“Board members did not want the words ‘nonprofit’ or ‘resource’ in our name, and I was really surprised,” Tucker said. “I thought the name would be the name, but they said, ‘First off, we don’t serve just nonprofits.’ ”
It was an idea Tucker could understand from her years working with nonprofits, helping them to develop best practices so they could thrive in the future.
“It takes four sectors – business, philanthropy, government and nonprofits – working together to create community change, sustainable community change, so we need to be about the business of serving all four sectors so they work together,” Tucker said. “The idea is that we pour those four sectors in together at our foundry.”
The Nonprofit Resource Center, founded by civic leader Jan Stohr in 1988, was reborn as The Impact Foundry a little more than a year ago, and Tucker became its executive director. Until then, she had worked for 10 years at 3fold Communications where she and CEO Gordon Fowler had been hired by nonprofits to help with marketing, communications, board development, funding development and more.
Previously, Tucker had volunteered at the Nonprofit Resource Center, teaching classes there. She knew that the nonprofit organization, which coaches nonprofits in writing grant proposals and developing sound management, was struggling to find the financial resources to continue its mission. Concerned about the center’s future, she and Fowler approached the organization’s board and asked if they would consider allowing them to attempt to reinvigorate it. The answer was yes.
“We could have gone and started our own nonprofit, I suppose, but why?” Tucker said.
Fowler agreed to pay Tucker’s salary for the first year as she got the nonprofit on firmer footing, and Lynne Cannady of LPC Consulting put up funding to keep much-needed classes and resources going. Both business people also sit on the board of The Impact Foundry.
Tucker now leads other nonprofits through the very process she used to help refocus the Nonprofit Resource Center, and she brings in other seasoned faculty from around the nation to help. Consultant Scott Schaffer of Seattle’s Public Interest Management Group, for instance, educates nonprofit leaders about mergers and acquisitions, language that’s often foreign to them.
“These organizations need to look at how they remain viable,” Tucker said. “They probably have to merge in some cases. There are too many nonprofits, and too many of them don’t do their jobs effectively or can’t prove that they are. ... A lot of nonprofits don’t like to hear me say this, but I will say to them, ‘Are you mission-centric or egocentric?’ If you, the personality, disappear, does this place collapse? If that’s the case, then you do not have a mission-centric organization. You’re a passionate sole proprietor, and that doesn’t meet the test of nonprofits, or give me a reason to support you financially. You have to build a sound foundation and apply good business practices.”
Last October, Tucker welcomed 350 nonprofit employees, volunteers, donors, foundations and corporate leaders to The Impact Foundry’s first “What IF” conference, offering workshops on nonprofit management. This year, she said, she has made it a two-day conference for Oct. 4-5 at McClellan Conference Center, and she hopes to lure attendees from all around Northern California with its theme.
“What if, for a moment, nonprofit leaders could imagine having all the resources they needed to deliver their mission?” Tucker said. “I wanted people to ask that open-ended question because I think they’d come through a pretty bad economic cycle. Government didn’t have any money. Foundations? Their money was tied to the stock market, and when that didn’t perform, they didn’t have money for grant-making. Business sat on their money, and if the local nonprofits weren’t strongly donor-founded, they didn’t make it. They needed those individuals like you and me who write the checks.”
In addition to the regular workshops and the annual conference, Tucker has worked with both Sacramento State and UC Davis to expand coursework available to nonprofit employees. Such classes are necessary, she said, to develop the professionals with the skills to strengthen the local nonprofit sector.
Eileen Thomas, the executive director of River City Food Bank, described Tucker as her go-to resource about anything nonprofit: “When we are doing research about fund development, how many donors we have, what kind of picture we are looking at in terms of increasing donations and increasing our donor base, she is the person I go to talk to. She’s the one who can look at other nonprofits nationwide and tell me whether I’m in the ballpark.”