By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – The Northshore Community Foundation recently celebrated 10 years of philanthropic guidance in St. Tammany Parish by moving into a $1.4 million building across the street from the Justice Center—a concrete event that said volumes about where the organization has come in its first decade.
The Northshore Community Foundation (NCF) was formed 10 years ago as an offshoot of the Baton Rouge Community Foundation—creating a conduit for donors that would lead them to the kinds of non-profits they best connected with, as well as supporting projects or people in St. Tammany that strengthened the quality of life in the fastest growing parish in the state.
Three years ago the 15-member Board of Directors commissioned CEO Susan Bonnett Bourgeois with the next big goal—construct a home for the Foundation in a highly visible location that would be an asset to the community in various ways.
The result? The recent ribbon cutting for NorthShare, the 7,000-square-foot home for the Northshore Community Foundation that sits on land across the street from the St. Tammany Justice Center in one of the highest traffic areas the parish has to offer.
Not only does NCF now have beautiful, cutting edge designed offices and colors for their own staff, but the building specifically was created to offer low-priced office space for other non-profits. Not surprisingly, Bourgeois said that every available office was snatched up in no time by groups now working there every day—organizations like Keep Louisiana Beautiful, NAMI, United Way, CATNIP Foundation, Mary Bird Perkins Foundation and others.
That does not bar others from utilizing NorthShare since there is the Coatney Center, a beautiful 600 square foot conference room that is available for any local non-profit to use, seating as many as 32. Additionally, there are several other smaller offices available to the public at any time as long as they are not already booked, and even a few desks are there for a non-profit individual to use. As you walk into the building the black-topped desks are available for anyone to use, while light colored desk tops indicate local staff.
While the mission of NCF is to “unite human and financial resources to enhance the quality of life in the North Shore region,” there is a bigger challenge facing Bourgeois and the board. A recent study was commissioned by the parish and the Foundation to answer the question of “what do we want St. Tammany Parish to look like in 20 years?”
Besides noting an expected population increase of 50,000 in only five years, one key point from the report highlighted the importance of consolidating economic development groups and non-profits that are duplicating the need for financial and manpower resources.
St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister addressed that issue after the report was released and is currently seeking consolidation of two parish economic groups, while also noting more organizations in general that are duplicating efforts might consider a way to unite.
Bourgeois said there is great concern on the issue by corporate leaders—the very people who approve thousands of dollars in spending and are asked to sit on numerous boards.
“The donors recognize the absurdity to have so many different places and groups to give their money, knowing how much duplication there is,” she said. “A key goal for the Foundation is to maximize the resources that these businesses and individuals give, so we also see the absurdity of similar groups and organizations.”
Since being formed 10 years ago, the Northshore Community Foundation has made a tremendous, but quiet impact on the parish. For that matter, their work is less known on the east side of the parish, something Bourgeois is intent on changing since she said the group works for all of St. Tammany.
In the first 10 years of existence NCF helped move $33 million from donors to groups, individuals or programs. Since beginning its work in St. Tammany, the group has handed out over $13 million in grants, including $2.9 million in 2016.
The group has gained such respect that raising the $1.4 million to build NorthShare “was not hard at all,” Bourgeois said, simply because she believes the major donors and corporate leaders have seen the effectiveness of what they have done in 10 years.
“The catalyst to change some of the duplication we see will come from the people writing the checks and the big donors are pressing that pedal harder on that issue since they are not interested in giving less. They simply want to see a better impact for the finances and resources they give,” she explained.
Bourgeois said there are only about 30 individuals or businesses in St. Tammany who give more than $5,000 to $10,000 a year, so that small group of donors has great power to institute change.
“I see it is starting to happen—the weight being put on more collaboration,” Bourgeois said. “One group I know of gives about $17,000 a year, but they would gladly give $25,000 a year if they saw a greater impact, rather than the money going to different groups who are doing the same thing.
“When you just think about office space, staff, office supplies, utilities, rent—there is a lot of duplication that could be saved, with that savings going to the people who really need the help,” she said.
The Northshore Visioning Report not only highlighted the pressure on donors to give financially to so many organizations, but also the pressure on business and political leaders to serve on so many boards.
“We need to see more joint ventures and the role of the Foundation is to say that when we see it is the right thing to say,” she noted. “We exist to link resources and in 10 years I think we have become credible enough to lead the way there.”
However, Bourgeois acknowledged the difficulty to give up the power and resources for many who might have created a non-profit purely out of a passion to do something good.
“No question it is difficult for groups to give up what they have created,” she said. “And joint ventures tend to bring in a lot of emotion, something that is not good when making decisions.
“We understand that for every non-profit there was some kind of passion from an individual to create it,” she said. “There is an attachment to the group, so it is truly a challenge to agree to change.”
One other recommendation from the report was for the east and west Chamber groups to consider becoming one St. Tammany Chamber. After meetings were held to discuss the idea, leaders from both groups decided to retain two separate Chambers, although the past year has clearly seen strides to work together on various projects or goals.
Bourgeois said she couldn’t be happier with the NorthShare building, particularly a location that is not only in front of approximately 1,800 people a day who go to the Justice Center, but also because the building is near the Covington Food Bank and the West 30 area of Covington—considered a lower income region.
“I like having such diverse neighbors around us,” Bourgeois said. “I can’t think of a location that would have been better for what we are trying to accomplish.”
The current building, sitting on land donated from the parish, is designed so that it can be duplicated with a second phase that ties into the existing facility—something that will be addressed in the next 10 years as NCF continues to grow as a leader in the parish business world.
“The reality is that our next three to five year plan has the same goals as what we had in the past 10 years—to enhance the quality of life in St. Tammany Parish. But I think in 10 years we are now the ‘go to’ group for a lot of public and private entities since everything we do is looked at through the lens of ‘quality of life’ issues for our parish.”
The Northshore Community Foundation serves more than St. Tammany, also uniting human and financial resources for Washington, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes.
For more information, view their information online at northshorefoundation.org or call them at 985-893-8757.