No matter where you go in life, what matters most is who you have beside you along the way. For 30 years, IFF has been fortunate to have incredibly impressive nonprofit clients, committed investors, and passionate staff and Board members. In 2018, we commemorated our 30th anniversary with a series of events that convened, celebrated, and connected more than 500 partners throughout the Midwest.
“It took 30 years to build this institution – this family – from the spark of an idea that Trinita Logue had in 1988 to the organization that it is today,” said IFF CEO Joe Neri, noting that IFF has grown from its initial $2 million investment from the Chicago Community Trust to a $480 million community development financial institution with more than 100 staff working across 10 states. “To do that, we’ve always had to adapt to the changing needs of nonprofits and communities. We didn’t do that by telling folks what they needed; we did that by listening to all the smart, dedicated, visionary leaders who run nonprofits that provide critical services.”
Several of those nonprofit leaders were featured speakers at IFF’s series of anniversary celebrations in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Some snippets of those conversations include:
“Ensuring inclusion in our economy – this is nothing short of our life’s work. We must ensure people enjoy benefits of economic development without being displaced.” ~Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett
“There are no throwaway people. We take a chance on changing people’s lives, and we needed someone willing to take a chance on us – but most banks weren’t willing to do that. When we worked with IFF, no one asked us why we needed such a big space. They understood that the size of our space had to match the size of our vision.” ~Nonprofit CEO Shawntelle Fisher of St. Louis
“We will never achieve our full potential if we leave a chunk of our people behind.” ~Bader Philanthropies executive Frank Cumberbatch of Milwaukee
In total, 17 nonprofit leaders representing a deep diversity of thought, sector, market, and identity gave of their time to speak with the crowds IFF convened.
Neri, who has been part of IFF for 22 years, said: “There are just so many stories from our 30 years of work in the Midwest. Stories of individual nonprofits and individual leaders, as well as of entire sectors, that demanded to be given the opportunity to impact communities. I am just so proud of everyone at IFF who helped meet that demand.”
One of Neri’s favorite stories is about a client called Inspiration Corporation – a nonprofit that, like many nonprofits, began with a big idea in a small space.
“Inspiration Corporation started out with a little red wagon filled with coffee and sandwiches,” Neri explained. “It was dragged around Uptown by a police officer looking for a way to connect to the people she encountered on her beat. Eventually, that wagon grew into a van, then a bus, and eventually a sit-down café in Uptown.”
IFF began its relationship with Inspiration Corporation in the late 1990s, when IFF provided a loan for the Uptown café. IFF later provided a second loan for a second location, as well as real estate services for Inspiration’s social enterprise kitchen and restaurant in East Garfield Park. Still later, IFF’s development team helped Inspiration finance and develop their first housing project, which serves families in Washington Park.
“Ours is a two-decade relationship that shows our commitment to helping our partners grow,” Neri said. “But if that all sounds very neat and tidy – it wasn’t. The story of nonprofit growth is rarely one of a straight line of success.”
Like many nonprofits, Inspiration faced many tough choices related to leadership transitions, state and federal budget cuts, and shifting fundraising environments.
Said Neri: “An important part of IFF’s DNA is that we don’t cut and run when things get tough. We don’t just provide a loan, claim success, and disappear. We are there as a partner through the tough times, with the same roll-up-our sleeves, solve-the-problem attitude. We know our partners have long-term visions that require long-term partners. That’s been the IFF way for the last 30 years, and will continue to be for the next 30 years.”