The Innovia Foundation: A Northwest Funder Adopts a New Name and Looks to Up Its Game

Lewiston, Idaho. photo: bill perry/shutterstock

Lewiston, Idaho. photo: bill perry/shutterstock

When it comes time to naming a grantmaking entity, the best approach is often to keep things recognizable, clear, and focused. That’s why we always find it interesting when a funder decides to change its name after many decades of operating under an original identity. Such changes often have a lot to do with branding and marketing, but they can also signal a funding shift or a new commitment that is a departure from what’s been done before.

Since 1974, the Inland Northwest Community Foundation has been serving the counties of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho while building up an endowment of $120 million. Over the years, this local funder has given out over $70 million to organizations and focused on issues like community development, the environment, health, human services, education, and arts and culture.

But last month, the community foundation announced a new name after 44 years: the Innovia Foundation. Admittedly, the new name is a bit catchier and less of a mouthful to say. But what does it mean, both linguistically and in the larger scheme of things?

According to the foundation team, “innovia” means "innovative way," which is how a lot of grantmakers aspire to operate these days.

“The work of the foundation continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of our region,” said Shelly O’Quinn, CEO of Innovia Foundation. “We saw an opportunity to create a new brand that is forward-looking, that inspires a new generation of philanthropy and community engagement.”

This sounds great, but what does the re-branding really mean for nonprofits in the Inland Northwest?

Along with the new name and logo, the Innovia Foundation has redefined its role as driving change. The board and staff want this to be an institution that's a catalyst for transforming the region and not just being a resource for local donors.

O’Quinn said: 

Because we work with so many individuals, nonprofits and organizations throughout our region. we recognize challenges that others might not. We anticipate trends before they happen. We see what needs are being left unfilled, and we work to fill those gaps to make our communities stronger.

Those are some of the things that we’ve always loved about community foundations in general, and it’s nice to see this one coming into its own, taking on more responsibility, and embracing its larger role in regional philanthropy.

To this end, the current topics of funding for Innovia have changed slightly and are now civic engagement, education and youth development, arts and culture, economic opportunity, health and wellbeing, and quality of life. With the re-branding, there is more of a focus now on the economy and getting local residents involved in the affairs that affect their lives. There also seems to be more of a push for neighborhood development and strengthening communities since the name change.

It certainly doesn't hurt that the community funder is getting some help from its powerful neighbors to make these changes, as the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust of Vancouver, Washington awarded Innovia a $234,500 grant to develop a new research and community impact program. Also, Innovia has recently hired several new staff members and really seems to be gearing up for big things. Nonprofits that serve the 20-county region that Innovia focuses on can apply for a grant once every 12 months per grant program.