Building Up

Since 2010, Proud Ground and Bank of America have partnered together to help members of the Portland community achieve their dream of becoming homeowners.

A corporate philanthropy program helps local nonprofits get to the next level of impact and success.

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What’s the essential glue that binds members of a community together, even as its contours change? A quality education and a home to call one’s own are crucial ingredients, say the executive directors of two local nonprofits. Supported by Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders® program — which is the bank’s signature philanthropy program that awards an unrestricted $200,000 grant and leadership training to a local nonprofit each year — these organizations are working hard to ensure that every Portlander gets a fair shake at both.

Open School, a college prep program and 2004 Neighborhood Builders grant recipient, offers an alternative path to high school graduation for an ever-larger student population.

And Proud Ground, a community land trust and 2010 Neighborhood Builders recipient, is offering permanently affordable homeownership opportunities to more low-income families, despite ballooning
housing prices.

A community is only as strong as its nonprofits, says Roger Hinshaw, Bank of America’s Market President for Oregon and Southwest Washington. Infuse them with dollars as well as often-overlooked strategic planning and leadership development assistance, and you bolster the economy, too.

“Any for-profit company that exists in a community needs to be concerned about the economic well-being and strength of the fabric of the community,” says Hinshaw. “We recognize that the nonprofits we support are doing great work, and if they can continue to improve and increase their impact, that’s going to have positive and lasting spin-off benefits.”

Through its Neighborhood Builders program, Bank of America has invested more than $180 million into nonprofits nationwide over the past 12 years, with a focus on those addressing issues fundamental to economic mobility, including jobs, hunger and housing. And to date, Neighborhood Builders has trained executive directors and emerging leaders from over 900 nonprofit organizations — 20 of which are from the Portland area. It has also infused each organization with a $200,000 unrestricted grant, which is a rarity in corporate philanthropy circles.

These nonprofits are chosen by a committee comprised of local civic and business leaders plus past grant recipients, combined with Bank of America leaders, says Hinshaw, who notes that the majority of the votes are from those outside the bank. What are they looking for? In short, nonprofits with a track-record of success that are on the verge of something great, where they simply
lack the financial resources to get to the next level of impact. In recent years that’s meant a new Career Center for Dress For Success Oregon, and the launch of a Critical Home Repair program at Willamette West Habitat For Humanity, for instance.

neighborhood builder
Bank of America selected Willamette West Habitat For Humanity as its 2016 Neighborhood Builder, helping expand the nonprofit’s Critical Home Repair program.

Building Up, Building Out
The program’s unrestricted grant dollars have enabled both organizations to fund initiatives more creatively and strategically. Open School (then Open Meadow) used its dollars to purchase technology and teaching materials, but the true payout came from investing in long-term development direction, says Executive Director Andrew Mason. The result? Better analytics and a solid capitalization structure, both of which help Open School reach more at-risk students, closely measure how they’re benefitting, and tweak its approach constantly.

“Our development efforts are four times what they were,” Mason explains. “And that creates all kinds of room to think about what comes next.”

But this isn’t just checkbook philanthropy. The leadership development component of the Neighborhood Builders program proved an early career game-changer for Mason. The program taught him the importance of thinking long-term, and of carefully charting a leadership succession plan.

“We were thoughtful about what it takes to move forward,” he says. “And I think we’ve done pretty well with succession.”

The nonprofit leadership baton must change hands carefully, agrees Proud Ground Executive Director Diane Linn, who took her organization’s helm just after the Neighborhood Builders grant was awarded to them. At a time when many nonprofits were struggling, she found a tightly focused team with substantial forward momentum.

Neighborhood Builders “gave Proud Ground a lift at a critical point in time, barely post-recession,” says Linn. “Without this bolstering of the team and the training and support, I think we might have gone the way of a lot of other community land trusts.”

Proud Ground lr
 Bank of America and its volunteers have helped Proud Ground provide affordable housing for hundreds of families throughout the Portland community.

The program also provides the nonprofits with extra volunteering, PR and marketing muscle. The increased visibility is a major boon for the selected nonprofits, says Monique Barton, Bank of America’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility: “We’re helping shine a light on their story, mission and needs in a focused and strategic way, so that the greater community can know about it, and ultimately, hopefully support it.”

The exposure is huge for nonprofits, agrees Linn: “We don’t do much of anything all by ourselves. Grants like this help us connect with other organizations. We can communicate about choices and challenges.”

The Glue that Binds
Communities are complex, but they’re ultimately bound together by simple things: inclusion, ownership, empowerment. Today, thanks in part to the Neighborhood Builders program, these two nonprofits are able to offer far more of all three.

Open School lr
Bank of America volunteers have proudly supported Open School by serving Thanksgiving lunch to teachers for the past four years.

Twelve years out, Open School is a nimble, forward-focused organization serving 750 students annually in six Portland districts. It also nurtures incoming educators, some of whom are former students. When people feel invested, says Mason, they stick around: “It’s not about creating a ticket out of your community. It’s about feeding back into your community and changing it. And it’s about doing it well.”

Six years out, Proud Ground has helped 300 families purchase homes, and the organization is self-sustaining, guaranteeing fair ownership opportunities far into the future. That’s huge, says Linn: “These houses will never be sold on the market for the highest dollar. That allows people to stay in the neighborhood they grew up in. How do you put a price tag on that?”