Nancy Fishman, Grand Victoria Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Education, economic development, land conservation

CONTACT: nancyf@grandvictoriafdn.org; (312) 609-0200

IP TAKE: Fishman has a better understanding about what nonprofits need more than your average foundation leader. Pitch a proposal for general operating support or internal leadership. Only Illinois-based organizations are considered, so out-of-staters should look elsewhere.

PROFILE: In the world of philanthropy, casinos don't have too many redeeming qualities. However, the Grand Victoria Foundation has found a way to appease both sides. The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, Illinois voluntarily donates 20 percent of its annual net operating income to support efforts across the state. At the top of the food chain is Nancy Fishman, who is the Grand Victoria Foundation's founding executive director. Since its inception in 1996 she's been an outspoken advocate for what a foundations' responsibilities are and how they can most effectively make a difference.

Fishman has a deep understanding about what nonprofit organizations need and where she can step in to help. After announcing a $5 million operating support grants each for the Delta Institute and Women Employed, Fishman explained, "Most foundations—including ours—focus their funding on specific projects, which can leave organizations with few dollars to support their operations. Just as it is for business, working capital is the lifeblood for successful organizations in the nonprofit sector. But providing it is still a relative rarity in philanthropy. We wanted to help ensure they always have the time, the team, and the technology they need to do their best work."

Fishman is adamant that running a foundation is more than just writing checks. When the foundation celebrated its 15 year anniversary, she elaborated on what she's most passionate about. “We work to get people, organizations, government bodies and the like to connect to each other,” she said. “The numbers don’t tell you that. While every organization right now has less money, one of our goals is to show how to use what there is to create benefit that has staying power.”

Fishman understands the importance of leadership in nonprofit organizations. "A well-developed board is essential to these organizations and this conference will help provide the management skills and other tools they need to build their boards." she explained in a conference press release. She also sticks up for the suburbs, which often get overshadowed by big names in Chicago. "There are many wonderful resources in the city, but if you're outside Chicago you're more isolated," Fishman said to promote Grand Victoria's Dynamic Leadership conference to help suburban nonprofits compete with city nonprofits."If nonprofits can't compete and can't raise money, then they can't provide the child care, job training, food pantry and other services that so many people in our communities depend on.”

Before Fishman became involved with Grand Victoria, she gained experience in organizational development, community collaborations, and marketing. She's introduced several state and community initiatives and has helped Grand Victoria win distinguished recognitions like the Critical Impact Award in 2009 and the Wilmer Shields Rich Award for Excellence in 2010. When she's not busy at work, she has served on the board of the Hyde Park Art Center, the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Fishman leads a small staff of smart, passionate generalists. She oversees the distribution of core grants twice a year to Illinois organizations working in these areas. Elgin-based nonprofits are eligible to receive general operating grants three times a year through a special program called Elgin Grantworks. To learn more about Grand Victoria's grantmaking program, you'll find everything you're looking for on the Guidelines page.

For Fishman, philanthropy is clearly more than just a job. "Nonprofits can make the biggest difference in people's lives when they have adequate funding, effective management and lots of confidence," she has said. It's comforting to know that some of the people in charge get where you're coming from.