Twenty five years ago this month–Groundhog Day to be exact–we launched Fairmount Ventures. Our goal was to play a role in advancing a vision of society in which community and connection are valued, where everyone has equal access to the resources and support needed to live healthy, joyful, resilient lives. The founding idea was to assemble a multi-disciplinary, diverse team capable of providing unparalleled insights and access to funding to nonprofit and public-sector organizations in order to strengthen and accelerate their transformational impact on communities.
For 25 years, we’ve been privileged to have a front-row seat to Philadelphia’s steady revitalization, serving as stagehand on occasion. Since we are more animated by the next 25 years than the past, we recently gathered in our office to reflect on what we’ve learned. Here is some of what our clients have taught us.
- Embrace your inner kook. Great nonprofits relentlessly pursue their vision, even when the world questions the wisdom of their ideas.
- We developed the early business plan for the Mural Arts Program which led to their building a nonprofit to fundraise for what was then solely a city program. At the time, there were multiple articles in the Inquirer stating that a mural in a neighborhood was a sign of a declining community and should be avoided.
- In the mid-1990s, we conducted a cost-benefit analysis for Pennsylvania Horticultural Society establishing how converting vacant lots into community gardens benefited the city. At the time, no one thought this was financially sustainable. PHS now actively manages over 12,000 lots.
- We recall presenting The Food Trust’s early analysis of food deserts to funders, a new concept at the time that many questioned. Ensuring access to affordable, nutritious food in every community is now taken to be a given.
- Today, we are excited to be working with Friends of Rail Park who were dismissed as fringe kooks when they presented their vision in public meetings even five years ago.
- Don’t follow the money; become indispensable so the money follows you. A business model organized around determining what government or foundations want to support and then creating programs to respond to their interests is a race to the bottom. Successful nonprofits redefine the problem and therefore the solutions offering innovative approaches that funders can embrace.
- We helped Congreso first reframe its role as a unique platform to reach an under-served population, and then identified and secured funding to expand programs and build a multipurpose center from which they continue to operate.
- We secured funding for the supportive housing initiatives that were part of Project HOME’s pivot from being a homeless services provider to their holistic approach to societal issues.
- Today, we are proud to support Episcopal Community Services as they migrate from being a government-contracted service provider to developing initiatives that enable people to help themselves end the intergenerational transfer of poverty.
While all of these organizations utilize public sector funding and contracts, they set their own agenda.
- Paint the big picture and put yourself in it. Successful nonprofits help us see the world and their work through a wider lens.
- Please Touch Museum is not just a fun venue for children; it is at the epicenter of education and economic prosperity by defining its mission as empowering 21st Century learners.
- Drexel University is helping revitalize West Philadelphia for long-term residents by being a collaborative partner with city government, community groups, and others. This recently resulted in a $30 million commitment from the federal government that Fairmount is proud to have been a part of securing.
- Ralston Center evolved from a provider of services at its own facilities to the leader of Age-Friendly West Philadelphia, a collaborative effort to help older people stay healthy and engaged in life in their own homes and communities. Fairmount was excited to bring the World Health Organization’s concept of age-friendly communities to Ralston and West Philadelphia.
Our crystal ball gets cloudy trying to envision the next 25 years, so we’re focusing our attention on the next 2 to 5. Returning to our friend the groundhog for guidance, we note that Groundhog Day is the exact midpoint between the first days of winter and spring. The current national political landscape places us in the darkness of winter. But this also means that with every day, we are one day closer to spring. It’s up to all of us to face forward and to work to advance our collective ideal of an equitable society that works for everyone. As consultants, we’re not the ones who do the heavy lifting, but we are proud of Fairmount Ventures’ role as strategists, planners, connectors, and fundraisers that has helped our clients realize their ideas. We are humbled by the trust placed in us, and look forward to a stronger, more just community, together.