Institutional Philanthropy—Unraveling the Mystique: An Interview With Catherine Brozowski


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Nearly 200 private foundations contribute to Santa Barbara County’s vital nonprofit community. Some are small family foundations; some corporate foundations; and others community foundations—each with various areas of interest. Some give moderate donations, others routinely donate millions to local nonprofits. With the second highest number of nonprofits per capita, Santa Barbara County is considered “rich” in philanthropic foundations.

Nonprofits are sometimes confused by the various types of foundations and each one’s particular focus areas. They sometimes feel like foundations change their preferred type of cause too frequently, making some feeling left out of the funding pie. Many struggle to understand the reasoning behind the changes and get frustrated when they try to write grant proposals that fit in with the new perspectives. This can feel like a profound mystery.

Nonprofit Kinect had the opportunity recently to interview a veteran in the funding world. Catherine Brozowski has spent her entire career serving a wide variety of foundations—corporate, family, and community. In this interview, Brozowski shares her unique and incredibly valuable perspective on the most effective strategies nonprofits can use when working with the various types of foundations.

Understanding Institutional Philanthropy

For over 20 years, my professional background has been in corporate, family, and community philanthropy. Each type of philanthropy brings a different perspective, and each funder is unique. I recognize that foundation and corporate giving make up only 21% of total giving, but those relationships can make a significant difference in the strength of a nonprofit. A nonprofit can be more effective in its interaction with a funder by understanding the nuances behind why foundations do what they do.

Corporate Philanthropy:

My first substantial role was with the Washington Mutual Foundation. Like many businesses in Santa Barbara, they had a clear belief in giving back to the community. Corporate Philanthropy done well creates a strong market presence by showing the public the values of a company, and what its products are and how they distinguish themselves. Look at Decker’s—their most visible philanthropic efforts are connected to their marketing and they stand out as a giving partner in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Sometimes nonprofits don’t discuss marketing opportunities directly with businesses, yet, it’s important to do. Businesses want to do well by doing good, so we should try to help with both parts of that equation.

A great example of philanthropy and company image working hand in hand is Janet Garufis from Montecito Bank & Trust —she is out there providing leadership in our community, reinforcing the bank’s values and brand. As a result, people learn that Montecito Bank & Trust has a strong local presence, cares about their customers, and cares about our community. People are drawn to the bank because of this commitment. Nonprofits that understand this dynamic build depth and strength into their relationships with funders and businesses. Businesses can also be a thought partner. Businesses love to do this and nonprofits can benefit from their expertise, particularly in the arenas of strategic planning and innovation. Additionally, businesses have strong professionals who can provide management experience to local boards.

Family Philanthropy:

Understanding a family foundation’s specific focus areas can save both parties a lot of time and help the nonprofit have a better relationship with the funder. Program officers try to bridge the interests of funder with the needs of nonprofits and the community; but determining recipients of funds is ultimately the board’s decision. Nonprofits benefit from taking time to find out more about the rationale behind the board’s historical decisions. I have been impressed with many Santa Barbara nonprofits that have done their homework before they make a request. Some nonprofits make multi-layered requests, including requests for expertise and relationship introductions in addition to financial support. This can be a smart strategy so if a funder can’t fill one request, they may be able to consider another.

A family foundation’s flexibility can vary greatly depending on whether the donor is living or deceased. For example, the Orfalea family is very involved in our community. Our giving has totaled $140-150 million. The retirement of The Orfalea Fund presents a window of opportunity to review accomplishments and impact, and rechart our course if desired. Many living donors are similarly engaged, and their giving focus changes over time. However, deceased donors often leave instructions with little room for variation.

Community Philanthropy:

Community foundations have a difficult agenda. They seek to strengthen the nonprofit sector, address needs of the community, and appeal to a large and diverse population of donors. There is so much potential there. Community foundations are pivotal in the nonprofit sector. A nonprofit must figure out how it fits into the puzzle, and realize they may not always fit in. If they understand the broader strategy and timing, they can figure out when they fit into the plan. Community foundations view the community as a whole. Nonprofits must understand how they fit in the bigger landscape and what are the key issues and trends in the community. The best nonprofits continuously evaluate how they can grow their programming to better align with community needs and funder interests.

The Big Picture:

Foundations have changed their strategy over the past five to seven years. Today foundations are working together, using data to measure success. I encourage nonprofits to step back to understand some of the reasons for change. Nonprofits should keep asking if they are staying current with trends, reviewing their programming and structure, and even their mission. What is needed by your users and members? Does it align with what your board wants? Is it fulfilling the needs? Is it appealing to your donors? Individual donors make up a significant percentage of total giving, but it pays to consider ideas in the context of all donors.

Organizational Culture and Values

I just attended the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference. Many Santa Barbara funders attended this conference as well, and we all came away thinking hard about organizational culture. Many people enter the nonprofit arena because they believe in the work. They want to contribute back and make their community better through robust programming that cares for and inspires the community. The conference emphasized the importance of making sure organizations are healthy, vibrant places to work. Those that work within the nonprofit sector give so much of themselves that they should be able to work in an environment that cares for them, and empowers them to do their jobs well.

Values cannot be delegated, but are owned from the very top and permeate throughout the organization. For example Natalie Orfalea is chair of Orfalea Foundation board of directors and absolutely embraces the importance of ongoing personal development for all co-workers and for the organization as a whole. Orfalea coworkers know how important this is because of Natalie. So we own that and pass it along to others—helping others grow, enjoy their work, feel heard, and be able to be themselves in the work place. Nonprofit executives, just like all leaders, need to step back, look at the culture of the organization, and ask if it is supportive of their coworkers. What can be done to improve the culture? Creating balance with values and culture is an important issue for all organizations regardless of their size and it doesn’t have to cost anything.

Many nonprofits today are under great financial pressure, and stress is the real test of culture and values. Sometimes conflict comes from discord between the board and staff. Board members have key roles to play in maintaining a positive culture. They need to look at whether staff members are stretched to the point of exhaustion. Is the workload so great that there is no longer pleasure in their work? Considering the role of passion and self-motivation in this work, the board must find ways to help staff create an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Success Always Depends on Building Strong Relationships

Whether crafting a mutually beneficial relationship with a corporate funder or targeting the concerns of a community foundation or meeting the philanthropic needs of a family foundation, success will always result from focusing on the relationship—not just the dollars. And relationship goes both ways. The more concerned a nonprofit is with understanding a funder’s interests the more open the funder will be to the nonprofit funding request. Likewise, the more nonprofit leaders cultivate relationships with their board and staff members, the healthier their organizational culture will be. Ultimately, this will create a vibrant, welcoming work environment where everyone can do their best work.

Biographical Information for Catherine Brozowski

Orfalea Foundation Vice President Catherine Brozowski manages the foundation’s education work, oversees Operations, Finance and Human Resources, and contributes to the strategic planning process.  

Formerly, Catherine was Vice President of Programs at the Santa Barbara Foundation. This work included leadership and overall direction for grantmaking, community convening activities, and oversight of special initiatives.

Prior to her arrival in Santa Barbara, Catherine served as the Corporate Giving Manager for Washington Mutual, managing their philanthropy throughout the Southeast, including Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. For the Group Health Foundation, she designed a national demonstration initiative, “Managed Care and Community Health,” and conducted performance evaluation with the Foundation’s grantees. Catherine began her career as a Conference Coordinator and Research Analyst for the National Network of Grantmakers, a network of progressive funders.

She currently serves on the Board of the Eleos Foundation. Formerly, Catherine served on the Board of Directors of Montana Yellowstone Expeditions Foundation, volunteered with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, was the Board Secretary of the Donors Forum of South Florida, where she also chaired the Nominating Committee. She completed the Hull Fellowship program for young people in philanthropy through the Southeastern Council of Foundations, and was active on the Corporate Committee.

Catherine holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego. She completed her Master’s of Public Administration (M.P.A.) with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management from the University of Washington in 1997.

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