Celebrating

2020 has been an unexpected year, to say the least. We could never have anticipated how the world would change, yet one constant force has been the critical work that nonprofits and their supporters are leading to take care of their communities so that people have what they need to thrive – whether that's a delivery of groceries, access to laptops and wifi for school, virtual counseling, or a pathway to permanent supportive housing.

NFF has been working as a social sector lender, consultant, and thought leader for the past 40 years. As we considered how to commemorate our 40th anniversary and everything we’ve learned over the past few decades, we realized that we're really celebrating all the incredible clients and people – alumni, board members, and staff – who have been part of our story. Here’s a look at some of their insights and reflections that we hope will continue to spur new thinking and more equitable funding practices, so that communities have the resources they need to realize hopes and dreams across the nation.


Our Amazing Clients

African Services Committee: Keeping up with the need, and the market
African Services Committee knows how to set its immigrant and refugee clients on a path to success. When people arrive in New York City from Africa and the Caribbean they can turn to African Services for affordable or no-cost healthcare, legal representation, housing, employment assistance, and social connections. To deliver this full suite of services, African Services had to face one of the toughest challenges in New York City: real estate. Read more.

A group of people are gathered in a room looking at a woman who is speaking with a microphone.
African Union Permanent Representative to the US Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao visits African Services

Alternatives For Girls: Empowering young women, and their own balance sheets
Alternatives For Girls does things their own way. Their mission is broad: Provide services for Detroit-area girls and young women facing conditions that put them at risk of homelessness, teen pregnancy, and exploitation. Read more.

Young girl is smiling, standing in front of a table holding a card for the game Uno.
Participant in one of Alternatives For Girls' programs

Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance: Transforming community through arts and finance
New York City is known for its thriving arts scene and for being a welcoming place for LGBTQ people. But the borough of the Bronx has not always been included in this buzz. Enter Charles Rice-Gonzalez. For decades, he has been active in shaping the story in the Bronx – one where the community supports LGBTQ people and comes together through the arts. Read more.

Stone building with a banner on a railway in front directing people to the entrance.
Performance space for Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance

Central American Resource Center: Speaking in finance
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) speaks many languages – English, Spanish, and the cultural language necessary to navigate government lobbying. CARECEN, founded in 1983 and based in Los Angeles, supports immigrants from Central America not only with direct legal services, but also through advocating for changes to immigration laws. Read more.

Large building with brick against a blue sky with a few trees in front and a sign at the top that reads CARECEN.
Headquarters for CARECEN Los Angeles

Central District Forum for Art & Ideas: Staffing up and doubling down
Central District Forum for Art & Ideas (CD Forum) is a vibrant, Seattle-based arts organization dedicated to representing and celebrating a large variety of Black artists and experiences. But behind the scenes, it was a one-woman show. Executive director Sharon N. Williams was the only full-time staff member when she joined in 2013. Read more.

Group of people sitting in a room with white cloth draped to form a stage and a panel of speakers.
CD Forum Kitchen Sessions at Seattle Arts Museum

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance: A dance partner grows with a thought partner
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance has been a mainstay of the cultural landscape in Denver, CO, since its founding in 1970. What started as a small dance ensemble and school is now a thriving organization consisting of a professional company, school, theater, and community education programs rooted in African American dance traditions. Read more.

Group of dancers dressed in black surrounding a woman with a purple shawl
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble

FathersRead365: Teaching reading and learning to lead
Akeiff Staples and Brent Johnstone decided to start FathersRead365 after working as corrections officers at a juvenile detention center. “It was one of the most heartbreaking, frustrating feelings, to have to lock that door, lock them in as my job,” said Staples. “That’s when this mission really started.” Staples and Johnstone wanted to tackle the roots of how these young men wound up in detention centers. Read more.

Two men are standing in front of a group of young children, one is holding a book open.
Co-founders of FathersRead365 Akeiff Staples and Brent Johnstone

FIERCE: Responding to a double crisis with an eye to the future
FIERCE is a New York City-based nonprofit dedicated to building the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color. While it runs many programs aimed at skill and community building, it also works to provide basic needs that queer youth of color often lack, such as a safe place to live and freedom from police harassment. Read more.

View of sky scrapers in New York with the Empire State Building in the center.
New York City, home base for FIERCE

God’s Love We Deliver: Financial modeling for medically tailored meals
Since 1985, God’s Love We Deliver has provided meals to those in need in New York City. What started as a service for people living with HIV/AIDS is now a lifeline for people whose severe illness prevents them from cooking for themselves. Today, God’s Love delivers over 2.3 million medically tailored meals a year. Read more.

Man standing in front of a white van with God's Love We Deliver written on the side, holding bags of good, wearing a black ball cap, black face mask, and gray collared shirt.
Kendu Outlaw, a driver for God's Love

HealthRIGHT 360: To keep caring for the homeless, they needed a home of their own
HealthRIGHT 360 is a lifeline for residents of the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. In San Francisco, a city that is facing soaring homelessness and rapid gentrification, HealthRIGHT 360 is responding on the ground, providing treatment for people with mental health and substance use disorders and offering integrated medical and behavioral health services, and vocational and housing services, for people transitioning back into their communities. Read more.

Four story light colored building with a red entrance and a banner that reads Health Care is a Right painted on the right side of the building.
HealthRIGHT 360's Integrated Care Center in San Francisco

Kitchens for Good: Staying focused while scaling up
When Kitchens for Good opened its doors in September 2015, it offered culinary training for people facing barriers to employment, such as formerly incarcerated individuals. But the organization quickly realized that classes were not enough. In order to find sustainable employment, their students needed accreditation and on-the-job training. They set out to become a certified apprentice program in the state of California. Read more.

Group of people standing outside in front of a tree, all wearing gray long sleeved shirts, smiling and waving at the camera.
Kitchens for Good Certified Apprentice Program

Project HOME: Extending the life of a donation to house Philadelphia’s homeless
Philadelphia has been hit so hard by the opioid crisis that the New York Times dubbed the neighborhood of Kensington as the “Walmart of heroin.” That would be a signal for many to stay away from the area. Project HOME took a different approach. It bought two properties there and is converting them into affordable, supportive housing units. Read more.

Woman sitting at a dining table, wearing glasses and smiling at the camera.
Bonita Pritchette, Certified Recovery Specialist

TechSoup: Building community with small-dollar investments 
How do you fund an $11.5-million strategic expansion plan and build grassroots support at the time? That’s the question TechSoup set out to answer with its Growth Capital Campaign.  TechSoup provides civil society organizations access to critical technology, such as cloud computing and security software. Read more.

Large group of people sitting and standing on top of a building with ocean and mountains in the background.
TechSoup's headquarters in San Francisco


NFF People

Special Spotlight

Rebecca Thomas
Principal & Founder
Rebecca Thomas & Associates

What brought you to NFF?
As a former dancer I have always been passionate about the arts. But coming out of business school I wanted exposure to a broader spectrum of organizations and the issues they face. I came to NFF for the opportunity to work across sectors.

When I started at NFF in 2004, advisory services was called Program and Product Development (PPD). I came in as a summer intern while I was at Columbia Business School as part of their fellowship program. NFF was much more informal then in terms of its structure: there was more fluidity among departments and positions. At the conclusion of my summer, the head of PPD, Chris Jenkins, said to me, “create the job that you want to do here, and we’ll make it happen.” And so that was the beginning of a ten-year journey

Memorable moment:
The initiative and NFF work that I’m most proud of was the Leading for the Future program, which I ran in partnership with consulting colleague Rodney Christopher and Holly Sidford, who is a nationally recognized arts consultant. The program was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and was created, administered, and run by NFF. It was the first program that applied change capital for the arts on a national scale. Many of the program’s lessons have informed perspectives and practices field-wide, such as invest big flexible dollars over multiple years, combine money with advice for planning and implementations, encourage organizations to take risks, be flexible, and allow for the possibility of failure or the exploration of new direction.

How has NFF informed what you do now?
The ability to marry financial guidance with strong interpersonal and communication skills is essential. Those were lessons I learned at NFF and that I carried forward into my own business. 

For six years, I’ve run a national consulting practice that was absolutely informed by my experiences and my time at NFF. My organization, Rebecca Thomas & Associates (RTA), helps nonprofit leaders use data to make decisions that put their organizations on a path to stronger health. We help them plan for change and adapt when social or business issues interfere with their mission. Like NFF, we work with grantmakers to influence funding practices by directing money and consulting support toward business and leadership challenges.

I also have NFF to thank for sending me to work in Boston, where I met my husband!  

Alumni, Board, and Staff

What brought you to NFF?
I wanted to be close to the impact. I was previously doing mission-driven work focused on Latin America and Africa and felt too removed from the beneficiaries. At NFF, I was able to work directly with the leadership and directors of organizations to see the benefits up close.

Memorable moment:
My team was helping a community health center in the northeast decide whether to open new sites and how to best invest in expansion. The organization provided crucial services for the most vulnerable populations in its area and we were able to help them become more resilient and expand their impact. In support of my team, I built a financial model for the CFO that ultimately helped make the decision to proceed with the expansion. I also learned a lot about higher-level relationship management from watching the dynamics between the senior NFF team members and the CEO. Several years later, I spoke with the CFO who related that the work we did helped them become a profitable organization.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
NFF confirmed that mission-driven work is what I find fulfilling, but also taught me the importance of balancing profit and impact. I still have Alice Antonelli’s voice in my mind, “Nonprofits need profits.” After NFF, I attended business school and am now building the future of teletherapy at a mental healthcare startup. I came to focus on health technology due to the high potential for alignment between profit and impact in this sector, and my work with NFF started me on this path. NFF helps nonprofits build more resilient business models in pursuit of continued impact, and I believe that similar philosophies can be applied to helping for-profit organizations invest in impact.

I’ve been at NFF for over 18 years and I’ve always worked in the Philadelphia office. I started out in lending, but for the last 15 years I’ve been doing advisory or consulting services. When I joined NFF, I had no idea what to expect. I had come from a large international bank to a small nonprofit, and I was a little nervous. Are they going to have staples, pens, or pencils? Are they going to have a copy machine? I was pleasantly surprised not only that there were staplers and copy machines, but also that the people were very collaborative, and it was a great environment of respect for one another. And that’s continued to this day.

I’m grateful to work in this environment of collaboration and mutual respect, and I strive to be a person that says, “my door is always open,” both internally and externally.

The clients and organizations that we work with are doing so much, it’s almost as if the weight of the world is on their shoulders. The executive directors that I work with are typically not educated in finance. My goal is to meet them wherever they are, with whatever issue or challenge they are facing at the moment. I want to help them with the financial aspect of their work, and help them to be able to get from point A to point B. I like to be not only a facilitator, but also a translator. I try to help them understand the world of finance in a very tangible and a personal way. I don’t want there to be any hurdles. Basic finance should never be complicated.

Early in my NFF career, our advisory services team was in New York leading a financial leadership clinic for a coalition. It was a traditional two-day clinic and this group that we were working with all knew each other. On the second day, we were supposed to be doing financial storytelling in the afternoon, but the group said to us, “We don’t get together that often. We want to talk about how we should be thinking collectively about what our story is and what our impact is.”

Instead of forcing the agenda, we facilitated a session and white boarded with them the discussion topics. They were so thankful. It underscored the importance of being flexible facilitators, able to be out of our comfort zone, and be responsive to the group, as long as it is within the realm of the objective of the initiative.

It built a lot of trust. After that event, we moved into consulting engagements with the groups individually and several folks have shared with us how valuable it was and how much they appreciated NFF being able to be flexible in that moment. We have continued to be a strategic partner for different organizations there. 

A funny moment was on that same day, during lunch time, we were running low on food. Alex Chan and I ended up running down the street to a self-serve restaurant we found on Yelp. We grabbed all these extra sandwiches, meatballs, and salad. It was such a funny moment because our team does everything from getting the food and making sure everyone is fed, to making sure the agenda is flexible and responsive to the mission.

My role has me working with staff across NFF’s offices in different time zones and locations. I’ve learned firsthand that our value of Responsiveness is critical to successful professional partnerships, both internal and external. It’s a skill that everyone should work to develop, maintain, and strengthen - especially in an organization like ours, which tackles a broad variety of collaborative projects and initiatives. 

It’s important in my work and for anyone on NFF’s Finance & Administration team, to be a trusted support person and advisor. I want other staff to be sure that when they write me an email or give me a call and say, "I have a problem" or "I need help," they get full and supportive guidance that makes their work a little easier. Continuously building my Responsiveness muscle helps me reinforce relationships and keeps me involved and excited about our work. 

I am most proud of the way we have oriented NFF around our explicit values. Culture is not pulled by gravity toward healthiness, it has to be intentional, and we wanted to create more autonomy and leadership opportunities for people at all levels. So, we put together a culture committee that recommended creating explicit values. I was skeptical of “corporate values” before NFF because they can just be banal words. But the values we identified have shaped how we work and serve our clients. For me personally, they’ve led me to change how I speak and write. I communicate hoping to leave people with more power and not more impressed. It’s easy out of insecurity to try and impress people with language. But that’s not “Rigor Without Attitude.”

This communication style focused on others – you see it throughout NFF. A nonprofit leader emailed me with feedback on an NFF presenter. He said that after the presentation, he understood finance better and didn’t feel constrained by it like he often had. That’s different than him saying, “your colleague knows so much about finance.” That’s what I love about NFF. We know a lot, but we also care. We share our knowledge in a way that is meaningful and accessible. The level of commitment and passion about explaining FASB rules here is ridiculous! That’s what bad-ass “dorkery” means for us, the bad-ass finance dorks of NFF. We use that expert knowledge to work with nonprofits to strengthen communities and promote equity. There’s lots of places for social justice or finance, but NFF is the rare place to be passionate about both. For me, there’s a sense of home coming. Ten years into my time here, I still don’t know where else I could have that.

My favorite work moments are when I connect with coworkers over shared experiences. We work on different projects and come from different backgrounds, but all it takes is a 15- to 20-minute break to connect on a common problem, reflect on new experiences, the news of the day, or just joke around. NFF brings together people from different paths of life, so we don’t just form a connection, we also learn a different perspective. Sometimes, when I describe these interactions to others outside NFF they ask, “Don’t you have work to do?” I help them realize that our work involves a responsibility to be inclusive and just, both internally and externally. Connecting with colleagues over these brief conversations helps inform that.

What brought you to NFF?
I was working at Citibank and had the opportunity to work with Kristen Giantris and Norah McVeigh on a project that provided capital to nonprofits recovering from the 2008 recession. The experience showed me that, both personally and professionally, I wanted to be in more direct relationship with frontline organizations than in my current role. I hoped that my work would be much more meaningful and in line with my values.

Memorable moment:
At NFF, I felt empowered to make a difference. When we faced challenging projects or requests from clients, we were eager to be creative and find a thoughtful solution. When we were the right fit for the solution, it was extraordinary. I had started working closely with the NYC EDC on workshops on facility finance as well as bridging city capital grants. That work led to building a lot of relationships with nonprofits and finding ways to help organizations catalyze city funding as part of larger initiatives. It felt like we were offering a solution that no other could and adding value to the nonprofit landscape.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
When I made the difficult decision to return to banking, I chose Amalgamated Bank, because its progressive mission is in line with my values and I could continue serving the nonprofit and community development finance sector. Nonprofits operate in a system that is not always favorable to them. There are a lot of misperceptions about nonprofits but some of the smartest people I know work for nonprofits. They’re incredibly committed, and they do understand business. They have local knowledge and they are very well informed. Now that I’m at the bank, I have the opportunity to build on what NFF instilled in my approach, share it internally and build systems and products that will support the impact of the sector. 

What brought you to NFF?
NFF was attractive to me because my undergraduate degree was in economics, and I saw that solutions for social issues don’t receive enough investment and that the for-profit sector was not doing enough on that front. NFF was exciting to me because it allowed me to work through the finance lens that I had grown to love, but also to broadly share those finance sector skills to impact the direction that our world was going in.

Memorable moment:
Kristine Alverez and I worked with a cohort of nonprofits that are native-led and serve indigenous people. The funder informed us that there was a lack of trust in outsiders. We brought our authentic selves and built trust. After two years, the funder reported that we brought value to their nonprofits. I am so grateful that these folks were brave enough to share their relationship with money and their organization’s challenges. In NFF’s financial, budget, and balance sheet trainings, we talk about how finances and money is personal. It can be scary and intimate to talk about. I am so grateful that these folks were brave enough to share this vulnerable piece of themselves, their relationship with money and their organization’s challenges, not just with NFF but with each other. That was one of my favorite parts – to see their sense of relief and gratitude to be a part of a bigger community.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I was interested in expanding my focus beyond the nonprofit world to also see what the for-profit sector could bring to bear. I’m in debt-based financing for food and agriculture businesses that are both for-profit and nonprofit. 

I’m excited about the future of NFF and to see the impact it could have nationwide. We are seeing such economic disparities. We’re seeing such displacements in certain parts of the country and I think NFF could have a big part in stopping a lot of that and have an impact to keep people in place and give them an opportunity to thrive in this economy.

If I could choose three words to describe NFF, they would be impactful, powerful, and needed. When Unity Council started to work with NFF as a client, I knew we were dealing with an organization that was different because they were brutally honest with us. They were very clear about where we were, what happened financially, what we’d done, and where we’re going. A lot of those conversations are difficult to have, but it made us a much stronger organization. People see the impact that NFF has had on the Unity Council, so they want that for other organizations. I’m constantly getting calls from either other philanthropic leaders or corporate leaders asking me to call organizations in the Bay Area to share our experience with NFF and what that has meant to our organization.

I have had such a good experience with NFF. Not just as far as raising money but having the impact that we need in the community. Especially in the Bay Area right now, we’re seeing such huge inequalities and displacement. We need to be strong so we can be strong for folks in our community.

What brought you to NFF?
While in business school, I knew I wanted to return to work in the nonprofit operations and finance space. I initially learned about NFF’s Advisory Services team at a social entrepreneurship conference and thought it would be a rewarding experience to work with a wide variety of organizations ranging in size, sector, and geography as a consultant. The timing worked out that there was a more appropriate opening on the Financial Services team when I graduated, which I decided would be an exciting learning opportunity for me, as I did not have any prior experience in banking, so I applied and was fortunate to be hired!

Memorable moment:
NFF’s essential value proposition as a lender is really the technical assistance and flexibility it provides. Every time I got the feedback from a borrower that what they valued most wasn’t necessarily just the capital provided, but the expertise, creativity, and empathy that I tried to bring to the table – those were all really memorable moments for me.

It was very serendipitous that the last loan I closed at NFF was to an organization in my hometown of Ithaca, NY. There was something uniquely special to know that my work was supporting a place that I feel so deeply connected to.

I have a lot of great memories of my colleagues as well. In the New York office, everyone worked on the crossword together each day. I was so impressed that it never felt competitive or like anyone was taking it over. It was truly just folks sitting around at lunch having fun and working well together.

I was working remotely when the Financial Services team hit its $100 million loan portfolio goal. My team surprised me by ordering balloons that were delivered all the way to my house in rural Virginia, which was very sweet.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I'm now the Director of Operations at the Homeless Garden Project, a nonprofit in Santa Cruz. I am responsible for overseeing our social enterprises, a farm, and a value-added retail business that are generating earned revenue. I manage our internal operations and finances and am also the lead for a large capital expansion project that will triple the size of our farm and increase our administrative facilities to allow us to serve more individuals through our transitional employment program. The skills I learned at NFF while conducting due diligence on countless capital projects has been invaluable as we work through our process of permitting, bidding, and budgeting and as we look to develop a strong long-term business plan that supports our organization’s growth.

Also, although I didn't work directly for NFF’s operations team, I was always very impressed by how well-run NFF is. I learned so much during my time at NFF about what it means to run an effective organization with really strong systems and processes.  

There is nothing I love more than seeing a client leave a strategic financial training with a weight lifted off of their shoulders. The training helps them to know that the work they’re doing is actually as hard as it seems, and that they are making magic every day. They leave feeling like the superheroes that they are.

A great memory was when Lisa Thirer and I were part of a negotiation between a small nonprofit and their healthcare partner. We did a presentation on full costs to both groups and after listening to the presentation, when the pair started expanding the scope of work that was being negotiated between them, the nonprofit leader piped up and said, “That’s fine, it’s just going to cost you more.” We saw, live, in action, the nonprofit leader internalizing what we said, applying it, and advocating for what they needed. It was a great moment to witness.

I’ve been at NFF for over 12 years and I’ve had a handful of different roles in different departments. I’ve have been really fortunate to see the organization from so many different viewpoints. A favorite moment was working on the relocation of our New York office. I led a small NFF team that took us from a tired, old, crowded space in Midtown to our office in Downtown. Over the course of a year and a half, our team worked with architects, project managers, and contractors to design a space that would, in many ways, be life changing for NFF. We had to answer questions like how do we want to set up a new office? How do we work? What’s important to us? How do we want people to see us? We did everything from picking the furniture and the carpet, to designing a floor layout that would best impact our work.

It was an amazing experience. Then, we took the lessons we learned from New York and applied them to office moves in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Boston. Five years ago, each office had its own identity, but now it very much feels like one NFF. Although we didn’t relocate the Philly office, we changed the artwork and paint colors to make it feel like NFF.

Working in open plans has been challenging for some people, but for me – and I’ve heard from other people as well – there’s something nice about seeing the liveliness of the office. It doesn’t matter which NFF city you’re in, people are out in the open and approachable. It feels like you’re coming into a place that is homey and it’s your team. In that environment, it’s a great place to come to work.

What brought you to NFF?
When I was working at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, we often worked with Alice Antonelli to consult with some of our grantees. I always valued the work that NFF did with small arts organizations in Philadelphia and kept in touch over the years. I wanted to stay in a service environment and when there was an opportunity with NFF in the Philadelphia office, I immediately applied. I was thrilled to be able to work in an operational role supporting advisory services. I was only at NFF for a year before I had the opportunity to become the Executive Director for the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia, an organization I have been involved in since I was a teenager.

Memorable moment:
While at NFF, I was on the company-wide committee tasked with developing a core value around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I participated in DEI workshops and trainings and I'm grateful for that opportunity. I am better equipped to raise the awareness of this important topic with my board and staff. The tools I developed with NFF allow me to be comfortable having these conversations. In particular, the NFF staff retreat in New Orleans and working with DEI consultants in the New York office with committee were particularly memorable.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I am the only full-time employee at the Mendelssohn Chorus and when I arrived, I was given very little information on the day-to-day operations of running the chorus. The operational work I was doing at NFF was instantly relevant. For the past two years I have been putting together the systems and structures to support our work. I also prioritized the DEI work that I was introduced to while at NFF. I really appreciate how NFF views the work through a lens of the organization's core values. The Mendelssohn Chorus is a 147-year-old community organization and the board needs to understand the sense of urgency around DEI. We are in the process of starting our strategic planning and I would like to see the Mendelssohn Chorus develop a core value around diversity, equity, and inclusion and to use that value as a lens to complete the rest of our strategic planning.

I was working on the Pay for Success grant and I remember helping a sub-grantee with the budget and compliance agreements they needed. We worked hand-in-hand over several months and they were very appreciative of the team's help in developing their infrastructure. We could really see the impact of our work and knowing that we helped, not just with this one instance, but helped establish the systems they needed for future grants to help manage more funds.

What brought you to NFF?
When I graduated from college in 2005, I knew I wanted to live in New York and apply my information and systems engineering degree in the nonprofit sector. I was hired as a systems and finance analyst and my job was to work with data related to the loan portfolio.

Memorable moment:
I had been assigned a project to build an intranet for loan officers and members of advisory services to find data on all our historical loans and advisory services. I knew how to structure databases, but luckily my new manager, Jacob Lane, had more experience. We spent a lot of time conducting interviews with NFF’s loan officers to talk about what they would need to understand the loan portfolio. And then the rest of the time, he and I sat in our office drawing up code on a whiteboard. Although I wasn't really a coder, I went with it and learned from Jacob.

One of the funny memories was one day when I came to the office, Jacob wanted to show me a new mockup version of the system. He did a search into the database, but he had programmed it so that while it was loading the information, a picture of my face appeared with “Please wait while Jake is surfing the internet ...” which I apparently did a bit too often during work.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
NFF showed me how strong financial understanding can help community organizations and nonprofits have a stronger impact on who they serve. After I left NFF, I went to business school with the goal of working in a finance department for a nonprofit. I had the opportunity to be the CFO of a company called One Acre Fund for nearly 10 years (have recently transitioned from Finance to Operations)!  

Memorable moment:
When I first came to NFF, I was on both the Finance and Administration (F&A) and Knowledge and Impact (K&I) teams. I organized a retreat for the F&A team, and a few weeks before the retreat, I created a video of NFF staff talking about how the F&A team’s work helps them do their jobs better. It was heartwarming and it showed how much people at NFF appreciate what others do. When it screened at the retreat, it was so rewarding to see everyone on F&A’s reactions: surprise, delight, true happiness!

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
NFF has a culture that encourages continuous improvement and intrapreneurship. I worked with a cross-departmental team to revamp the onboarding and performance management systems and introduced HelloSign to NFF, and for K&I, I introduced Asana. I managed each piece of the Invest in Results campaign, which involved wrangling lots of people to get chapters in for our book, get a website built, a video made, and a series of events planned across the country. And I played a big role in introducing some environmental initiatives at the NY office, like the compost program. I’m so proud of all this work and could not have done it without the incredible NFF team.  

What brought you to NFF?
I worked for the Valley Conservation Corps for about three and a half years and I really developed a passion for working in a direct service nonprofit supporting underrepresented and under-resourced communities. I began to feel a little burnt out from the direct service work and by chance I found Nonprofit Finance Fund through a search. I was given the opportunity to be a part of the growing LA office.

Memorable moment:
I've always really appreciated that everyone at NFF wants to work as a team. I think a lot of people are there because they are dedicated to the work and to the cause. They realize that it takes a team to do this work. People embrace that ethos and it comes out in the way that everyone's willing to lend a hand, to provide guidance, and to speak to shared experiences or previous engagements that they've had that can help influence the work that you're doing.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I work for the Mayor of Los Angeles in the Office of Economic Development. My work is engaging with startups and corporate interests throughout the city, as well as stakeholders in the adjacent cities for the purpose of business attraction and retention with the end goal of driving job creation in Los Angeles. Because of my experience with NFF and getting an opportunity to engage with nonprofits who are supporting disenfranchised individuals in various communities, the equity lens is front and center in my work. I think that NFF has been a leader in thinking about how we better connect communities to the resources that they need. NFF has done and is continuing to do a lot of the hard work to make sure that they as an organization are reflecting the communities that they support. For an organization that has been around for 40 years, it takes leadership from top to bottom to ingrain this thinking at an industry wide level.

What brought you to NFF?
I was volunteering at the Public Theater in New York City and I was asked to help find ways to access capital. I discovered NFF in my research and I was impressed with how they had figured out how to make nonprofits sustainable. To my good fortune there was an opening in the DC office.

Memorable moment:
We had a very small office, so we worked in partnership with other CDFIs and banks in the area on implementing the Community Reinvestment Act. In Columbia Heights, we provided loans to organizations like the Dance Institute of Washington, GALA Hispanic Theatre, and charter schools. Our support helped these organizations become anchors of their communities, even as they changed over the years.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
In 2009, I moved to Calvert Impact Capital, an impact investment firm that raises money from the capital markets through the issuances of products and services. Thankfully because of my experience at NFF, I bring an understanding of community need into conversations with investors. I help ensure investment dollars not only provide a financial return but create deep impact in the community. 

My position at NFF is not client facing. I always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to interact with clients, but I was nervous to get in front of real people and talk about NFF’s messaging and financial concepts. In 2019, I finally pushed myself to do it.

Part of the fun was the process of working in a team with Trella Walker and Annie Chang, who had delivered countless workshops. They taught me how content can be tailored to different audiences based on their background or potential level of financial understanding, how it can be humorous, and how to make the information memorable. They also encouraged me to “make it real” by using examples of experiences with previous clients and telling stories. I enjoyed it because it involved a level of creativity that wasn’t here is the information, memorize it, and regurgitate it.

Whenever we connected the concepts with things we had seen in practice, the audience was like, “Yep, that’s true for me,” and “Oh yeah, I’ve had that experience before.”  It was so cool to see people connect so deeply with our work. 

What brought you to NFF?
Initially, I came to NFF as part of a fellowship from business school. I looked at a lot of nonprofits, both in social financing and micro-financing, and very few did what I thought was critical, which was education of the field. NFF caught my eye because of its work in bringing financial acumen to social sector organizations. I was also very attracted to its values − “Rigor Without Attitude” was always my favorite. I felt like the work they were doing was important, unique, and brought rigor into the field, but with a lot of empathy.

Memorable moment:
One moment that might have been most representative of my work was when I created and led the roll-out of an internal dashboard. We had worked with the various department leaders to develop the metrics to measure NFF’s progress against our strategic plan and our goals. We came up with 18 that represented the entire organization and rolled it out in a brown bag lunch-and-learn. It was still a work-in-progress at the time, but we received a lot of support and it was fun to see the culmination of so much work.

Another great moment was the 2014 organization-wide retreat outside of Philadelphia, which was a blast! It was during my first year and I helped plan and organize the event. It brought into focus for me how smart and fun everyone was. Strong friendships were made there, and I learned a lot from the various sessions on content. At the time, there were a lot of new folks coming on board and it was a chance to show them what the organization was about and to bring them into the team as a cohesive unit.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
From NFF, I went to a private foundation. Of course, NFF worked with a lot of funders and has a strong stance on funder best practices; those best practices have stayed with me in very clear ways. As a good funder, we tried to cover full costs and to avoid measuring nonprofits and grantees by a random set of industry metrics that really didn't tie to their impact. As a responsible funder-partner, I wanted to make sure that we provided funding that allowed nonprofits to invest in their teams and their systems just as much as in their programs. I was able to bring that concept to the foundation and make sure that we funded in terms of full costs. Even though it is still really hard to convince funders to give unrestricted grants all the time, we became better about it, and I am still fighting for it. That was a lasting impression that NFF left on me that I try to bring to the funding side.  

What brought you to NFF?
I decided I wanted to return to the nonprofit sector. I was temping in the HR department at the Covenant House, a privately funded agency, and I came across a position for a Northeast Region Coordinator at NFF. I wound up staying at the interview for two and a half hours with Rodney Christopher and Teresa Vasquez. It stopped being an interview and we were just talking. The next day they offered me the position and I took it immediately. I worked there almost 10 years.

Memorable Moment?
I was tasked with helping to put together a staff retreat after there hadn't been one in many years. We went to Mohonk Mountain and it was a great two days. And then every other year there was a staff retreat. The unscripted part was the best part. After the day ended, people went on hiking trails, or after dinner, we sat around and had real bonding.

How has NFF informed what you are doing now?
I left NFF to go to Open Society Institute and I had never worked in philanthropy before. I work in their US division where we promote the welfare of democracy, justice, equality, and racial equity in the US. Working at NFF all those years allows me to help them understand what it's like to be on the grantee side of the process of giving money away to nonprofits.

When the COVID-19 crisis began in March, I was still finding my voice as a new consultant on the Advisory team. I love reading through policy documents, particularly when it comes to financial regulation (ask me about interest rates!), so when I saw an opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get into the weeds of the CARES Act, I jumped right in. We've been able to work with dozens of organizations directly by answering questions via our Ask NFF inbox and in coaching calls. We've also made resources on the PPP publicly available through our website. 

One of our clients, a large animal welfare organization, was struggling with cash flow prior to the crisis. Once COVID-19 hit, they were down to less than two weeks of cash and weren't sure how they would manage to keep operations going. They actually banked with one of my previous employers, so I was able to call up some former teammates to learn more about the bank's PPP process and give our client some advice on how to get an application in for consideration. They were shut out of the first round of funding, but we were able to support them in successfully submitting a loan in the second round. 

The stakes for the sector and our clients continue to be incredibly high. I'm grateful I can leverage relationships I've built and knowledge I've gained to make these challenging times more navigable.

What brought you to NFF?
I was excited about NFF's mission and the mix of being a data-driven organization with the empathic understanding of a nonprofit organization's needs.

Memorable moment:
The diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative at NFF took off while I was a part of the organization. Although NFF is a diverse organization that is doing good work, it was nice to see an organization push itself to think about the causes of inequity and challenge itself to think about how they could address it. I really appreciated that the staff, regardless of background or race, was open to learning and being outside of their comfort zone. The conversations were candid, open, and sometimes vulnerable. I brought this same energy to the nonprofit I currently work with.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I work in operations for a healthcare nonprofit called Possible. My work with NFF informed my ability to speak to a full cost budget with the narrative of our work weaved in. Additionally, NFF’s equity work helped me to be comfortable with having conversations on race, systems of oppression, and pushing myself as well as others to consider how we can push this conversation forward with action.

I’m a nerd and at NFF we had many fellow nerds in our “nerd nation.” We were all dedicated to the work and moving the needle forward in the nonprofit sector, and that spirit has stayed with me.    

One of my proudest moments was when I worked with Trella Walker and Grisaldy Lantigua to explore what a fifth core value focus on equity could look like. It was rewarding to work on a team with two fellow self-identified women of color, bringing our lived experience to the process. We represented our different departments to develop a process that engaged staff, and it was an exceptional example of how cross-collaboration happens at NFF and how we push back on each other. After nine months of surveys, feedback, and meetings we landed on the Equity in Action value as well as the three associated value statements. The language we arrived at has had an impact on the culture and lexicon in a way I didn’t predict at the time, and it’s gratifying to see.

What brought you to NFF?
My colleagues and I felt valued not just as workers, but as whole people with whole lives. For instance, there was a lot of support for staff with families with young children. That culture of thoughtfulness touched everyone – even if, like me, you didn’t fall in that category. 

Memorable moment:
In my first role at NFF, I worked as an analyst for our social impact bond program, Pay for Success. I had the opportunity to go on site visits to our grantees. It was so exciting – and fun. I ate ribs with Grisaldy Lantigua, Dana Archer-Rosenthal, and Jess LaBarbera in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and had margaritas with Martin Lenarz-Geisen in Austin, Texas. On a site visit to Denver, Dana shared with me her extensive knowledge of affordable housing policy. She had a studied urban planning in graduate school, and really supported me when I made the decision to pursue that path myself.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
After I left NFF to go to graduate school, I was fortunate to stay on as a fellow and work with the Human Capital team on an initiative around diversity in hiring and promotion. NFF gave me a model for a meaningful and organization-wide commitment to DEI, which is informing work I am doing in collaboration with colleagues in my current organization to lift a DEI initiative off of the ground.  

What brought you to NFF?
I had been working on bond financing for government and nonprofits at a bank and a colleague of mine had interned at NFF. I had never heard of a CDFI before but I was energized by the principles behind putting capital and resources into communities that have been disinvested for years. I also thought everyone I interviewed with was fabulously smart and talented and I knew I could learn a lot from them.

Memorable moment:
I am really grateful to NFF for giving me the opportunity to have multiple roles in both advisory services and financial services and have had many, many memorable moments. I’ve worked with some passionate and inspiring social sector leaders. As a lender, one of my most memorable projects was a New Markets deal (Codman) that was a co-located health center and charter school, which was really innovative and had a brilliant management team. On the advisory side, one of the most challenging and rewarding projects was working on our Pay for Success and outcomes-based financing work. Partnering with the White House to develop those convenings was both logistically challenging and very political, but was really a unique opportunity to work with a number of partners all across the country to develop a field. And some of those old school NFF retreat dance parties of many years ago were way fun!

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
While I’m really proud of so much that work over the years, the things that inform what I'm doing now (parenting during COVID, board service for AMPT: Advancing Nonprofits, and few consulting projects), are the intangibles: collaboration, listening, and empathy. Every idea, every movement, every loan, every advisory initiative, every big idea was not advanced by just one person. It was a team approach (internally and externally), made better by a diversity of input and deeper understanding of multiple perspectives. That has made a significant impact on me because I think that is what makes NFF a special place, the ability to work collaboratively for better ideas, and I've taken that lesson with me (though I miss NFFers terribly!)  

What brought you to NFF?
As a former dancer I have always been passionate about the arts. But coming out of business school I wanted exposure to a broader spectrum of organizations and the issues they face. I came to NFF for the opportunity to work across sectors.

When I started at NFF in 2004, advisory services was called Program and Product Development (PPD). I came in as a summer intern while I was at Columbia Business School as part of their fellowship program. NFF was much more informal then in terms of its structure: there was more fluidity among departments and positions. At the conclusion of my summer, the head of PPD, Chris Jenkins, said to me, “create the job that you want to do here, and we’ll make it happen.” And so that was the beginning of a ten-year journey

Memorable moment:
The initiative and NFF work that I’m most proud of was the Leading for the Future program, which I ran in partnership with consulting colleague Rodney Christopher and Holly Sidford, who is a nationally recognized arts consultant. The program was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and was created, administered, and run by NFF. It was the first program that applied change capital for the arts on a national scale. Many of the program’s lessons have informed perspectives and practices field-wide, such as invest big flexible dollars over multiple years, combine money with advice for planning and implementations, encourage organizations to take risks, be flexible, and allow for the possibility of failure or the exploration of new direction.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
The ability to marry financial guidance with strong interpersonal and communication skills is essential. Those were lessons I learned at NFF and that I carried forward into my own business. 

For six years, I’ve run a national consulting practice that was absolutely informed by my experiences and my time at NFF. My organization, Rebecca Thomas & Associates (RTA), helps nonprofit leaders use data to make decisions that put their organizations on a path to stronger health. We help them plan for change and adapt when social or business issues interfere with their mission. Like NFF, we work with grantmakers to influence funding practices by directing money and consulting support toward business and leadership challenges.

I also have NFF to thank for sending me to work in Boston, where I met my husband!  

NFF is working on a large scale to help organizations be as impactful as possible. That is exciting to me and it’s why I came to NFF. I’ve felt lucky since I’ve been here to be working with other people who are so passionate about making change within the nonprofit sector as well as learning from people who are experts in what they do. I’ve been impressed by how much training and time NFF is willing to put into new staff and the amount of effort that people have put in to make sure that I feel comfortable and ready.

The first initiative I was staffed on was a national initiative that brought together organizations addressing infant mental health. Throughout this initiative, my co-providers struck a great balance between allowing me to contribute right away and teaching me how NFF supports organizations. This balance helped me quickly get comfortable with both NFF’s content and take ownership of work supporting clients.

What brought you to NFF?
When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua and Guatemala, I was attracted to the social and people-forward aspect of my work there. After returning home and finishing an MBA, I looked for organizations that had a good mix of social impact, served mission-oriented organizations, and that could help me improve my technical skills. I found that in NFF and was happy to work alongside a team with similar values.

Memorable moment:
One of my favorite projects was setting up our internal Environmental Working Group. I presented the idea to colleagues and leadership as a way to reduce NFF’s negative impact on our surrounding environment and engage staff on sustainability. We calculated our overall carbon footprint and devised strategies to reduce emissions associated with travel and office buildings as well as began thinking how we would start to decarbonize our loan portfolio. Leadership was supportive and encouraging every step of the way, and I am excited to see how the program excels in the future.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I’m a program officer at the Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation. We focus on criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and affordable housing preservation. Working with NFF gave me an understanding of how social justice organizations continually push for equity and how NFFers can help address challenges and opportunities through thoughtful and open conversations. This experience helped me form language to advocate for what nonprofits need, particularly how unrestricted and multi-year support is pivotal to advancing an organization’s outcomes.  

Nobody said it better than Clara Miller when she said, “Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model.” And like in any other endeavor, there is a service provided or product being produced and a “buyer” who pays an agreed price. All too often, the agreed price doesn’t cover cost and at best leaves many nonprofits in a perpetual state of financial fragility. The situation is made more difficult by restrictions on the use of funds, intended to prevent misuse but often impeding needed flexibility. At the end of the day, with no margin, there is no mission. If you do not have enough money to cover the cost of producing that service or that product, you are always managing on the basis of scarcity, if not outright out of business. 

My first relationship with NFF began when NFF was the Energy Conservation Fund and the organization was solving a specific problem with a specific tool – financing capital costs of purchasing energy efficient equipment. The equipment was too expensive for the nonprofit to pay for from the annual operating budget, but the money saved on energy costs was enough to pay back a loan over a few years and permanently lower annual expenses. As a banker I could understand why the idea worked. From that early point, NFF consistently widened the spectrum of understanding for the ways in which money and mission are connected and how synergistic it becomes when they are in alignment. NFF also built the Knowledge & Communications team to distill “thought capital” which could be shared with the field.

If I could choose three words to describe NFF, they would be creative, ethical, and committed. I think that the salient thing is not the products NFF offers, but the way in which NFF connects with a deep, on the ground understanding of the realities of how nonprofits operate, the worlds they operate in, the services they provide, and how they tick. Being able to step back to analyze, to think about how to make them more effective through what they do with financial management, and through choosing their own destinies in terms of business models makes it real, tangible, and accessible. It also helps to create frameworks that nonprofits, funders, and policy makers can collaborate within to accomplish the positive agendas each are committed to bringing about. We need this clarity now more than ever.

From the very beginning of the SIEC, it was important to us that we model the change we want to see. We had planned a two-day retreat in Atlanta to kick off the council, but just weeks after the council formed, we had to shelter in place. We had to figure out how to become a cohesive group in this new reality, in a way that was equitable. How could we support council members who had to balance childcare and family needs? Together, we built a virtual retreat that would work for everyone and not be too taxing.

We reduced the pressure. We structured the retreat with long breaks between sessions to give people time and space to address their needs. We built in time for meals and encouraged people to invite their partners and children to join if they wanted to, but also gave people the freedom to walk about their house and disengage as needed. But people stayed engaged and didn’t go off screen; it was fascinating to see. That’s the power of putting equity first – where everyone’s needs are heard, and everyone is seen. It was really a safe space that we built.

This was tested when a council member left NFF and a new staff member joined us. Was it still a safe space? We weren’t sure how it would work given the cohesive group we formed. But the commitment to the atmosphere we built on that retreat remained. The new member felt it right away.

What brought you to NFF?
I studied economics and pre-med as an undergraduate, but when I started working in a hospital, I realized I didn't want to be a doctor. I did want to do something oriented around health and change, so I went to grad school and studied nonprofit management, and global development. I wasn't looking for a consulting job after grad school, but I found an associate position on the advisory services team at NFF and decided to go for it! I'm really glad I did!

Memorable moment:
The personal relationships with my colleagues and clients; collaborating and learning from/with them was the most rewarding part of all the work I was able to do at NFF. Being able to present to leaders who are interested in what you have to say and the knowledge that everyone's there because they want the nonprofit sector to succeed, to be resilient, and to continue to move forward – it was very rewarding.

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I currently work in the UK at a large charity called Nesta on the Arts and Culture Finance team. Our team provides social investment to charities and social enterprises with healthy business models and strong social impact cases, particularly for high need communities and individuals.

For example, we provided investment to an organization called InHouse Records that launched a record label within the prison system here in England to provide incarcerated people the opportunity to rehabilitate and to develop a skill set around music, songwriting, and production, so that when they're released from prison, they are better equipped to obtain dignified employment and channel their energy into a positive creative outlet.

As the manager of the fund I am responsible for business development, due diligence and portfolio management. In all aspects of my role I use my NFF advisory services skills. My ability to connect with organizations and support them on this journey of taking on finance, which for a lot of them is a new and oftentimes scary experience, is a testament to the consulting skills, and advisory services work I engaged with at NFF. I would not have this job had I not worked for NFF.

What brought you to NFF?
I worked in small business lending and I wanted to get exposure to nonprofit lending. My move to NFF was one of the wisest career choices because as an underwriter I was able to see all of the inner workings of the lending department.

Memorable moment:
I am most proud of starting the annual Thanksgiving potluck tradition. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it's not religious. And what better way to bond with people than over food? Being Chinese, food is always how we celebrate, and I wanted everyone to share their traditions and culinary talent. I moved the potluck forward with David Friedkin and Jeremiah Rosario, who were junior staff members like me. So, you have three junior people trying to start something for about 20-25 people in the New York office. But everybody was super excited about it and it exemplifies how connected everyone is at the organization. We're colleagues, but we genuinely enjoy each other's company. We kept it going every year.

  

How has NFF informed what you do now?
I am an underwriter at Amalgamated Bank and the way that I approach my work comes from my time in NFF. NFF taught me the finance perspective, but also the need to understand every organization where they are at and how a loan is going to push them to the next level. I am able to bring to the commercial sector the empathy and listening skills that show that nonprofits are bankable organizations and worth taking the time to understand. Meet them where they’re at, understand their struggles and triumphs, and how a loan is going to push them to the next level.

I also learned to stay flexible. Antony used to have this comic in front of his office at the old NY office. It was a cartoon about being nimble. When I first saw that I laughed! I thought, “What is he talking about?” But one of the strengths of NFF is its ability to change and adapt and find out the best and new ways of doing something.

There's not one regret about my time at NFF. If it wasn't for this new opportunity, I probably would have stayed there for 20 years.  

Looking Forward

Click here for a special statement from Henry Ramos, Board Chair, and Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO, about actions we're taking as we look ahead to news ways of working to build the leadership, reputation, and assets of our partners in communities.