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Member Week 2021: Foundation Leader Q&A with Lindy Eichenbaum Lent

Saturday, December 4, 2021 - 10:00 am EST
CoF Author Council on Foundations

Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, President and CEO of the Rose Community Foundation

Question: What drew you to the field of philanthropy?

Answer: An insatiable urge to leave this world slightly better than I found it…and a series of career pivots that were unknowingly preparing me for philanthropy. Driven by the conviction that an informed citizenry is critical for a functioning democracy and to prevent (or at least rectify) injustice, I set my sights on journalism at age 12. My time as a quickly disillusioned journalist was very brief but impactful on me and my future. Attracted by the opportunity to be more than a spectator to change, I translated my journalism skills into media relations and strategic communications roles for federal and local elected officials and candidates. Working in the Denver Mayor’s Office gave me first-hand experience with the importance of public-private-nonprofit partnerships, and I eventually took the helm of an urban placemaking nonprofit – so small that I wore every conceivable organizational hat at one time or another (and usually at the same time). Little did I know that my multi-sector journey – and passion for communications, policy, advocacy, community issues, and nonprofits – would ultimately lead me to Rose Community Foundation’s door. And for a bit of full-circle irony that thankfully proves my master’s degree in journalism was not wasted, Rose Community Foundation is now the fiscal sponsor of the Colorado Media Project – a funders’ consortium that aims to help strengthen and sustain Colorado’s local journalism ecosystem. Member Week 2021

Q: Collaboration is often the most effective way to tackle key issues and drive sustainable change in philanthropy. Share an example of a successful philanthropic collaboration or partnership that you have been a part of. What issue brought the organizations together? Why was a collaborative approach the right way to approach the issue? What were the results?

A: When the pandemic started, we knew that local nonprofits – especially those serving the communities hardest hit by COVID-19’s health and economic impacts – would be vital to our region’s response, mitigation, and recovery efforts. In addition to our own COVID response grantmaking – we joined other Colorado foundations in contributing dollars and time into a statewide COVID relief fund to optimize strategic coordination and minimize the burdens on prospective grantees. But for the three largest community foundations in the region, there was an appetite for more collaboration and more nonprofit support mechanisms beyond our individual and pooled grantmaking. To that end, Rose Community Foundation joined forces with The Denver Foundation and Community First Foundation in 2020 to create the Metro Denver Nonprofit Loan Fund, prioritizing local BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving nonprofits for zero-interest loans and technical assistance to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic while countering longstanding disparities in access to capital. For organizations that are positioned to add debt to their toolkit, no-interest (or even low-interest) loans open an avenue for needed funds. Whether in the form of working capital term loans or bridge financing, the loans are designed to help span timing gaps in the flow of nonprofit revenue during this unprecedented time, while also providing stability for the future. Paired with technical assistance offerings, the loans also offer a low-risk on-ramp to managing debt and building credit – making participating nonprofits better candidates for financing from the commercial market in the future. Administered by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, $2.4 million in zero-interest loans have already been deployed, with another round planned for early 2022. Of the loans issued to date by the Metro Denver Nonprofit Loan Fund, nine of the 14 recipient organizations are led by people of color, and 11 out of the 14 are focused on serving communities of color. Our goal is for the Metro Denver Nonprofit Loan Fund’s financial and technical assistance to strengthen nonprofit organizations so that communities not only recover but thrive. Given that the needs are great and growing, we know our impact is most meaningful when we align and leverage our collective philanthropic efforts and resources in pursuit of an equitable, just, and inclusive region.

Q: Reflecting on how COVID-19 and the movement for racial justice have impacted philanthropy, in what ways has the sector changed its approach to work since spring 2020? Share any examples of how your organization changed its operations or strategy.

A: In January 2020 we launched our new strategic plan, reorganizing our work in pursuit of equity/justice and inclusion/engagement. Little did we know what 2020 (or 2021) had in store for the world. Propelled by the pandemic’s disparate impacts on communities of color – as well as the nationwide dialogue on racial justice following George Floyd’s murder – we embarked on a series of 50+ “listening and learning” conversations with BIPOC-led/serving grassroots organizations which ultimately culminated in new learnings, new relationships and new grantees. Informed by these important conversations and building on our values and historic commitments, we focused a substantial portion of our discretionary grantmaking budget on Black-led, Black-serving grassroots organizations working at the intersection of racial equity, justice, and a wide range of issue areas spanning education, housing, transportation, economic opportunity, criminal justice, environment, community safety, arts and culture, youth empowerment, civic engagement and more. We invited donors to augment our racial justice grantmaking with contributions to our Community Action Fund and encouraged them to support local organizations directly, aided by the Racial Justice Giving Guide we produced. These investments of time and funds did not represent a one-off response to a unique moment in time, but rather the beginning of intentionally embedding a racial equity lens across all our grantmaking. In our largest 2021 grantmaking slate which focused on reimagining a more equitable Greater Denver region, over 70 percent of grant recipients specifically serve BIPOC communities and half are BIPOC-led. It is important to talk about equity and justice but talking is not enough; we are committed to putting dollars where our voice, values, and vision intersect.

Q: How do you think philanthropy can become a more trusted partner in advancing the greater good?

A: Foundations become more trusted partners – and make better decisions -- when they integrate community voice into decision-making by seeking out individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, responding to emerging issues with urgency and transparency, and facilitating feedback loops. And for foundations like ours that have the ability to work in the policy and advocacy arena, we can earn greater trust and expand our impact by showing up – with our dollars and our voices – in the policy and advocacy spaces that impact our nonprofit partners and the communities we collectively serve. For us, that has meant supporting policies that expand resources strategically and equitably while opposing policies that would exacerbate disparities and diminish vital community supports. The philanthropic sector does not have the resources to fill the gaps that misguided public policy can create, nor are we likely to reach the upstream levers of the problems we seek to address by avoiding the policy space. In a time of tremendous polarization and partisan division, foundations can also bring a welcome and trusted nonpolitical voice to the conversation – informed by the community trust we have built, data we have collected, and the experiences of our grantees and community members.

Q: Share one or more ways that your Council on Foundations membership has benefitted your organization.

A: Rose Community Foundation utilizes the Council on Foundation’s sample documents, webinars, and salary surveys. Our team appreciates the diverse array of substantive and relevant resources the Council provides.

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