Not too long after Tony Howard was named Chamber president a little more than 11 years ago, a movement started within the organization to bring some more recognition to its growing nonprofit members.
Two different groups of Chamber members, who were not known to each other, Howard points out, suggested starting a nonprofit committee, “recognizing that [nonprofits] are employers and taxpayers and economic generators, on top of the fact that they’re also doing good work.”
Ever since, the Chamber’s Nonprofit Initiative has been one of its top strategic priorities.
“We started [the initiative] for really that purpose—to treat them as small businesses with their own unique sets of needs and challenges, help them grow and expand, and become more operationally efficient and effective,” Howard said. “It’s been one of our most successful initiatives. We’ve attracted a nice cohort of nonprofits that are heavily engaged in the Chamber, equal to any business or government entity.”
Kari Murphy is the current chair of the Chamber’s Nonprofit Initiative. Her employer, Habitat for Humanity, has been a Chamber member since 2000. She says the collaboration between nonprofits and the greater business community within the Chamber makes for a beneficial relationship among all parties. The panels and seminars put on by the Chamber for nonprofits, which even attract a great many spectators from small businesses, foster a learning environment that “can benefit and optimize the performance of each nonprofit, as well as allowing us a great space to meet on a regular basis to discuss collaboration and share our successes and share our pain points so we can learn from each other,” she said.
Just as vital, Chamber business members have provided a great resource to Habitat over the years, from offering expertise and service on building projects, to sponsoring events or serving on its board of directors.
“The Loudoun County business community is amazing,” Murphy said. “When there’s a ‘no’ it’s either ‘not right now’ or ‘can I think of a different way to help you.’ I think this community really shines in its support of the nonprofit community within the Chamber. I just think it’s a true testament to the recognition the Chamber gives to the nonprofit community and the support of the community at large.”
In late 2014, the Chamber took its support of the local nonprofit community one step further, launching the Loudoun Chamber Foundation. Annually, it awards grants to nonprofits that are focused on economic development, education and workforce development, public safety, and wellness initiatives within the county. The foundation is a fund with the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties.
The impetus for its beginning can be attributed largely to the Chamber’s financial success.
With a “very strong and stable economic platform to operate from,” Howard said Chamber leadership began to discuss what to do with those resources. An investment fund was started, but thought was given to using those resources to align with the Chamber’s strategic priorities, and support the nonprofits that are supporting those strategic priorities.
The foundation just completed its fourth grant funding cycle and, this time around, was able to award the most money yet.
One of the recipients of this cycle’s grants was Murphy’s Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit’s director of resource development says the $4,000 grant will make a huge difference in its work, providing anything from flooring for one of its home projects, or insulation, or all the light fixtures needed for up to four new homes. She calls the grant “a physical, financial representation of [the Chamber’s] commitment to making the nonprofit community prosper.”
Howard puts the attention given by the Chamber to its member nonprofits, and the greater nonprofit community, just as succinctly.
“I see it as central to creating economic vitality and a strong, healthy community in Loudoun County.”
For more information on the Loudoun Chamber Foundation, loudounchamber.org/foundation.