June 1, 2016
The Community Support Services (CSS) program of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation (CDAF) has reached its 10-year anniversary, and according to CDAF President and CEO Julie Gosselink, the program has “exceeded all expectations.”
CSS has also become a model for other foundations, and in 2010, was recognized with the national Critical Impact Award by the Council on Foundations for “innovative leadership, bold vision, and significant impact in advancing the common good.”
“When we started in 2006, it was a strategy of CDAF to strengthen and improve the non-profit community. It was also a big risk. We came out with an idea but had no model or benchmarks. We knew there was great volunteer and donor support for community projects so we felt we could help by providing back-office support to the non-profit organizations that have no staff or systems in place,” Gosselink explains.
“We started with two staff members, myself and Shannon Fitzgerald, and three partner organizations. At that time, we were in the process of building the administrative offices on Penrose. Before the building was complete, we started CSS on the belief that we could do more.
“Today, six CDAF staff members provide support through CSS to the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation and its partner organizations, more than 100 charitable funds and capital campaigns for area projects, plus consulting services in our areas of expertise, ” Gosselink said. “In 2011, we doubled the size of the building and earlier this year renovated our reception area and conference rooms because of the increased activity from our partner organizations.
“This is exactly what we had hoped would happen. It all goes back to trust and keeping Claude’s entrepreneurial spirit and vision alive.”
How it works
The premise for CSS is to strengthen the missions of local non-profit organizations by providing back-office support services that the volunteer organizations cannot accomplish on their own. By partnering with CSS for daily operational needs, the organizations can focus on their goals and objectives of improving quality of life for area residents. CSS in turn helps each partner organization increase its capacity, efficiency and effectiveness by reducing costs through shared facilities, staff, technology, and equipment; improving access to funders through greater awareness; and increasing collaboration and networking among all partners.
In addition to the physical facilities at CDAF, CSS provides financial accounting management with a CPA on staff, marketing and website assistance, and donor and event management to partner organizations that include Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, Imagine Grinnell, Grinnell-Newburg Educational Excellence (GNEE), G-N Dollars for Scholars, G-N Alumni Association, Big Hearts for Tiny Hands, Communities for Literate Iowa Kids (CLIK), Drake Community Library , Kids Against Hunger, S.H.E. Counts, Tiger Packs, and Jasper, Marion, Poweshiek (JMP) Early Childhood Iowa.
The Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation (GPCF), housed in the CDAF administrative building, is one of the original partners and beneficiaries of CSS. GPCF Executive Director Nicole Brua-Behrens says that many of GPCF’s milestones since 2006 are directly tied to CSS.
“Since GPCF began a formal partnership with the Community Support Services program, the foundation’s assets have grown; we have become nationally certified through the Council on Foundations; we have been able to offer the Endow Iowa Tax Credit to donors who create or give to a qualified endowed fund; and the board was able to hire its first staff. In the last 10 years, these tremendous milestones have been achievable through the Community Support Services program and the partnership with the Ahrens Foundation,” Brua-Behrens said.
CSS has also played an integral role in managing the back-office operations for multiple capital campaigns, at no charge. Some of the largest campaigns include the Grinnell High School gymnasium and auditorium expansion, which raised $4.2 million in private funds, with $1 million contributed by CDAF; Drake Community Library’s “The Next Chapter” capital campaign, co-chaired by Gosselink, which raised $4.1 million in private funds and more than $500,000 contributed by CDAF; and the Grinnell Mutual Family Aquatic Center, which raised $1.4 million in private funds.
To date, the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation has provided more than $3 million in services through the CSS program. Partner organizations pay fees below fair market value to cost-share the expenses of staff time, software, and facilities use, among many other services. Gosselink receives inquiries regularly from other communities, asking how CSS works and the value of the services.
“It’s difficult to measure the impact we’ve had other than manpower and physical assets. How do we measure the level of trust and value that our partner organizations place in us? For example, how many donors gave to a campaign because of the strength of the non-profit that was backed by CSS?
“Our success depends on their success and vice versa. We’ve invented the wheel as we’ve gone along. We asked everyone to believe in us, trust us and come along on the journey. And thank goodness, they did because it’s worked,” Gosselink said.
“We are looking forward to strengthening the CSS program in the next 10 years. We will continue to be active in public/private partnerships and sharing our expertise. There is a culture of collaboration in this community, and we want to be at the table for others,” Gosselink offers.
More information about the Community Support Services program is available on the CDAF website at ahrensfamilyfoundation.org.