Deborah Thompson Velazquez, Altman Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Strengthening communities and youth development in New York City

CONTACT: dvelazquez@altman.org, 212-682-0970

IP TAKE: Velazquez has lots of advice about how nonprofits and funders should work together to achieve common goals. Get familiar with her insights before contacting her for a community development grant, which has always been her passion.

PROFILE: The Altman Foundation's Deborah Thompson Velazquez has made a name for herself giving advice about philanthropy just about as much as working in philanthropy. In recent years, this senior program officer has spoken at many conferences, participated in targeted panel discussions, and offered a gold mine of advice to grantseeking non-profit organizations.

At a recent Governance Matters Roundtable about maintaining nonprofits during the recession, Velazquez offered the following insights:

  • Organizations should recommit to their core missions and reassess programs to ensure that they are on-mission.
  • The importance of strategic planning has become glaringly apparent.
  • Boards must reassess their roles, both as individuals and as a governing body.
  • The roles of staff and board must be realigned to take advantage of all skills.
  • The value of good staff and support for staff should be re-emphasized.

In regards to non-profit collaborations, Velazquez offered the following advice at a separate Foundation Center panel:

  • Figure out your goals first, and then figure out your structure.
  • Your funder can help support your collaboration, but it is not its role to dictate the terms.
  • The mission of a nonprofit should be everyone's central focus, not the funder's agenda.
  • Two strong organizations will make a better merger than two weak organizations.
  • Keep your funders informed, but don't share too much too soon.

So what makes Velazquez qualified to dole out all this practical advice? First of all, she used to run her own philanthropic consulting practice, known as Row 10 Advisors. Prior to joining Altman, she also worked with some of the nation's top social policy and community foundations in management and executive roles. While working with the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, she directed grants to build community resources in Central Harlem and the South Bronx to the tune of $4.9 million a year.

Velazquez's resume further boasts of experience with Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation and Bridge Street Development Corporation, as well as an educational background in business administration and public policy; after growing up in Queens, she moved on to earn a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a master's degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The Altman Foundation focuses its giving on the areas of education, health, arts and culture, and strengthening communities. During her time at the foundation, Velazquez has primarily devoted her expertise to youth development and strengthening communities in New York City. During her "downtime," she serves on the committees of the New York City Workforce Funders, the Greening Western Queens Fund, and the New Citizens Capacity-building Project.

Given her background in and passion for community development, Velazquez may be able to give your nonprofit the boost it needs to connect New York City residents with resources to pursue successful lives. Altman breaks the foundation's "Strengthening Communities" category into two objectives: (1) build and preserve economic security and independence among low-income individuals and families, and; (2) promote and sustain the availability of, and equitable access to, essential community resources needed to support stable, healthy communities, with an emphasis on systemic efforts.

If you're eyeing a grant for the first objective, make sure your programs support the economic independence of New Yorkers, increase public benefits, or help the elderly stay in their homes. Recent grant recipients in this focus area include the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island and Jobs First NYC.

To meet Altman's criteria for the second objective, you'll need to demonstrate your program's ability to increase the amount and quality of affordable housing, parks, and community resources. Recent grant recipients for this focus area include New Yorkers for Parks and the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development Inc.

Download the complete set of grantseeker guidelines on Altman's website and use the provided forms to submit an initial letter of inquiry if you are not a current Altman grantee. You can contact Velazquez directly at dvelazquez@altman.org with relevant questions or concerns.