Member Week 2021: Foundation Leader Q&A with Lori O'Keefe

Tuesday, December 7, 2021 - 2:00 pm
CoF Author Council on Foundations

Lori O'Keefe, Triangle Community Foundation

Question: What drew you to the field of philanthropy?

Answer: My entire career has been in the nonprofit sector; I came to the Foundation nearly 17 years ago because I could see the power of connecting those with resources to the nonprofits doing the work of creating a strong and vibrant community. So much of anything we do comes down to people. Being able to work alongside dedicated staff, Board, donors, nonprofit leaders and peer philanthropists who care and want to change our community for the better are a large part of why I’m still here and now in my ninth year as CEO.

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: In 2014, after a local nonprofit organization’s seemingly sudden financial collapse, Triangle Community Foundation began collaborating with a group of concerned Triangle funders on how we could better support the region’s nonprofit sector, eventually becoming the Triangle Capacity Building Network. At the time, collaboration was key because none of the funders had the resources to make a real impact in this area, and we also wanted to learn with our grantees about how to address needs based on their input. Alongside Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative, John Rex Endowment, Oak Foundation, The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and other regional funders and nonprofit consultants, the Network has since granted over $750,000 in support of strong Triangle nonprofits, prioritizing organizations led by and serving people of color. In addition to collectively leveraging funding, the Network has been able to provide technical assistance for grantees and learning opportunities for funders and nonprofits to support building infrastructure. When the COVID pandemic hit, the funders immediately shifted to unrestricted funding, and we’ve been building the next phase of this work to address ideas of trust-based philanthropy and full-cost funding.

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: Like many sectors in this unprecedented time, the pandemic and racial unrest has led the philanthropy sector to reevaluate its priorities. While of course the goal of philanthropy is to offset needs, we’ve all taken a hard look at whether we have in fact been truly equitable when putting resources into the community. As an organization we have taken a close look at our internal culture as well as our grantmaking policies to ensure we are providing a positive and supportive working environment as well as proper guidance to our fundholders that results in grantmaking to organizations that reflect our values.

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

A: The world is changing at a rapid pace, and as philanthropists we must adapt and change along with it. It is important for us to show to our community that we are making tangible progress toward a future that is better for us all. At Triangle Community Foundation we have several ways in which we work to show that we are the trusted partners we seek to be. Our Fund for the Triangle specifically addresses unique needs of our community via discretionary grantmaking, and we also have responsive grantmaking when immediate needs arise. Additionally, we provide opportunities for our donors to learn more about the evolving needs of our community to allow them to make the most educated decisions on where to point funding.

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

A: It can’t be overstated how important it is to have fellow organizations to learn from and bounce ideas off of. While each community is unique, there are also many similarities, and being able to draw from the experiences of other foundations to inform our work is incredibly valuable. Especially in these last 19 months, having the Council to lean on to do a gut check in terms of our policies and procedures has been very helpful.

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