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Cindy Willard is the Consulting Program Officer of the Kenneth King Foundation headquartered in Colorado. Learn more at kennethkingfoundation.org.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Established in 1990, Kenneth King Foundation (the Foundation) is a private, grantmaking organization. Located in Denver, Colorado, the Foundation’s mission is to perpetuate and expand the humanitarian principles developed by our late founder Kenneth King. Today, we support organizations that provide basic needs, create jobs, and foster entrepreneurialism.
The Foundation provides grants and program-related investments to organizations with a social mission. These investments support programs and innovations that advance the areas of interest for the Foundation.
Job Creation – We believe access to meaningful employment significantly improves a family’s life.
Basic Needs – Colorado’s least fortunate continue to need basic human services that help remove barriers to seeking and maintaining employment.
Foster Entrepreneurialism – Helping people reach self-sufficiency and beyond through entrepreneurship has a multiplier effect in Colorado, creating new net jobs, improving economic conditions for families and our community.
Arts & Culture – We believe a robust arts and culture sector leads to a strong sense of community and long-term economic development.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
The Foundation, influenced by founder Kenneth King, believes in the value of work and aims to create opportunities for meaningful work that supplies a living wage to those with the most barriers to employment. Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. The Foundation works to support families and individuals as they move toward economic security through work.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
The Foundation has provided grants and investments that create new jobs, offering new opportunities for employment. We have also supported training programs and funding for aspiring entrepreneurs creating more people interested in starting their own companies. Through the basic needs funding, people are served meals, provided supportive housing as well as support with accessing child care and transportation. Some of the most successful programs the Foundation has supported work across these areas, removing barriers to employment while also providing work training and access to jobs.
Foundations are in a unique position. They do not provide direct services, but look for the most successful organizations and support their efforts. We think about our funding as more of a portfolio of support for issues we care about rather than doing the direct work.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
The Foundation’s creator, Kenneth King, believed that helping others was an important responsibility. Toward the end of his life, he wanted a way to continue to give back to those in need and the communities that gave him so much. He founded the Kenneth King Foundation in 1990 to continue his life-long mission of philanthropy.
Kenneth King was born in Texas but grew up and was educated in Denver. King pursued higher education in Chicago where he attended and graduated from Northwestern University. King later founded Columbia Savings and Loan Association here in Colorado.
From childhood until his passing, King was heavily involved with Denver-area philanthropic groups. He served on the boards of many charitable organizations and was very active with Goodwill Industries. King’s passion for philanthropy carried through in his pioneering work in the loan industry. He always did his best to make home loans available for those who couldn’t otherwise obtain them. His model was an inspiration for the Foundation to focus on jobs and basic needs.
Another inspiration for the Foundation to create impact is the organizations and the people they support. We are privileged to be able to see the wonderful work happening in communities and hear the stories of people who are able to overcome obstacles, be they physical disabilities, poverty, or mental health concerns. We learn about new programs, promising practices and emerging businesses that make positive changes in peoples’ lives across the state.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We hope to identify new funding pathways to create jobs and entrepreneurs among under-served and marginalized populations. We hope our funding leads to creating thousands of jobs and entrepreneurial pathways for individuals and families.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
Building a strong pipeline of nonprofit organizations, social enterprises, foundations and community leaders who share our interest in opening pathways to more meaningful employment.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
We continue work to better understand the impact of our grants and investments. The Foundation provides funding in a variety of areas and programs, and in doing so, receives reports from our many partners that measure results differently. We want to allow organizations to measure what they see as important and to report and evaluate in a way that doesn’t increase their administrative burden. However, this makes our job complicated to bring together many varied results and metrics so we work to refine our process, work with our partners and better evaluate our funding results.
Another challenge is to build the pipeline for our impact investing work. Impact investing is a growing tool for Foundations to provide capital in different ways and finding the projects that align with the Foundation’s focus areas and present a solid investment offers some challenges. We are involved with groups like Social Venture Circle, the Impact Investing group through the Colorado Association of Funders and many other events and associations that help to surface viable potential investment opportunities.
The Foundation staff and trustees are committed to using the resources wisely in supporting organizations that advance our core areas of interest. We find that balancing risk and return creates interesting conversations for us. Do we fund projects that are known and have a long track record? Or do we support innovative opportunities that could provide great return? To date, we have tried to strike a balance between these two ideas in order to support success as well as build momentum for new ideas.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
It is important to know where you are headed – to be clear about the end result you hope to achieve. This is more important than the steps you will take to get there, as those strategies are likely to change over time. Understand what success will look like for you and your organization so you can measure and learn along the way to achieving those successes.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Bring new ideas and organizations to the Foundation’s attention – we have a letter of inquiry process twice a year and also have a form on our website for people to share messages with us.
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