"Place-based initiatives" is a big buzz phrase in philanthropy circles these days. It means taking a comprehensive approach to improving a neighborhood, considering how factors like jobs, education, transportation and housing all interact in a specific place. But even if you've never heard that term before, if you live in the New Orleans area, chances are you already know what it means.
"That's something New Orleans knows, is neighborhoods," says Cory Sparks, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, or . "We know what it's like to live with deep roots, we know what it's like to see a difference in the life of a child just down the block and how important that is and how no one else is going to do that for us, and for our family and our friends and our faith community and others. We were place based before it was cool."
The sector LANO represents is huge, and hugely diverse, comprising some 19,000 organizations across Louisiana, ranging from baseball clubs to universities and hospitals. LANO is their central hub, representing these groups statewide, helping them use their resources most effectively and telling their stories.
"Nonprofits run our shelters in this city. Nonprofits are there to make sure that an unwed mom looking for a future can find a job. Nonprofits are there when a young child wants to learn how to play the trumpet. Nonprofits are in all these places and we depend on nonprofits in ways that sometimes we don't even recognize," says Sparks.
"Government relies on nonprofits to do so much for Louisiana and yet oftentimes nonprofits are the last to receive the funds that they need in order to make a measurable difference for the community," he says.
The role and impact of nonprofits was never so clear than in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It's hard to see just how the region could have been rebuilt without them, the volunteers they marshal and their continuing efforts here. More recently, however, it's been harder for many of these groups to find the funding they need, as LANO vice president Kellie Green explains.
"Fund development is an area where nonprofits are struggling," Green says. "It's part of Katrina resources moving on to other communities, it's what happens in an economic downturn, and there's more need than ever."
One new way LANO now helps is with a tool called the . It's a database of 100,000 funders nationwide that any nonprofit can use for free at LANO's offices. The system draws information from the vast sea of potential grant-makers and helps groups zero in on the best leads to expand and diversify their funding development.
Our community still has many needs. But Sparks is confident that by connecting such tools with nonprofit volunteerism and leadership, and with the powerful devotion to place that New Orleanians share, nonprofits can accomplish just about anything.
"In nonprofit after nonprofit there's been a drive, a passion, a hunger to make the most out of every opportunity and that's a trend that will continue even as funding trends come and go," he says.
Learn more about the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations at the or call its New Orleans office (935 Gravier St., Suite 850, New Orleans, LA 70112) at (504) 309-2081.