If all the world is a stage, what is the play?

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.

FAIRMOUNT

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Get to Know Fairmount Ventures: Katie Muller, Asst. Vice President

We’re back with another edition of ‘Get to Know Fairmount Ventures’, a series of short Q+A’s with our team members, showcasing the many passions and personalities behind our firm.

Katie MullerKatie Muller, Assistant Vice President, helps nonprofits develop necessary strategies and steps to maximize their reach and impact. Her expansive work experience abroad has shaped her career, allowing her to bring unique skills and perspectives to her role at Fairmount Ventures. Katie holds a BA in Organizational Communication from Central Michigan University and a Master’s in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh.

FV: Before joining Fairmount Ventures, you worked to improve public health and community development in under-resourced settings across the world. Tell us about how you’ve applied those experiences to your work at Fairmount.

KM: There are a surprising number of similarities between my previous international work and what I do at Fairmount. As a consultant, when I begin a project with a new client, I have to quickly assess and adapt to a different culture, learn a new set of expectations, approach the work with an open mind, and build mutual trust and understanding—just like I did abroad. In both cases, it’s humbling to be invited into someone else’s world, particularly when they’re asking for help solving a complex problem. My orientation to problem solving in any new environment is based on identifying and amplifying the resources that already exist.

FV: What does a typical day look like for you?

KM: Our work is diverse, so every day looks different. In general terms, I’m strategizing with clients on mission–critical work that helps them maximize their impact—whether that’s by launching an inventive new project, securing extra funding from philanthropy, or identifying ways to improve on what they’re currently doing. When I’m not working on strategy for clients, I’m thinking about how we, as a firm, can continue to learn and grow together as a team. We’re an intellectually curious bunch, so we’ve worked hard to make sure there are ongoing opportunities for learning, ranging from weekly supervisory check-ins, to outside workshops and lectures, to monthly “Lunch and Learn” events, and more.

FV: What do you like best about your work?

KM: Fairmount has a deep connection and understanding of Philadelphia, a city that is full of creative organizations with big ideas. Being part of Fairmount, I get to see first-hand some really exciting initiatives that are happening in Philadelphia. Two that Fairmount works with and that stand out to me are Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse in Fairmount Park, which is on its way to launching an urban nature preschool, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which continues to rethink how public green spaces can bring people together.

FV: You’re particularly active on a few boards in Philadelphia. Tell me about your role on those boards.

KM: I am serving currently on two Boards of organizations that do invaluable work to promote diversity and cross-cultural understanding in Philadelphia: Nationalities Services Center (NSC) and the Philadelphia Area Peace Corps Association (PAPCA).

NSC has been welcoming immigrants and refugees to Philadelphia for 95 years, and I’m proud of the role it has played in promoting and embracing the value that diversity brings to this city. I serve on the Development Committee, helping the organization think through major donor cultivation, plan for fundraising events, and attract younger supporters.

This is my second year serving as President of PAPCA, an all-volunteer chapter of the National Peace Corps Association. PAPCA strives to cultivate a community of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Philadelphia who advance the Peace Corps’ legacy of service, global citizenship, and cross-cultural understanding.

FV: What are some of your favorite things to do in Philadelphia?

KM: Eat! I love to eat my way through the city—from the tiny corner stores selling tamales or banana sticky rice to the most widely known restaurants in the city. When I’m not eating (or if I’ve grabbed my food to go), I spend my time wandering the city on foot, exploring Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.