By Ignatius Plato
Nonprofit organizations and major national foundations are both known for their philanthropic work, but they go about that work in very different ways and from different perspectives. As Brooke Iglesias will tell you, it is important that both understand each other’s objectives to achieve a common goal and to bring about the most good.
Brooke Iglesias has been a grant writer for the Jesuit Grants Collaborative since the Missouri and New Orleans Provinces merged to form the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province in 2014. The Jesuit Grants Collaborative focuses on Jesuit- and Catholic-oriented works both in and out of the territory of the Central and Southern Province – particularly those without dedicated advancement offices. Grant partners contract for one fiscal year and have the option to renew for subsequent years.
It is Iglesias’ job to identify possible funding opportunities for the Collaborative’s nonprofit partners. Finding a foundation that may be interested in funding one of these partners presents a challenge for Iglesias and the Collaborative – how do they create a relationship between the two when their approaches to service and philanthropy may vary?
To Iglesias, there is both a concrete and abstract approach to this problem.
“At its core, the Collaborative helps to build greater impact and efficiency within our partners’ programs,” explains Iglesias. “In doing so, I have seen the capacity of our organizations to do work grow considerably. When we succeed on a professional level, more and more people will eventually benefit from the assistance and spiritual support of the organizations that we collaborate with.”
In this way, Iglesias is furthering the Jesuit mission.
“The Jesuit Grants Collaborative,” she says, “thrives on the spirit of accompaniment. This is central to our work because we want to be in solidarity with those we serve and support in order to truly understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities within communities. Almost every organization we work with has an Ignatian background, so we assist them in accompanying those they serve in their communities. Basically, we need to move between two bubbles, or realities really, one with an abundance of resources and one with limited resources, to facilitate their work together.”
On an abstract level, Iglesias’ position as a grant writer presents a unique challenge to find a middle ground in which foundations and nonprofits understand each other. Part of this challenge generally relates to issues regarding the diverse philanthropic climate of the United States.
“We really have to understand the funding climate of the different localities we assist,” says Iglesias. “How you go about funding organizations and programs in New Orleans, for example, will be drastically different from how you go about it in El Paso or Manhattan.”
Philanthropy and culture are inextricably linked in these different parts of the country, meaning that deciphering the approach of different foundations is a must. But Iglesias emphasizes that learning a foundation or organization’s philanthropic language is only half the battle.
“Oftentimes, major foundations and local nonprofit organizations will speak very different languages when it comes to funding,” she said. “So, I constantly ask myself how I can write grants that engage foundations in a nonprofit’s impact story, how I can make the work that a local organization does feel compelling to a foundation that may not even have the organization’s priorities on its radar.”
Iglesias shared a personal philosophy behind her work: “Foundations are like people,” she says, “if you’ve met one, you’ve just met one. They have many different backgrounds, modes of operation, ideas, priorities – even different comfort levels. My job also extends to learning the ‘culture’ of a foundation through their unique communication style, procedures, goals and ideals.”
Iglesias continues: “Once I can speak the foundation’s language, it is a matter of introducing – through grant writing – the story of what my service organizations are doing that can achieve impact for both the foundation and the community. And all in a way that the foundation will understand. It’s like I’m a translator, in a sense, retelling a story in one language for another set of people to understand.”
Outside of the professional responsibilities of her work, Iglesias reflects on the spiritual difference that the Jesuit Grants Collaborative makes in her life. “I think in my own work and in my life, I certainly appreciate the wisdom of Ignatian Spirituality. We share that with our collaborators, which really enriches our work. We’re all going about service through pure motivation, which is rooted in the life and example of Jesus, who you might call the original philanthropist.”
Iglesias has found personal fulfillment in her work, which speaks to both of her passions – writing and service.
“I feel that my work as a grant writer is the perfect intersection between creativity and service. It’s a way for me to return God’s goodness,” she says. “At the end of the day, regardless of what I’ve been working on, I can see what these personal and spiritual threads do in my life. I know I’ve done my best work – and it’s work for God as I meet him in the people I encounter.”