The 2019 Celebration of Giving, hosted by the Community Foundation of the New River Valley in September at Sinkland Farms and sponsored by National Bank, included a tribute to three of the foundation’s most committed donors. As consistent supporters, Drs. Norman and Nancy Eiss and Dr. Harold McNair have partnered with the foundation to enable a wide range of important programs that exemplify successful philanthropic partnerships.

The Eisses began as annual contributors who created a donor-advised fund in 1997 after the loss of their young grandson. As the Eisses worked closely with the foundation to manage their fund, their interest in its work and impact deepened. Nancy Eiss subsequently served as a community advisor and board member, assisting with the foundation’s grantmaking to regional nonprofits. The Eisses then partnered with the foundation to meet larger programmatic needs for nonprofits across the NRV, supporting the foundation’s first Community Impact Grant Program, offering $10,000 in multi-year awards to build the capacity of nonprofits. Among other projects, their generosity helped launch Micah’s Mobile Backpack, which provides food and library books to students in Montgomery County during the summer.

Most recently, the Eisses have turned their philanthropic efforts to addressing underlying structural challenges that one-time, initiative-based funding alone cannot address. The inaugural 2019 Nonprofit Accelerator was funded, in part, with their support. The accelerator aimed to apply the Silicon Valley concept of a startup accelerator to regional nonprofits, helping organizations with limited budgets and small staff achieve rapid progress on important goals by providing tailored support. The program is already showing impact -- the agencies that participated in the accelerator raised $58,000 as part of this year’s 24-hour Giving Day. The Eisses were so impressed with the progress each team shared during the closing celebration in May that they made another financial commitment for 2020.

Nancy Eiss said, “As donors for over 20 years, we have found that our goal for helping to improve the quality of life in the NRV meshes perfectly with the purpose of the Community Foundation. Working through the organization, we are confident that our donations will be used effectively to meet our goal. Whether helping at-risk children, hungry families or struggling seniors, we have witnessed that great things can happen when we work together.”

Laura Pynn, administration and programs manager at CFNRV, has worked with the Eisses for more than a decade and lauds their commitment to addressing complex issues in partnership with the foundation.

“They have always been huge supporters of the foundation, not only financially, but in growing other advocates," Pynn said. "We are celebrating them because they have been true partners. Their perspective is about moving a vision forward. The Nonprofit Accelerator, for example, was about trying to help more nonprofits in a meaningful, structural way that goes beyond one-off projects. And it’s typical that the Eisses were 100% behind that because it’s always about so much more than just making a donation for them. It’s about the impact and the partnership.”

McNair has a similar story of expanded engagement with the foundation over time. For more than a decade, he has given through his fund at the CFNRV to alleviate hunger, dedicating $46,000 to this aim. McNair said, “My wife, Marijke, was born and raised in Holland...She was always surprised and upset to see the degree of hunger in the United States. She was always about fighting hunger, and I supported her 100%.”

In the New River Valley, 10% of families and one in five children experience hunger. Since 2016, the foundation has partnered with more than 90 hunger-relief agencies through Thrive. Members of the Thrive network strive to expand access to fresh, nutritious food by pursuing projects as a collective that no single agency could accomplish alone. When McNair contacted the CFNRV in early 2019 to make annual grants from his donor-advised fund, the foundation used its work with Thrive to suggest a new approach. The foundation would use his funds to seed a new initiative -- Thrive Infrastructure Grants -- offering grants of up to $4,000 to help agencies expand their capacity to store and distribute fresh produce, meat and dairy products. McNair was quick to endorse the idea.

“I felt these Thrive Infrastructure Grants were a simple but essential way to combat hunger," he said. "It was an ideal hunger problem looking for funding. When I understood it, I found it easy to say, 'Fund it!'”

Twelve agencies applied, and the foundation awarded a total of more than $14,000 to four agencies. The grants come at a critical time for these agencies as they strive to meet an increased demand. Karen Nelson, associate director of development at Warm Hearth Foundation, shared at the celebration that McNair’s generosity literally answered her team’s prayers.

Nelson said, “When we heard we got the grant we were cheering in my office...we’ve grown from serving 55 residents each month to now serving 80. We’re really pleased with that, and our neighbors on campus tell us every month it is making a huge impact for them...I just want him to know how much the residents appreciate all that has been made possible by his efforts.”

As the Eisses reflected on their philanthropic work with the foundation, one point they continued to emphasize was that this kind of partnership and impact are within reach for many community members. Nancy Eiss explained, “You don’t have to be a Rockefeller -- we aren’t rich people. People who are not millionaires can do this.”

CFNRV Executive Director Jessica Wirgau agrees with Eiss’ assessment. Wirgau said, “The Eisses and Harold McNair exemplify the kind of partnership we seek with our donors, working to match their unique interests with the specific needs we see in the NRV through our work with hundreds of community organizations. Their willingness to seed new initiatives has enabled the foundation to make a tremendous difference, and we were able to do it all on relatively small investments that were affordable for them and meaningful for us. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to celebrate their generosity and commitment to the region, without which so many needs would have remained unaddressed.”

Submitted by Claire Gilbert

Submitted by Claire Gilbert

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