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 second 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 second interview is with B. Diane Gordon, Executive Director, Wayne County Community Foundation.
Foundation Center (FC): How do you define economic development and what is your strategy for making grants in this area?
Diane Gordon (DG): The term encompasses support of existing businesses, recruitment of new businesses and development of appropriate infrastructure elements to provide an environment which is friendly and supportive of business. The Wayne County Community Foundation's strategy is to support collaborative efforts for economic development through our participation with the Fund for Our Economic Future and to act locally by assisting development groups such as the Wayne Economic Development Council. Since the foundation cannot make grants to profit-making individuals or companies, we have supported other foundations or governmental entities in this process.
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.?
DG: Here in Wayne County, we're familiar with silos! We also know that silos work best when filled, and that filling occurs when the farmer has had a good harvest. No program area, such as advancement of the arts, can be successfully sustained without a solid economy underneath it. Likewise, no economy will grow unless the environment includes arts appreciation, human services, and civic affairs.
FC: What impact do you want your economic development grants to have? What does success look like?
While it is possible to measure success quantitatively, by counting numbers of new employees...it is also important to view our efforts as a success by seeing existing businesses becoming stronger.
DG: The gradual process of finding and nurturing local entrepreneurs who choose to locate here because of the environment and the support given to government and other local enterprises is, to us, evidence of success. While it is possible to measure success quantitatively, by counting numbers of new employees, etc., it is also important to view our efforts as a success by seeing existing businesses becoming stronger. The recruitment of new businesses to our area can also be seen as an indicator of success, but such efforts have to occur within the context of available community resources and our community's lifestyle. To the extent that we can also support our existing educational institutions, our civic services, and other programs that contribute to a healthy business environment, success could then perhaps be quantitatively measured in terms of tax revenues, incomes earned, and other things.
FC: How are your economic development grantees measuring their success?
DG: The Fund for Our Economic Future has specific metrics to measure success in the region. Locally, the Wayne Economic Development Council also tracks the successful development of new business.
FC: In your opinion, how can any type of nonprofit contribute to the region's economic development goals?
A good economic base produces individuals and institutions that provide support for excellent public services and, say, the arts. These services contribute greatly to a good quality of life, which then becomes a determining factor for businesses choosing to locate and grow here.
DG: This is a circular issue. A good economic base produces individuals and institutions that provide support for excellent public services and, say, the arts. These services contribute greatly to a good quality of life, which then becomes a determining factor for businesses choosing to locate and grow here. The new and growing businesses play a major role in creating and maintaining a solid economic base that produces individuals and institutions that provide support for excellent public services and the arts. These things are mutually supporting and interdependent. A nonprofit organization can enter the circle at any point by participating with any of the players in the cycle. Donations through a nonprofit that benefit a human services organization or the arts, for example, will contribute to our shared quality of life, making the region attractive to new residents and business, but such donations occur only when the economy supports individuals capable of getting involved.