Louisa McCune, Executive Director
Leonard Benton, Executive Director
Southwestern Urban Foundation
Foundations regularly provide capacity building support to nonprofit organizations, but it’s less typical for foundations to support the growth and capabilities of fellow funders. “Institutional mentoring goes beyond promoting a sense of collegiality between two foundations,” said Louisa McCune, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation. “It strengthens the abilities of both foundations to learn more about the communities they serve, reach out to new and different partners, and promote areas we’re interested in.”
Her foundation’s capacity building support for the Southwestern Urban Foundation came about following a meet-and-greet lunch the Kirkpatrick Foundation hosted soon after McCune came on board as the then-new executive director. It was an opportunity for her to meet peers from other Oklahoma City-based foundations, and to learn more about the community’s philanthropic landscape. The conversation and energy at the luncheon encouraged Leonard Benton to follow-up with McCune to explore possibilities. Having served as executive director of Southwestern Urban Foundation for a decade, Benton knew it was time to intentionally move from being a “feel good foundation, to a focused foundation.”
Dedicated to family development, children, youth and education, Southwestern Urban Foundation’s board and staff is made up fully of African-American leaders. “We are trying to demonstrate that we can give back to the community,” said Benton. “People typically think of the African-American community as being in need, that we’re always asking for help, not positioned to give help. We need to organize ourselves in a philanthropic manner so that we are perceived as donors.” As well, said Benton, after 10 years as “a check writing foundation, you realize you can’t be everything to everybody.”
While Southwestern Urban Foundation was well established, with a growing board and grantmaking, its resources were insufficient to support organizational development. The Kirkpatrick Foundation’s relatively modest grant support of $12,500 gave the smaller Southwestern Urban Foundation the ability to redefine its direction and mission, develop a strategic plan, and communicate about their grantmaking through a new website and marketing materials. Kirkpatrick staff also encouraged and supported Southwestern Urban Foundation in becoming a member of Philanthropy Southwest. This membership has helped Benton and his colleagues get to know other funders, cultivate relationships, and identify opportunities for partnerships. “These associations have helped us to become a bridge builder for the African-American community, connecting them to much greater resources available from larger foundations and corporate entities,” said Benton.
“It seems funny to me to say that we are mentoring someone like Leonard,” said McCune, “when the reality is he has been such a mentor to so many people and groups in our community. The bottom line for us is that the Kirkpatrick Foundation has 60 years of experience, bright staff and trustees, and significant philanthropic leadership. If we can share our best practices with other philanthropists, that’s something we prioritize. And while we always hope to open the eyes of others to areas that are of interest to us, none of this is quid pro quo. These types of foundation-to-foundation connections are characterized by friendship and integrity, increasing our ability to hear, learn and grow.”