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Name: Jen Bowden
Title: Director of Community Investment - IGS Energy
I love how you have served in both the nonprofit and corporate sectors of community work. Many people in the nonprofit world share they would love to move into a funder role - tell us how that transition was for you?
The year after I graduated from college I participated in AmeriCorps at a literacy organization in Washington, D.C. The focus of my AmeriCorps work was fundraising so that was my first formal exposure to the field. Starbucks and Verizon were two of the biggest funders of the nonprofit so I was able to work with corporate funders in both companies. I remember thinking that I didn’t know people could be paid to do this work! In that moment, I decided that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. It matched my passion to change the world for the better and I realized that businesses play a big role and have a responsibility to make the world a better place.
From that point on, the fundraising roles I took always gave me more exposure to learn about the corporate funding side and develop my knowledge about that base. From D.C. I moved to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank to manage its campaign, working with primarily with corporate funders. When the Blue Jackets position became available the opportunity to fundraise and also gain corporate giving skills was something that was really attractive to me. I’m now able to focus 100% on community investment at IGS Energy. So I worked hard, was in the right place at the right time and tried to be purposeful and strategic about the opportunities I pursued.
One year after you started in 2014, you launched IGS Impact, your community investment program. Tell me about that – how was it to create that and how’s it going so far?
I joined IGS in the last quarter of 2014 and that first year I was focused on learning the culture, listening to employees and what their motivation was to get involved in the community, and then doing lots of inventory – what are we currently doing - and education around what philanthropy is and how it can both benefit society and our business. I had strategic conversation with leadership around our business strategy and opportunities around those strategies for our community work. A lot of it comes down to listening. Taking what is already going on and building a plan for change management, including an exit strategy where we needed it. Supporting employees is a central focus for IGS – we started with our volunteer opportunities and then expanded to include charitable giving with matching gifts, dollars for doers, and leadership gift donations. It all started with our people.
IGS has a really interesting charitable giving focus which is to create, “positive social change through philanthropy, volunteerism, and partnerships in the areas of: energy sustainability, social enterprise and entrepreneurship, and causes that matter to our employees.” What is the first step for a nonprofit who thinks they align with the focus above to be considered for support? Are there any formal deadlines for grant requests?
We are a pretty informal company here so our system and structure has to match our culture. We have a rolling process and no formal deadlines. The first step is for someone to reach out to me be via phone or email so we can start the conversation there. I get a lot of people who try to stretch alignment. Not everyone is going to fit our focus for giving, and we know what our focus is. I don’t want anything to be submitted where I haven’t talked to the nonprofit first.
I noticed you do work both locally and internationally. How does that work?
We have a Renewable Energy Corps that was launched last year with GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit based in the US that does international work in Nicaragua specifically. They do work in some of the most energy impoverished communities – those with lack access to energy, electricity, etc. They help electrify those communities through renewable sources.
It’s a niche focus for us partnering with this one international organization, and it fulfills one of our missions to provide more access – access to energy in general and sustainable energy. Employees apply to participate and the company covers the full cost for them to go. This year we will send 20 employees. The experience not only does great work in the community but it expands the leadership skills of our employees too, taking them out of their comfort zone.
Do you fund capital campaigns?
We are open to looking at capital requests. They are reviewed in the same portfolio as all other requests, starting with – are they in alignment? Do we understand how the organization fits within the portfolio of what we support? Are our employees engaged? If employees aren’t engaged it’s less likely we will support it.
How do you place board members? Are they all local to the Columbus area?
I’m working with our organizational training and learning team now to create employee pathways to serving on a board, so we can help employees at all levels understand how to be a good volunteer, good committee members, and informed board members. That helps us shape the conversation internally so we can direct them to community engagement that matches their skill sets. It also helps us develop competencies within our employees so they are good board members.
I kind-of serve as the match maker - I know organizations looking for board members and employees come to me or I reach out the them when I hear of something that would be a good fit for them.
Board members are placed primarily in central Ohio and we have a few corporate employees in Chicago too.
Without naming names..what has been the best funding request you’ve received and why? What is an example of what not to do?
What feels the best is when I get a request and I know the request is coming. When I have talked with the nonprofit, we’ve discussed the dollar amount, the request is clear and concise and it helps me make the case to our board on why it’s a good investment. I take all the information that’s submitted to me, synthesize it and make a presentation to others for final approval. And, of course, people that are easy to work with are the best.
What doesn’t work? I had a recent experience – the first time we met this group - where they came in with a request that was three times bigger than what we have ever given before and they made that request before we had even talked about what we want to do or what we’ve done in the past. I would recommend nonprofits doing their homework and asking questions first – what does the profile of the funder look like?
How can nonprofits find out more about IGS Energy’s community involvement?
It’s probably easiest to start with our website and read our community impact reports that are available there at http://www.igscompanies.com/about-igs/community/