helped grow and put the Omaha arts community on the map. She’s one of America’s leading art residency advocates and experts. He found a nurturing place for his art in Omaha, where he’s developed his studio. Omaha is where he first made his popular dangos and began designing for operas.

They appreciate this community making their endeavors possible. “We’ve had patrons who are very inspiring and supportive, that believe in us and stand behind what we’re trying to do even though they know it’s a tough row and maybe a little avant garde,” she says. “Jun feels extremely fortunate, as I do, to be able to have realized those dreams here.”

She says there’s also pride in being recognized “as catalysts” for attracting commerce and attention to Omaha and for spurring the dynamic cultural renaissance the city’s enjoying. “Any mature city’s going to have the arts involved in it and now we have enough. I’m really pleased to see what’s happening. The cultural in-fill has finally caught up with those of us who were out here hanging on.”

Their multi-phase KANEKO project is a gift. Says Jun, “I always wanted to return something to this country. Lots of people helped me to be what I am now, so I feel I need to contribute something back. The best thing we know is creative activity” and thus their “open space for the mind.” He expects the organization and its mission “will keep progressing.”

 

 

 
A typical Pamida store
Witherspoon Mansion

 

 

D.J. Witherspoon

The son of a Texas migrant worker, D.J. Witherspoon was a teacher and coach in the Longhorn State before moving to Omaha in the Dust Bowl years and founding Gibson Products Company with his father-in-law. Witherspoon’s purchase of Marks Distributing Company introduced him to his future business partner, Nebraska native Lee Wegener, and together the two men formed Pamida, a chain of discount general merchandise stores serving rural America.

Pamida was a play on his three sons names: Patrick, Michael and David.

The company’s strategic expansion went viral in the 1960s and ’70s. Witherspoon, the cotton-picker from Texas, and Wegener, the corn-picker from Nebraska, followed a proven formula of acquiring existing businesses in underserved locales and converting them into Pamida stores. Known as an inspirational leader, Witherspoon engendered loyalty among his employees, many from rural backgrounds like his own.

Witherspoon, the company’s majority stock holder, sold Pamida to its workers through an employee stock option plan in 1981. He retired as chairman and enjoyed a life of conspicuous consumption and philanthropy.

Reservations for the 6 p.m. gala dinner and 7:30 p.m. induction ceremony are due April 17 by registering online at OmahaChamber.org/HOF.

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