A blog by IFF CEO Joe Neri
In December, IFF received an unprecedented $15 million gift as part of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s pledge to donate half her wealth. We were one of 384 nonprofits to receive such a significant gift after a rigorous, data-driven vetting process that identified organizations with strong leadership teams, clear track records of results, and a focus on communities facing challenges related to food insecurity, racial inequity, poverty, and low access to capital.
This gift is transformative, as well as deeply humbling.
When I was in my early 30s, I helped IFF develop an early childhood education (ECE) center, and immediately saw the interconnection between stable housing, stable employment, and stable childcare. Since then, we’ve helped build, underwrite or consult on more than 100 ECE centers, and shaped IFF’s strong focus on early childhood education as part of the larger community development ecosystem. But ECE centers remain the single most daunting type of facility development in the nonprofit sector – they are highly regulated (as they should be), the operating margins to pay facility debt are minimal, the appraisals on the final single-purpose buildings will never be adequate, and assembling subsidy dollars is a bespoke endeavor. In other words, they need the extra care and support that only a well-financed CDFI can provide.
That’s one of the many reasons why this incredible gift from MacKenzie Scott has well-positioned IFF to make huge systemic differences in our communities. Unrestricted money at this scale provides many opportunities to support systems-level change and projects that are otherwise hard to fund through the usual channels. I quickly began envisioning how IFF would put this donation to use in fulfilling our strategic vision for the next several years.
To start, we’re going to double-down on three big commitments:
- Racial Equity: Since 2018, IFF has committed to a more explicit focus on racial equity and aims to become an anti-racist, anti-oppressive (ARAO) organization. The donation will provide the resources to execute an action plan and examine internal and external policies and programs to ensure a grounding in equity and inclusivity.
- Social Impact Accelerator: Our Social Impact Accelerator brings together a powerful combination of financial strength, real estate development expertise, sector knowledge, and research and evaluation capacity to accelerate positive social impact for communities. The donation will help further develop this tool.
- Infrastructure: We will amplify IFF’s impact by improving our essential operations such as Information Technology, data analysis, and communications functions. By strengthening our internal tools, we will become better equipped to achieve external results.
All three of these goals are integral to IFF’s long track record of success – deploying capital in communities (through more than $1 billion in lending), creating beautiful mission-driven spaces for nonprofits (like this one), building nonprofits’ net assets (such as through our Stronger Nonprofits Initiative), driving social impact (with our robust Research and Evaluation work), and filling gaps where the traditional market doesn’t step up (for example, through Learning Spaces and Home First). The nature of the MacKenzie Scott gift will make us a stronger, more robust organization capable doubling down on what we do best so we can reach even more communities, sectors and nonprofits in the Midwest.