Improving the community through philanthropy and nonprofits

Many business leaders and community members hope to make an impact on the areas they serve and the neighborhoods in which they live. Pursuing philanthropic efforts and working with nonprofits are among the top ways that people can make a positive impact in their community. In the 20th episode of the Sharing Knowledge Series, host Kevin Vonderau, chief lending officer, Westfield Bank, is joined by Colleen Rice, executive director, Leadership Medina County, and Katy Fuerst, executive director, Feeding Medina County to discuss everything you need to know about nonprofits, philanthropy, and how you can get involved.

Below are some of the takeaways from this conversation. The full episode can be viewed or listened to here.

The difference between philanthropy and nonprofits

While the two terms can easily be conflated, it’s worth noting the difference between philanthropy and nonprofits. Both Colleen and Katy define philanthropy as the act of giving while a nonprofit is the organization that is often the recipient of philanthropic donations. The two are intertwined as nonprofits rely on philanthropy to function and deliver on their mission.

It’s also important to distinguish between the different types of nonprofits. Most nonprofits are classified as tax exempt 501(c)(3). Organization structures can range from public charities, supported by the community at large, to private foundations and private operating foundations designed to fund projects, programs, or activities.

Prioritizing the mission

Perhaps the first, and most important thing any nonprofit needs to establish is a clear and actionable mission. In fact, having a mission statement is a requirement for an organization to be granted 501(c)(3) status. Once nonprofits are up and running, the mission drives all aspects of the operation and is something that needs to be constantly communicated to donors and the public to maintain success.

Over time, the community and conditions around nonprofits change. A good strategic plan should be based on a timeline that allows organization executives to reassess goals and best practices depending on the circumstances that impact the mission. These circumstances can include changes in population demographics in an area of service or public policy changes that impact the issue the mission seeks to address. 

In the business of making a difference.

“We’re not in [business] to make money for ourselves or anyone else,” Katy says comparing nonprofit companies to for-profit companies. The essential difference is, instead of being driven to benefit shareholders, nonprofits are motivated by doing what’s best for the community. Like traditional profit-making companies, nonprofits must generate enough money to sustain their operations and to pursue their mission. In this sense, both types of companies are run similarly. Because of this, nonprofits need to constantly seek new donors, volunteers and corporate partners who have a mutual mission. 

Colleen points out that donors essentially play the same role as shareholders do to for-profit companies. Donors want to see that their contributions are making a noticeable difference, just as investors want to see profitability in a project or business.

“Anyone can be one step away”

Nonprofits step in to fill the gaps when the government cannot or will not assist due to income criteria or requirements. Katy explains, “anyone at any point in their life may turn to a nonprofit. Unexpected events (such as an illness or loss of income) can suddenly make someone in need of assistance including medical, family, legal, food insecurity, and development.

Sudden challenges like the pandemic in 2020 drove up demand for food assistance and altered the way food banks operated to keep clients and volunteers safe. Many people coming to the foodbank for the first time say that they never thought they would be in that position of needing help. 

The future for nonprofits

Colleen expects in the next few years that there will be more regionalization, meaning that some nonprofits are deciding to join forces with other like-minded organizations in different parts of a region. Many are finding that this is an effective way to consolidate leadership and resources in order to better serve their mission. On a similar note, Katy expects more collaboration between different nonprofits in the coming years as organizations realize that clients can be better served when they work together as partners.

Getting involved

“You’re never too young and you’re never too old to start getting involved,” Colleen says about those thinking about supporting a nonprofit. Katy adds that there are creative ways for businesses to engage with nonprofits and improve the community.

Businesses who want to get involved can visit:

  • to learn more about a nonprofit’s structure, financials, and mission. This is a useful resource for individuals or businesses looking to support a nonprofit that aligns with their values
  • to identify opportunities for employees to volunteer in Northeast Ohio. Large groups of volunteers can go a long way at places like Feeding Medina County, Katy adds.

Feeding Medina County serves food to about 3,000 families in need each month. While financial contributions are essential for covering the costs of providing the food, a network of dedicated volunteers is what makes it possible to actually get the food into the hands of those who need it. Colleen works to connect individuals and organizations with nonprofits whose missions they are passionate about to ensure a good fit. 

Business leaders and individuals looking to get involved in the area can get started today by visiting Leadership Medina County or Feeding Medina County online.

Watch or listen to the full 20th episode of the Sharing Knowledge Series