MUS philanthropic efforts can be more about relationships than transactions

April 10, 2019
MUS philanthropic efforts can be more about relationships than transactions

For Jerry Roberts, the walk down the jet bridge can be an interesting journey.

Jerry, who serves as the director of philanthropic and corporate engagement for Midwest Urban Strategies, spends much of his time on the road visiting not only the metropolitan areas that MUS serves but other regions as well. In addition to his role networking, connecting, and communicating with national funders on workforce issues, Jerry spends a significant portion of his time working with local funders and workforce development boards as he travels around to MUS member organizations.

During every trip Jerry makes, Jerry does a mental download of what went well and what could have gone better; which meetings were productive, which require follow-up; what relationships did he maintain, what new relationships did he cultivate… Simply, three days of meetings don’t necessarily translate directly into the columns, rows, and fields of a spreadsheet.

“When I leave these places after a visit, I go through this stack of my cards and go through my notes,” Jerry said. “I know it’s successful because of the number of meetings I already set up since then and the e-mails set up and the number of calls set up with funders. It’s about those things. But it’s also about understanding what is next and there is something you can’t put on a spreadsheet because this work is more about relationships than about transactions.”

Jerry recently visited Detroit where his pre-determined mission for the Motor City was to talk about Midwest Urban Strategies, educate new groups and contacts about the great work MUS is doing. “This was an opportunity to put MUS in the spotlight and it’s important to let people know what MUS does,” said Jerry, who looked at his recent trip as an educational mission to inform folks about MUS, but also meet with local funders to talk about regional funders and national funders as well. It’s about building bridges and robust relationships.

One national funder Jerry met with recently was the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Based in Baltimore and working across the country, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes. Their work focuses on strengthening families, building stronger communities and ensuring access to opportunity, because children need all three to succeed. As a private philanthropy they make grants that help federal agencies, states, counties, cities and neighborhoods create more innovative, cost-effective responses to the issues that negatively affect children: poverty, unnecessary disconnection from family and communities with limited access to opportunity.

“They have funded large workforce initiatives nationally in the past so I wanted to put MUS on their radar to see if they’re interested,” Jerry said. “With them, the Ford Foundation, and others, we’re not on their radar so I wanted them to understand who we are and how we can help with their mission as they help us with ours.”

Like many of the visits, Jerry is not definitive on where the relationships with regional and national funders will lead. But the groundwork has been laid.

“When you walk away and the trip to Detroit was especially satisfying,” Jerry said. “To see them and say, ‘Let’s see what we can do to help you, it sounds like this organization is pretty dope, so let’s see how we can help you.’ It’s about when you know that if seven out of 10, or 10 out of 15 pitches that I made, I’m confident that 10 or 11 were received very well and the others weren’t ready yet and that’s normal, but to have these relationships built is a good thing.”