The Roots that Keep Us Strong: Madison Community Foundation Celebrates 75 Years

Photo by Madison Community Foundation

The mission is the solid trunk at the base of our community. Madison Community Foundation (MCF) uses its local knowledge and assets to inspire giving, support meaningful initiatives, and connect people for the common good. Their vision acts as tree branches stretching toward the sky, growing more beautiful with each passing day; eventually, the Greater Madison area will be a vibrant and generous place where people help each other thrive.

At our foundation, we focus on everyone, says Tom Linfield, vice president of community impact, MCF. Diversity is to be embraced. Thats one of the biggest challenges in our town right now. How do we make everyone feel like this is place of opportunity?

Born in Boston, Tom relocated to Madison 22 years ago after living in Paris. Hes worked his entire career in the nonprofit world, from public television to higher education. Now, dedicating himself to community work, Tom feels most satisfied with what hes accomplishing. I get to work with passionate people who are doing good. Every day someone walks through the door with a positive vision to do good in our community.

Toms main job is to coordinate grantmaking. One of MCFs grant award lists consists of 18 Dane County nonprofits and totals $564,000. And that is just for fall 2016. Grants were given to Aldo Leopold Foundation, East Madison Community Center, Gios Garden, Literacy Network, Operation Fresh Start Inc., and Theatre Lila, to name a few.

Photograph provided by Madison Community Foundation

MCF funds areas such as basic needs work, arts, environment, homelessness issues, educational issues, and affordable housing. As the community changes, we also think about the large amount of baby boomers who will be retiring, solving the racial equity gap in the school system, and growing the bike trails so you can bike across the state, says Tom. We brainstorm ways to help Dane County be a rich part of that.

Beginning as the result of war bonds by forward-thinking residents in 1942, MCF was founded in the midst of World War II. Returning soldiers needed education, employment, and housing. The community set aside money for just that. Here we are 75 years later, and the key things we are talking about in the community is employment, education, and housing, says Tom. The community has transformed in the last 75 years, but MCF wants to fund the strengths.

Even through transformation, MCF continues to ask one question: how do we make Madison an amazing place for everyone to live? Since the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Race to Equity project released its report, Tom says the dialogue is that Madison is a tale of two cities. The report discusses the state of racial disparities in Dane County. For some, we have the best schools in the nation, and for some, we have the worst. That can depend on race, class status, or economic status.

Photograph provided by Madison Community Foundation

The path to the solution started with funding community schools, community parks, and working with Alex Gee at Nehemiah to fund the Justified Anger Coalition. But it didnt stop there. In addition to holding an educational endowment for each of the 50 Madison public schools, MCF funds a wide array of projects at schools, community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, the YWCA, and others to promote educational enhancement. The foundation also recently funded DANEnet for digital inclusion. They are working with the city and providers to offer 1,000 free computers, low-cost wifi, and free training and repair service, says Tom. They want to level the digital divide.

MCF funds a high amount of parks and educational programs because they are assets that should be free and accessible for everyone. Those are important when we look at what kind of community and opportunities we have, says Tom. We help build their capacity and their ability to help everyone, advantaged or disadvantaged, so all boats rise.

Out of the $8 to $10 million per year MCF gives away, $1.8 million of that comes from grantmaking. The rest comes from agencies or individuals. Weve seen a huge proliferation of nonprofits, which is great because thats energy and passion, but challenging because that may lead to duplication, says Tom. MCF works to bring similar organizations together. A recent accomplishment was getting all 28 of the public libraries around a table to collaborate. Its true in every area that working together makes them stronger.

When thinking about the journey and years of success MCF has already had, a smile stretches across Toms face. We are always in it for the long game. The nature of what we do, the fact we are an endowment, is that we are here forever. We are looking back with pride about where Madison is today, but we are looking forward with anticipation about where Madison will be in the next 75 years.

Photograph provided by Madison Community Foundation

During their 75th anniversary, MCF will announce 12 new projects, giving one $75,000 every month. Tom says one of the most exciting projects is MCF will try to collect, refurbish, and donate 1,000 bicycles and give them to families in need. Our hope is about permanence. Can we seed something and set it up for success so it can continue? MCF is following a model done in Minneapolis where they give out 6,000 to 7,000 bikes a year. The foundation has been working with a bike equity committee to move forward. In addition to the bikes, this project would include helmets, locks, and lights. MCF also wants to set up small repair stations at community centers and schools.

MCFs celebration will begin May 16 at its annual event and will end May 18, 2018, with its annual event. At its birthday in December, MCF hopes to celebrate whats great about Madison and the people who contribute with a party on State Street. We hope to increase philanthropy and the visibility of philanthropy to do great work, says Tom. The goal is for everyone to be part of the solution. Philanthropy is for everyone.

Another way you can help is by liking MCF on Facebook. The organization shares an inspiring story daily about whats happening in the community. And you can learn more, donate, get involved, and volunteer for the nonprofit community. MCF is happy to advise anyone about where they should put their time and money.

Emotionally and physically, its been proved that giving money away makes people happy, says Tom. Thats what we do and what we help people do. Weve done it for 75 years, and we plan to keep doing it better.

Chelsey Dequaine works as a social media/community specialist for designCraft Advertising and is a freelance writer.

2 Science Court #3
Madison, WI 53711
(608) 232-1763