Panel discusses nonprofits at Venture Connectors event.
From left, Christen McDonough Boone of Fund for the Arts, David Lopez of Metro United Way and Ben Reno-Weber of MobileServe discuss the importance of community philanthropy. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Representatives from Metro United Way and the Fund for the Arts said at Venture Connectors Wednesday that times are tough for philanthropy in Louisville, but there is reason to be hopeful.

Christen McDonough Boone, president and CEO of Fund for the Arts, and David Lopez, chief development officer of Metro United Way, joined MobileServe CEO Ben Reno-Weber in the discussion at Venture Connectors’ monthly luncheon.

Boone said a major concern in the philanthropy landscape is that many corporations that used to donate large sums of money to the local community and encourage their employees to donate are now owned by outside interests and have far fewer employees. And while they do still donate and encourage their employees, it’s not like it once was.

“As much as we are grateful for their continued investment and employment here, the reality is they are not giving in Louisville when they are headquartered somewhere else in the same way that they once did,” Boone said to the group of entrepreneurs. “What’s replacing them are organizations led by you all and small- and medium-sized businesses.”

Christen McDonough Boone
Christen McDonough Boone, CEO of Fund for the Arts, said that giving in Louisville has changed a lot in the past 20 years. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

One issue that worries her is that wealth is being held by fewer people. “That is not sustainable, and that is not what we want as a shared future,” she said.

Boone gave an example of a company that encourages employees to do hours of volunteer work, then the companies would give the employees $500 to donate to a local organization. But only a small portion of those employees participated, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.

Lopez echoed Boone’s sentiments but added that donors now are often very specific about where they want their money to go.

“That does make it more complex for us in our organizations as to how we can turn that around into outcomes and impact in our community,” he said.

But he said Louisville’s atmosphere of collaboration gives him hope.

“I moved here from San Diego, Calif., and one of the things that I most value about a region is the spirit of collaboration, whether that’s in the entrepreneurship space or in the nonprofit space. Wherever it is that I look it feels like people have an interest in and excitement for collaboration, and that’s also where donors are going.”

Lopez said Metro United Way is important to him because as a child, he benefited from a United Way agency. He was struggling in school, and an organization helped him get on the right path, leading him to an eventual successful career.

“I would never have been afforded the opportunities that I have been afforded in my adult life,” he said. “My first career was actually on the entrepreneurial side in tech sales, and I really loved the fact that I had a chance to experience that. But I never forgot why I had been able to do that. It was not because of just my own choices but because of the way that other folks supported me. And so part of me is showing up to say thanks to the folks who are already realizing that their track in life is deeply impacted by what’s happening to their neighbors.”

Boone expressed the importance of arts in the community and the Fund for the Arts’ role in it.

“We leverage the arts to inspire and educate our kids, to connect and enliven our neighborhoods and to put Louisville on the map,” she said. “And we do that with the United Arts Campaign and then investing in hundreds of projects led by artists and organizations throughout our community.”

She added that the annual economic impact of arts and culture in the community is $462 million, which generates 17,000 jobs. The Fund for the Arts generates $9 million a year and runs on 18 employees. “And that is really through the generosity of 20,000 donors.”

David Lopez
David Lopez, CDO of Metro United Way, said his own experience as a child benefiting from his local United Way helped him understand the need to help others. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Lopez shared some data about Metro United Way’s impact on Louisville, too. More than 6,000 students were helped to achieve kindergarten readiness in Louisville, and more than 20,000 kids benefited from some type of out-of-school program that enhanced their education. Both of these programs help prevent dropouts, he said, which cost the community dearly.

“Every high school dropout costs us as a society $296,000 in lost tax revenue, incarceration costs and social services,” Lopez said. $296,000 that could have otherwise gone into strengthening our innovation ecosystem that is instead being used to fix the problem on the back end instead of the front end.”

At the end of the program, Reno-Weber asked the audience how many of them served on the board of an organization, and about half the audience raised their hands.

“What I would love is that if we did this panel again in a year that we’re at 100 percent,” he said. “I know that we are all running in a million different directions but if we don’t change the community it’s not going to change.”

Venture Connectors’ July event is Celebrating Entrepreneurship, 5:30-7:30 p.m. July 10 at Story Louisville. Admission is free for members and $20 for guests.

Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.