Posted by Matthew Brian Hersh on June 24, 2012
What does it mean when the country's largest community development intermediary opens its first new office in 15 years in a middling city like Peoria, Ill?
In May, the Peoria-based Caterpillar Foundation gave the Local Support Initiatives Corp., better known as LISC, $3 million to open shop locally. So, one answer to what it means for LISC opening is that those monies could be leveraged into "$12 million investment in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the area," according to a recent report in Peoria's Journal Star.
But another take is that it could represent something of a shift in community development grantmaking, according to Rick Cohen, writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly. Cohen quotes Cat Foundation vice president Michelle Sullivan that the goal in her foundation's effort to bring LISC in was to "hit at the root cause issues.”
What does that mean, exactly? Cohen explains:
In the case of LISC, the Cat Foundation’s investment will support a holistic approach to community development, much different than the image of community development as simply affordable housing development. Sullivan hinted that the root cause issue might make some local nonprofits “a little concerned about what this means for them.” One suspects that the concern might be twofold, including not only questions about a shift in the foundation’s grantmaking to community-based development (the hallmark of the LISC model), but also the foundation’s big grant to a New York City-based community development intermediary that, with the guidance of a local advisory committee, will be dispensing grants and loans to community developers in Peoria.
That doesn't mean foundation funding will abandon supporting local organizations directly. The Caterpillar Foundation, after all, has given roughly $50 million over the past three years to Peoria-area groups, Cohen reports. But this tack exists, and it's potentially significant.
In the 2008 PolicyLink report, To Be Strong Again: Renewing the Promise of Smaller Industrial Cities, co-authors Rhadika Fox and Shelterforce editor Miriam Axel-Lute look at how "ignoring smaller industrial cities is a missed opportunity for America":
These cities contain rich connections to our past, institutions and services that their regions rely upon in the present, and untapped human capital, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and natural assets that can be the foundation for a sustainable way of life in the 21st century.
The report notes that "smaller industrial cities once powered America’s economy." Perhaps we're now seeing a renewed commitment to that small-city promise.