April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha Community Foundation was designed to pool donations into a coordinated investment and grant-making facility dedicated to Omaha’s social improvement.

Learning and/or knowing the people of the community to help improve Omaha’s social services is an especially vital skill for OCF’s vice president of donor services, Matt Darling. Darling’s job is multi-faceted; ultimately, he is responsible for helping donors achieve their desired level of giving.

When people determine they want to give money, no matter how big or how small, Omaha Community Foundation starts an account for that donor. The money itself is held at Wells Fargo, and the OCF executive staff works with their board of directors to manage the assets. Donors opening accounts of at least $25,000 then have a donor advised fund. That fund is exposed to market trends, meaning it could go up or down with the stock market.

The donor services work involves collaborating with Omaha’s community of financial advisers to help bring funds into the foundation, often answering questions about where is the best place to use funds. Each account is individualized, so donors are able to manage their own money. Some donors want OCF to keep track of how their account is doing, while others know exactly where they want their dollars to be spent. It involves creating relationships with each donor and figuring out what they want, a skill in which others say Darling excels.

“Matt doesn’t need to have the right idea in the room, but he’ll find the right idea,” says Kevin Welsh, senior vice president of the Welsh Friesen Group at Morgan Stanley. “He wants to get it right. There’s no alternative motive with him other than what’s right for the situation.”

That desire to get it right comes from the desire to work for the community. It’s a switch from his previous job as co-owner of Paramount Parking. In 2013, with a fiancée and a desire to start a family, Darling began considering the idea of working at a nonprofit.

He reached out to Sara Boyd, OCF executive director, for a lunch meeting—one that turned out to have longtime implications.

“The first lunch we went to, I knew he was the right fit [for OCF],” Boyd says. “He is smart and business-savvy, as well as kind, artistic, and analytical.”

Although she did not have a  job opening at the time, she hired him as director of donor services later that year.

A larger part of this work is building relationships with the 1,500 OCF donors, whether they are giving $100 or $1 million.

“Matt’s really thoughtful,” Welsh says. “You can talk to him, or someone with $5-6 billion can talk to him, and they are the same to him.”

It’s a necessary skill for the job that requires a unique quality, as the donor services department works with people from all walks of life. Darling takes it in stride.

“When you think of philanthropy, you think of a wealthy man in a suit. That’s not necessarily the case,” Darling says.

Using OCF to discover where to give means engaging in a network of like-minded philanthropists and philanthropic organizations. The donor relations team researches specific nonprofits to provide donors (and potential donors) with in-depth details about nonprofit programs, leadership, target populations, goals, and uses of funds. They also research issues and causes that donors and potential donors identify with and let people know what organizations would work well for them.

While the donor relations team works with individuals and corporations, Darling particularly enjoys working with families in the areas of family giving and succession planning, in which one family will choose a specific charity to give to throughout various family members’ lifetimes.

“It’s very satisfying,” Darling says. “We’ve been working with some families now for two, three generations.”

Navigating the wishes of multiple generations can be tricky. The first generation’s idea of the perfect nonprofit may not be the same as the second generation’s idea, and the second generation sometimes sits back and feels ignored.

Darling refuses to let that happen.

“Matt is excellent at bringing people to the table and asking what is meaningful to the individuals and taking something that will be meaningful to people on all sides of that conversation,” Boyd says.

He already had a bachelor’s degree in business and studio art from Hastings College. But to learn more about nonprofit funding, Darling enrolled in American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He earned a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy designation, learning about family wealth dynamics and nonprofits.

He didn’t stop there; he now helps to facilitate CAP study groups with SilverStone Group’s Mark Weber. The facilitator role keeps him connected with the local financial advising community.

“The lectures are online. At the OCF, I brought the idea to them to host study groups of professional advisers,” Weber says. “(Darling) helps invite guests, helps facilitate the classes…We’ve had panels of nonprofit directors. We’ve had panels of heads of private foundations. I’ve had panels of professional advisers on how best to work together, and a number of high-profile philanthropists who have shared their life story about their philanthropy.”

Darling brings people together for the common good of trying to strengthen the amount of giving in the community. He uses his knowledge to work with his OCF team, which includes CFO Melisa Sunde and vice president of community relations Kali Baker, among many others. Through the team effort, the organization has enabled more than $1 billion to be donated throughout Omaha since its inception in 1982. That means the city that is 42nd in size in America is the 17th highest for charitable dollars.

“I’ve never worked in a place where the entire staff is so focused on doing good,” Darling says. “The team is second to none.”

He, along with his team, takes a great pride in making this community a better place for everyone.

“I live an incredibly fortunate life,” Darling says.

Visit omahafoundation.org for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Matt Darling