By: Maury Harris

The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington has helped connect funds to worthwhile endeavors for nearly 30 years. Through their work on projects from Hands Across America and Operation Warm Heart to the Jim Parsley Community Center and Ristler Stadium, their projects have helped shape the community in a big way.

“We inspire philanthropy,” said Jennifer Rhoads, the foundation’s president. “It is very important for us to promote philanthropic activities throughout the entire market. The foundation works with donors and other funders to try to connect them with the needs in our community.”

In all, the foundation manages nearly 300 charitable funds, totaling $65 million in charitable assets and serves three main goals – providing and managing charitable funds, acting as a grant-making institution and actively engaging the community.

For charitable funds, Maury Harris, marketing and communications specialist for the foundation, explained that they provide tools to individuals, families and businesses who want to give back to the community. The donor opens a fund and the foundation then is able to pool and invest those funds for growth. In return, the foundation provides charitable services, such as grant administration and philanthropic advising.

Second, the foundation is a grant-making institution that funds other nonprofits through its own grant programs as well as through private fund-holder programs. Overall, they have distributed more than $130 million to nonprofits in Southwest Washington and Portland.

Their third role is to offer community engagement.
“What we really want to do going forward is to listen and learn more about the needs of our community, then advise our business and community leaders on what those needs are,” said Rhoads.

To this end, the foundation plans to put a new strategic plan in place next month.

Mary Pringle talks with a fundholder during the 2013 donor appreciation event.“We are going to have significant external focus on our community and we are going to actively be promoting partnerships,” added Rhoads.

The goal is to find out what the greatest needs are within the community to decide where to focus their efforts. In fact, Rhoads said that she has seen a few emerging ideas stemming from conversations she has had with businesses in recent months.

“The most important thing I’m hearing from our businesses is that they believe they want to invest in our community,” she noted. “They really want to invest and create social change in Southwest Washington.”

One example of how they believe that needs to happen is through creating a collective model – combining a business advisory group to work with the foundation to find out about the needs of the market and how to fill some of those gaps.

Another idea coming from area entrepreneurs is that they believe nonprofits that have innovative ideas could benefit from support and funding from the business community.

Smaller businesses, from five to 50 employees, have also mentioned getting together and pooling resources to create a larger impact, enabling them to be unified as business leaders to help better the community.

The foundation’s biggest challenge is trying to figure out as a group of nonprofits how to come together to make sure the needs of the community are being met.

But, with their upcoming external focus on community engagement, Rhoads is optimistic when she says that, along with the help of other nonprofits, the foundation will be leading the way to identify and connect nonprofits with donors, businesses, community leaders and politicians to help meet the needs of groups that are in need of more support.

“We believe it is important to listen and learn from the community we serve,” said Rhoads, “so that we can better understand where the region stands today and where it wants to be in the future.”

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