Amy Owen’s Community Foundation Shows Loudoun the Needs Next Door

Entrepreneurship is critical to Amy Owen, named the Entrepreneur of 2018 by the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce. A nonprofit has never won the award, making the nod a historic tip of the hat to Amy’s entrepreneurial approach to training local leaders.  

“Entrepreneurship is associated with for-profit enterprise, and nonprofits are classified by their mission: if you’re fulfilling your mission, there’s nothing entrepreneurial about that, is there?” Amy acknowledges. “I think what got their attention is that community foundations are designed to be a relationship builder with donors and a grant maker to nonprofits. We have plowed all kinds of time and energy and resources into being more than that and developing programs for volunteer leaders at nonprofits.”

Why? Amy says, “Because I’ve realized this is not work you do by yourself. This requires partnerships.”

Logically, it takes leadership to cause others to partner with you. Leadership training is so critical, the foundation has hired a retired executive coach from the Fortune 500 world to meet with nonprofit executives. Amy also recently launched a board chairs’ roundtable to create a “safe space” for those who’ve taken on an executive role in a nonprofit to discuss everything ranging from Robert’s Rules of Order to how to hire a new executive director.

More training comes from the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, which supports a Nonprofit Academy offering four workshops a year on topics like fundraising, human resources and public relations. And Amy is training the next generation of givers with a $3,500 grant through the local Parks and Recreation Department. The Youth Grant Makers program trains teenagers to make hard calls on how to dispense money to various groups. 

It’s all moving the needle. After six years at the helm, Amy has increased foundation assets by 475 percent. In 2012, the Community Foundation distributed $149,800 in grants to 27 charities. Six years later, its grants equaled $923,500 benefitting 104 charities.

Still, it’s just scratching the surface. Nonprofits have to ask for money to survive, but fewer than half of Loudoun’s core safety-net nonprofits have a director of development, and fewer still have a director of communications. If organizations aren’t in Loudoun’s living rooms asking for money, then those who live here aren’t being reminded that there’s need in America’s highest average income county.

Loudoun gives at a rate of 1.9 percent of residents’ annual income, far below the national average of 3 percent. To put this in perspective, Amy’s foundation gave $1 million last year to local charities. If Loudoun gave at just the rate of the average Virginian (2.99 percent), there would be another $155 million generated, $70 million of which would remain local.

“That’s game-changer money,” she says.

Why don’t people in Loudoun County give more?

“We know that the more homogenous your neighborhood, the less likely you are to give,” Amy explains. “If you are driving out through a neighborhood which was built over the past 10 years—statistically likely here in Loudoun County, considering we’ve grown by far more than 60 percent since 2005—the cars all look like yours, the houses all look like yours … so where is the need?”

Enter the foundation’s Faces of Loudoun campaign in March 2017 (FacesOfLoudoun.org and EndTheNeed.org.) It was designed, Amy says, “to try to share with our neighbors that there are people who look like you and me and those who don’t, but all of them have depended on services here in Loudoun County at one time or another.”

If you’ve never visited, the Community Foundation is located in the same building as HealthWorks for Northern Virginia, which serves residents who can’t afford health insurance. It’s a world away from the tony Middleburg office the Foundation occupied when Amy joined the organization. Now, if she wants to meet Loudoun residents in need, all she has to do is go sit in the lobby of her building.

But even that’s not necessary to stir the compassion of Leesburg’s most fortunate. On May 7, the Foundation sponsors “GiveChoose.org,” a website and a campaign to drive the community to learn more about neighborhood causes and “shop” the more than 70 local nonprofits who participate to find something that tugs at their heartstrings.

GiveChoose’s point is, “you get to choose who to support.” Knowing the need appears to be more than half the battle.

“More than half the people who come to the site to give to a particular cause look around and pick another one as well,” Amy says.

If you have more time than money, there’s a place for you too: Loudoun Cares runs the Loudoun Volunteer Center, where anyone with the time and inclination can find a nonprofit in desperate need of volunteers (Volunteer.LoudounCares.org/need).

The more people who engage, the more needs can be met. Last year, GiveChoose drove $278,000 in donations, but only 3,000 people participated out of a community of 380,000. All it would take to widen this circle substantially would be for charitable boards to look more like the community they seek to serve.

Asians, Latinos and African-Americans represent 40 percent of Loudoun’s population,but a far lower percentage of board leadership.

“Philanthropy is something that has to be modeled and taught, and we have got to learn to do this in Loudoun County,” Amy insists.

They will “…talk about the importance of philanthropy and invite their friends to own this community and be part of this community…”

They’ll become entrepreneurs too.