A Foundation Center 50th Anniversary Feature:
Five Questions about Economic Development Grantmaking for Four Ohio Community Foundation Leaders
In celebration of the Foundation Center’s 50th year of service to the nonprofit and philanthropic community, we are offering special programs, events, and online features throughout the year. The Foundation Center—Cleveland is pleased to present the following interview, the first in a series with leaders of four Ohio community foundations.
Aligning community and philanthropic resources with initiatives and activities relating to the economic vibrancy of Northeast Ohio is currently of high interest to funders, government agencies, and organizations located throughout the region. One funding coalition in particular, The Fund for Our Economic Future, includes several community foundations among its many partner organizations that are devoting time and resources to economic development. To find out what’s on their minds, the Foundation Center—Cleveland asked representative leaders from those four foundations the same five questions about their economic development work.
Our first interview is with Brian R. Frederick, President/CEO, The Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County.
Foundation Center (FC): How do you define economic development, and what is your strategy for making grants in this area?
Brian Frederick (BF): My understanding of economic development, or maybe more specifically our foundation’s role in economic development, is constantly evolving. Hopefully most of our grantmaking has, at least indirectly, promoted a stronger economy in our community. But there is certainly a level of first-order or targeted economic development that is transformational, creating an environment that nurtures business growth and ultimately employment. It’s difficult to live in Northeast Ohio and not equate the need for decent, good paying jobs with economic development.
Our community foundation has been involved with the Fund for Our Economic Future since its inception in 2004. And this collaboration of some 80 foundations in Northeast Ohio is the cornerstone of our transformational strategy for economic development. Prior to our involvement in the Fund, we supported a few local economic development efforts, and while the grantees were doing great things, there was little strategy behind our grantmaking. Through this collaboration we now have access to expertise, research, and strategy development that we could never afford independently. Our involvement in the Fund has led us to understand that our best bet in transforming our economy is to work cooperatively on a regional level. The Fund is less than three years old and we’re still pretty new to this grantmaking arena.
FC: How does your foundation’s work in economic development fit within the more traditional silos of grantmaking by program area, such as arts and culture, human services, civic affairs, etc.?
Our involvement in the Fund for Our Economic Future has led us to understand that our best bet in transforming our economy is to work cooperatively on a regional level.
BF: A majority of our grantmaking continues to focus on those more traditional areas that we have funded since inception, and we haven’t added a new category of competitive grantmaking for economic development per se. Our grant to the Fund for Our Economic Future is considered an initiative. We still believe that economic development is primarily the purview of business and government, but we recognize that organized philanthropy can provide two very valuable tools in our effort to transform our economy—patience and persistence. But our involvement in economic development does inform our entire grantmaking program. For instance, we are using what we’ve learned from Dashboard Indicators for the Northeast Ohio Economy as a filter when reviewing our more traditional grant applications and thus might take a closer look at how a particular grant might improve the quality of life and quality of place in Lorain County.
FC: What impact do you want your economic development grants to have? What does success look like?
Ultimately, I want to see our grantmaking add to a vibrant economy which offers an abundance of good paying jobs that result in “brain gain.”
BF: Ultimately, I want to see our grantmaking add to a vibrant economy which offers an abundance of good paying jobs that result in “brain gain.” I go back to one of my first statements—it's hard to think about economic development in Northeast Ohio without thinking about employment. But that’s a tall order and one that is going to take time. Our grantmaking isn’t going to solve the problem overnight. We can expect our grants to be targeted and focused on realistic outcomes, and their outcomes will hopefully add to a growing list of “successes.” I would also expect that our grantmaking would leverage both additional dollars and additional partners to this effort.
FC: How are your economic development grantees measuring their success?
BF: I think this is one of the more difficult challenges of doing work in economic development. Our economy is measured in timeframes like daily market closings and quarterly earnings reports, but economic development, and especially economic transformation, needs to be measured in timeframes of years or decades. Moving a $150 billion economy in Northeast Ohio doesn’t happen quickly, yet many of our systems are geared toward pretty rapid turnaround. We may well be looking at 10, 15 or 20 years before we see a turnaround. We need to figure out how to measure incremental progress while maintaining the patience and persistence necessary to nurture transformational change. The Fund is working on the development of reasonable metrics with its grantees, and it isn’t an easy process.
FC: In your opinion, how can any type of nonprofit contribute to the region’s economic development goals?
BF: Our nonprofit sector already plays a vital role in economic development by helping to improve the quality of life and place in our respective communities. Many nonprofit organizations provide amenities that augment economic growth, and most provide services that make Northeast Ohio a great place to live, work, learn, and play. I also believe that our nonprofit partners can collaborate further with other nonprofit, private, and public sector partners as we work to solve community barriers to economic prosperity. If our involvement with the Fund for our Economic Future has taught us anything, it’s that we can accomplish amazing things if we earnestly work together (and don’t care who gets the credit). Finally, I believe that our nonprofit sector plays an important communication role in keeping our citizenry informed, empowered, and engaged. The NEO Barometer tells us that people are about three times as
optimistic about our economic future if they are knowledgeable about economic development efforts. I believe that “hope” is one of our more important resources in continuing to turn Northeast Ohio around.