Helping Nonprofits Advance Their Missions and Grow Impact

Mar 01, 2017

Our Center for Nonprofit Excellence is dedicated to bringing about positive change in Fairfield County by providing nonprofits with training, tools and resources that can help them grow and thrive. Originally published on the Hearst CT News Blog, this conversation with Karen Kelly, Senior Vice President & CMO, First County Bank and VP, First County Bank Foundation, offers an inside look at why support for this type of program is essential – and how it can help funders exponentially leverage their philanthropic investments.

Karen Kelly, Senior Vice President & CMO, First County Bank 

To make real, impactful change, you need both tools and knowledge. As a result of her involvement with the work of First County Bank Foundation, Karen Kelly understands firsthand the vital strengths that contribute to enabling change.

Over the past 15 years, First County Bank Foundation has awarded more than $7.5 million in grants to nonprofits working in southern Fairfield County. By supporting Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE), First County Bank Foundation is also helping nonprofits to address their most pressing operational challenges.

By making grants to the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, First County Bank Foundation underwrites low-cost training programs that teach Fairfield County nonprofits how to build infrastructure, strengthen operations and increase return on investments.

“We are strong believers in what the Center for Nonprofit Excellence does,” says Kelly. “The education piece is a critical need for this community.”

Meeting critical needs with a local resource

A key aspect of Kelly’s role is to explore opportunities to support nonprofits in effectively delivering their missions. To gain insight, she has met extensively with the senior staff and boards of dozens of nonprofits working across diverse areas of impact, including supporting children and families, increasing access to affordable housing, stimulating economic development and strengthening education.

While the organizations are varied in their key objectives, when Kelly asks nonprofit leaders to identify their core challenges, she often hears common answers. One prominent theme is developing strategies for successful fundraising and fostering high-functioning boards.

“Those are the topics that pose challenges for nonprofit organizations,” says Kelly. “I sit on two boards myself, so I know first hand that they face both of those challenges.”

By connecting their grantees with the Center for Nonprofit Excellence and helping to fund key resources, First County Bank Foundation helps nonprofit leaders access tools for best practices and build relevant, practical knowledge and skills. The Center for Nonprofit Excellence delves into competencies like budgeting, board chair roles, IT planning, administration, fundraising and board governance. Based on her observations, Kelly attests to the benefits of the CNE.

“Because First County Bank Foundation is closely tied to the nonprofit community, we can see the value that the Center for Nonprofit Excellence provides to the local nonprofit leaders,” says Kelly. “Having access to these resources is essential.”

Amplifying investments in nonprofit success

Today, nonprofits are working in a difficult climate of growing need and shrinking revenue. As organizations strive to address these challenges, it’s more important than ever that they have access to affordable, high-quality education and resources.

One great example, says Kelly, is the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s series of trainings on how to implement Results-Based Accountability™, a methodology that helps nonprofits measure and convey their impact. Increasingly, nonprofits must clearly demonstrate their value in their community in order to secure and nurture a sustainable revenue stream.

“Because there are so many organizations that are in need, the pool of supporters is shrinking. As a result, funders are starting to ask more difficult questions,” says Kelly. “Anything that can help nonprofits demonstrate value to a potential funder is important.”

That’s a concept that First County Bank Foundation can get behind. As a funder, the organization wants to know that its grantees are successfully navigating operational challenges. By helping nonprofits get the tools and knowledge they need to strengthen infrastructure and capacity, First County Bank Foundation can protect its investment of philanthropic dollars and amplify the potential impact of every grant.

That’s why Kelly is hopeful that more Fairfield County nonprofits will take advantage of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s offerings – and that other businesses and philanthropists will join in funding and supporting the CNE.

“The Center for Nonprofit Excellence focuses on topics that are of critical importance,” says Kelly. “What could be better than to have a local resource where nonprofit leaders can go to learn?”


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Together we thrive.