Everything came full circle when we sat down with Genevieve Kirk from the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois. The former Executive Director of the Champaign Center Partnership, Genevieve’s passion for mission-driven work, propelled her to current position as the Director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence at the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois (CFECI), where she works directly with local non-profit organizations. Between her time at CFECI, keeping up with family activities, and welcoming refugees to our community, we were grateful to catch up with Genevieve who she let us in on what motivates her to help improve Champaign-Urbana and the wider community.
Tell us about yourself and how you got involved with Community Foundation of East Central Illinois.
My name is Genevieve Kirk. I am originally from Northern Illinois and went to the University of Chicago for my undergraduate studies. During that time, I got involved as a work-study student with a startup nonprofit that was focused on children’s product safety. The organization was founded after a tragedy, when an 16-month-old was strangled in a portable crib that collapsed around his neck while he was napping at his licensed daycare facility. This product had been recalled from the market years earlier, but no one knew about the recall. So the child’s parents, both U of C professors, founded their own nonprofit, Kids In Danger, to get the word out about recalls and educate the public. They’ve done a lot of advocacy work to ensure that recalled products are no longer allowed in schools and daycares, and that durable children’s products must be tested for safety prior to going to market. Seeing this couple mobilize their grief after a tragedy into something positive really impacted me. So, over the past 20 years I’ve been working exclusively in the nonprofit sector with organizations of different sizes and scopes, all focused on mission-driven work because that’s what really excites and energizes me. Prior to joining the Community Foundation, I was the executive director of the Champaign Center Partnership and I learned about the Community Foundation through their executive director group which I attended as a new ED and found to be a great source of support. When I transitioned out of the Partnership in 2020, I did some adjunct teaching in the School of Social Work at UIUC on nonprofit sector and society, and social entrepreneurship, then I joined the staff here at the Community Foundation in this newly-created role in 2021.
What is your role within the Community Foundation? What's your day-to-day like?
My job title is Center for Nonprofit Excellence Director. The Community Foundation was founded 50 years ago and is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that encourages and receives donations for the long-term benefit of East Central Illinois. The Foundation distributes about $1.5 million in grants, scholarship and direct distributions to nonprofits in our service area each year. In addition to this monetary support, we provide training to help local nonprofits implement best practices and increase their capacity. I facilitate monthly meetings of our executive director leadership network; we host quarterly board bootcamp sessions to train nonprofit board members on their roles and responsibilities; and we recently launched a new fundraising series to train local nonprofit staff and board members on how to run capital campaigns and build endowments. Last year we conducted a nonprofit needs assessment with nonprofit leaders in our region, and we learned that fundraising is one of the main challenges of local nonprofits, so we started this series to address this need. I also manage our Community Solutions Incubator which supports new and emerging nonprofits with training, resources and mentoring as they get up and running. I think in general you could summarize my role as training and supporting nonprofits so that they can do their good work even better.
Tell us about your background working with nonprofits and why you feel the work you’re doing with the Community Foundation is important.
Before moving to Champaign in 2014, I worked for nonprofits in Milwaukee, WI, Chicago, IL, Oakland, CA and Las Cruces, NM as well as overseas in Africa. I have always been attracted to the mission-driven work that nonprofits do, and the opportunity to impact lives through their programs and services. When I was in graduate school at Marquette University, I worked as the volunteer coordinator of a local community center and attended trainings hosted by the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee that I found very helpful as a new staff member. In our local community, the Community Foundation is doing a lot of good work in this area through its Center for Nonprofit Excellence, and it’s my job to expand and enhance the services that we’re offering to nonprofits in our area. I hope that community members who work or volunteer for a local nonprofit will know that the Community Foundation is a resource for best practices and offers training and workshops to assist nonprofit executive directors and board members. Growing the capacity of local nonprofits is something that strengthens our local community. I am proud that our board of directors awarded over $50,000 in an inaugural round of capacity building grants to local nonprofits last year and I look forward to growing our services to the nonprofit community.
What have you learned through your role at the Community Foundation and what do you see as the greatest needs of nonprofits in our community?
I’ve had the opportunity to partner with a few action learning teams from the Gies College of Business through my role at the Foundation. Last fall, one of these teams helped us compile some research to better understand the nonprofit sector in East Central Illinois. We found that there are a lot of nonprofits located in our service area: over 2,000. In Champaign County alone, there are 879 registered 501(c)(3) public charities. The majority of these (65%) are very small organizations with annual revenues of $25,000 or less. For this reason, we believe it’s important to empower these organizations with more tools and training to help them and their board members with fundraising efforts. We also know that many of these organizations need help identifying and connecting with community members that would like to serve as board members. On September 19th, we’ll be hosting our first Board Match Expo at Champaign Public Library and we would love for folks to save the date and join us to meet and connect with leaders of over a dozen local nonprofits that are actively recruiting new board members. Our nonprofit community, and greater Champaign-Urbana community, needs individuals who are aligned with the various missions of local organizations to step up and offer their time and skillsets as board members. We would love for this community to come out and join us in September and get connected to service opportunities with local nonprofits!
What do you do in your spare time?
A lot of my spare time is directed towards caring for my family. My husband and I are celebrating 22 years of marriage this year. I am very involved with my kids (a sixth grader and an eighth grader) and their activities. I am also involved in our local faith community. One thing I’m excited about this year is a volunteer project I’m coordinating with a group of neighbors and friends to privately sponsor a refugee family through the new Welcome Corps initiative that was announced by the Department of State earlier this year. We are raising funds to support the family’s initial housing and provide basic necessities, and our group will be very hands-on for their first 90 days in our community as we help the family to get connected to local resources, schools, employment, and learning English. I’m really excited about the opportunity to lend a helping hand to newcomers as they begin a new life in our community that has been so welcoming to me and my family.
Written by Jenna Manolakes.
Header photo credit: Darrell Hoemann Photography.
The Community Foundation of East Central Illinois is a proud member of the Champaign Center Partnership.