Locals Help Nonprofits Succeed
By Dianne Anderson
Scant philanthropic dollars that trickled down to minority-led nonprofits statewide before the 2008 economic downturn seems to look better in hindsight.
If foundation dollars were tight back then in San Bernardino County, it’s worse now.
“Statistics in foundation funding specifically for the Inland Empire is three percent now in the region, not even broken down by ethnicity or leaders of color,” said Susan Gomez, president of the Inland Empire Community Collaborative (IECC).
Gomez, who at the time was a disabilities counselor and grant writer at the Inland Regional Center, remembers how everyone in the county kept submitting funding requests, and waiting, and waiting.
“It’s worth a lot of money if you’re in the room,” she said. “I have 60 in the cohort, and 21 nonprofits on a wait list, hoping someone is going to drop out. But nobody drops out.”
Since retiring, she started volunteering and seeking better ways for nonprofits to come together in collaboration instead of competing for small dollars.
Over two years, 31 organizations came out regularly to network. They stayed up late brainstorming, initially with no money involved. By the second year, the priority was to share what they learned, and make the IECC project official.
In those early days, she said it was clear that IECC had to prove themselves worthy before they started looking for money. With a small First 5 $20,000 seed grant, they picked officers, developed bylaws, organized as capacity builders.
Now on their seventh cohort, and year two of three on the First 5 contract, the organization is training the trainers and graduating local nonprofits. She said they wanted to change the way funders viewed their organization. As a result, they are seeing new opportunities.
Coming up, IECC is hosting a certified and seasoned grant writer, who will receive review and critique local nonprofits proposals.
“We, the coordinators and facilitators, get to learn how to critique and look at key elements and really well-written proposals. That strengthens our sustainability and capacity as we move forward as trainers,” she said.
The downside is the program has gained so much attention, that classes are filled and she doesn’t have any more space. Some of it might be the low pricing. Grant writing boot camps easily run $450, but they are offering classes at $25.
Nonprofits will attend four half-day sessions between now and September, but she hopes to get funding for another cohort next year. For those that didn’t get in this time around, IECC offers other services.
They are taking applications for their nine-month capacity building academy for sustainability. So far, she said 67 nonprofits have received academy training, some as big as Feeding America to smaller local church groups.
Small nonprofits usually have problems getting funded because they are viewed as not ready for prime time. She said there are better outcomes with a collective application.
“We’ve been able to raise $14.2 million in the last four years because our strategy is different now. We’re not competing with one another,” she said.
She said IECC is being recognized for their success, even by larger organizations and county agencies for their capacity building and being good stewards of funding.
Lately, she is also excited about an invitation to join a policy group for nonprofits in northern California, providing a voice from the Inland Empire.
“The county is coming to us wanting to submit applications. We have unsolicited proposals from foundations now,” she said. “We’re in a different position because of the way we’re working together.”
Volunteerism is the key. Their mission is that if IECC helps someone, they return again to help the next group. Executive directors with full-time jobs volunteer every month to train the next cohort.
“There is no extra funding for that, but it’s still the premise we stand by that we help one another whenever we can,” she said. “I think that tenet for us will always be in place.”
For more information, see http://inlandempirecommunitycollaborative.org/