Tag Archives: donations

Matt Darling

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

Powering Across the Finish Line

January 6, 2014 by

It was man versus machine. An epic competition of tug-o-war. A true test of physical and mental strength. An all-out battle to the finish line where everyone who competed was a winner.

On May 18, Performance Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Bellevue hosted a truck pull for charity. Six local teams pulled heavyweight Ram trucks, competing to raise money for their favorite charities. The dealership gave away more than $4,000 in cash prizes at its first annual Performance Community Truck Pull. The grand prize of $1,500 went to the wrestling team from Bellevue East High School. The team raised money to support the costly medical treatments for their fellow East graduating senior, Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year.

Tyrone Williams, president and general manager of Performance, says the concept for the truck pull was devised by his managers and Carroll Communications. “We are having discussions about this being an annual event. I was looking for an event to introduce the dealership to the Bellevue community as well support the community,” he says. In a family-friendly atmosphere that boasted food, fun, and face painting, the dealership encouraged the community to not only support their favorite competing team but also to simply take a look around the new facility.

The team from Bellevue East High School pulls a 2500 Ram truck at the Performance Bellevue dealership to raise money for graduating senior Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma last year. East Principal Brad Stueve runs alongside the team cheering them on.

The team from Bellevue East High School pulls a 2500 Ram truck at the Performance Bellevue dealership to raise money for graduating senior Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma last year. East Principal Brad Stueve runs alongside the team cheering them on.

Performance ensured that none of the six competing teams walked away empty handed. Teams included Bellevue University, Bellevue East High School, Bellevue West High School, Bellevue Community Foundation, Offutt Police, and Bellevue Fire and Police. “The turnout was excellent, and the store donated over $4,200 to the charities. Carroll Communications, the Bellevue Chamber, and Mayor Rita Sanders were very instrumental in helping us pull the event off,” Williams says.

Matt Briggs, head coach of men’s soccer at Bellevue University, says he was grateful that his team competed in such a charitable cause. “We raised money for the Wounded Warrior Family Support group and raised $750,” he shares.

The Bellevue Community Foundation also competed, winning $250 to support the city of Bellevue. Mayor Sanders says she was thrilled with the funds raised and equally excited that they would be going toward the newly created Bellevue Community Foundation. “It came about through the City of Bellevue strategic plan,” she says. “I was tasked to start a community foundation so we can help the community raise money individually or privately. The Community Foundation can help aid with some of the support systems through the city.”

Lutheran Family Services

October 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lutheran Family Services President and CEO Ruth Henrichs remembers meeting a young man a year ago who had a tattoo on his lower arm that read “Born to Lose.” When she asked him about it, he told her that life had always been against him—that he had been “born to lose.” That was, of course, until he came to LFS, he said.

“There are lots of people who come to LFS on a daily basis who have this sort of invisible tattoo on their hearts that says ‘Born to Lose,’” Henrichs says. “I want them to leave here after receiving help with a different invisible tattoo.”

Strengthening the individual, the family, and the community is how LFS intends to change those heart tattoos. And that’s exactly the mission the organization has followed since its humble beginnings in 1892.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work.” —Ruth Henrichs

Over its many years within the Omaha community, LFS has grown into a faith-based nonprofit providing multiple services in over 30 locations across Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas to over 35,000 individuals annually regardless of age, race, religion, or income. In other words, just because it’s called Lutheran Family Services doesn’t mean you have to be Lutheran to receive aid.

Mental health counseling, sexual abuse treatment, substance abuse treatment, foster care, adoption, pregnancy counseling, family support services, immigrant and refugee services—they do it all and more for people 
in need.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work,” says Henrichs, who worked as a pregnancy and adoption counselor, a marriage and family therapist, and Interim CEO with LFS before she became its leader in 1985.

She believes LFS’ work is part of the fabric of the community. For many years, nonprofits used to work alone, focusing only on their own work. Now, however, many organizations, including LFS, embrace the idea of uniting their limited resources with other organizations’ limited resources to provide a bigger impact.

“There’s a rich diversity of nonprofits in the Omaha community, and we all offer difference services. Together, we have a collective impact. It’s important that we all work cooperatively so that our community can be strong. Communities are only as strong as their weakest link. Everyone has problems in life. Sometimes, those problems are so great that people need the help of the community. When the community helps those people, it strengthens the community as a whole.”

Nancy K. Johnson, volunteer and president of LFS’ Forever Families Guild, agrees. “Children are the future, as cliché as it sounds,” she says. “If, for example, we can get in there and help a single parent learn to be a better parent, that trickles down into our community to make it stronger.”

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education.” —Nellie Beyan

Johnson, who also works in real estate as the senior vice president of CBRE-MEGA, was introduced to LFS about 15 years ago through Adoption Links Worldwide, which later aligned with LFS. She began attending fundraising events for the organization and met Cheryl Murray, who was the executive director of Adoption Links at that time. “I really admire Cheryl a lot. She’s passionate and dedicated to the cause of helping young women and children. She’s one of those kinds of gals that you can’t say no to,” she laughs.

Clearly, Johnson couldn’t say no to Murray, now a development officer and guild liaison for LFS, because she was drawn into more volunteer work with LFS. “I started volunteering more for them, and I became the president for LFS’ Forever Families [Guild].”

As the guild president, Johnson works to increase fundraising and gain more exposure through other organizations. “There’s an organization called CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) that I’ve been involved with before through my real estate work. So I mentioned the Forever Families Guild to them, and they’ve picked the guild up as their philanthropy of choice for the next year.

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple…LFS can do a lot on limited funds and time because the group is so passionate.”

One such passionate supporter is Nellie Beyan, who works as a Family Support Liaison with LFS in the Omaha community and the Omaha Public Schools district.

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education,” Beyan says. “OPS has a large population of Burmese refugees [the Karen] that we work with, too.”

Working with refugees and immigrants comes easily for Beyan because she, herself, is an Omaha transplant. She moved in April 2000 from her home country of Liberia to work as an international volunteer with LFS. Later, she enrolled at University of Nebraska-Omaha to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work with the help of sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hawks and Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Alseth.

“I underwent a similar experience and hardships that most non-Americans undergo when they first come to America…I can put myself in their shoes because I know exactly what it’s like to come into a country with a new culture and new way of life, leaving family behind. It’s a difficult thing, the assimilation process. It’s very gradual, but it’s made easier by the available resources.”

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple.” —Nancy K. Johnson

Beyan likes working with LFS because she feels that the organization is everywhere in the community. “Imagine what Omaha would be like without LFS,” she muses. “I can’t even picture that. Without all that they have to offer, especially for all of the immigrants and refugees, people would be totally lost.”

Understanding just how many people in the community rely on LFS, Henrichs and the Board of Directors are taking major steps to improve LFS’ outreach and work in Omaha.

“Whether we’re talking children’s needs or refugee and immigrant needs, we’ve recently decided our focus in the program development should be primarily on prevention and early intervention,” she explains. “Many services are ‘fire truck’ in that they respond when a crisis happens. We need to become ‘smoke detectors’ and catch issues before they become bigger problems.”

Another improvement? They’ve been at their 24th & Dodge location for more than a decade, and they’ve slowly been acquiring the city block between Dodge and Douglas streets in order to renovate and build more space. “Many that we serve are in the heart of the city,” Henrichs says. “We’re going to stay right here.”

And here is exactly where the community wants them to stay.

Lutheran Family Services will host their annual Wicker & Wine® Basket Auction fundraiser on Nov. 7 at Mid-America Center (One Arena Way) in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from 5-7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit lfsneb.org or call 402-342-7038.

Secret Penguin’s Dave Nelson

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Seven years of touring full-time as a sponsored skateboarder leaves you with A) a lot of skateboarding product from your sponsors and B) a definite magnetism for skater kids looking to channel their energy.

“Skateboarders have an addictive personality,” confesses Dave Nelson, a former skateboarder for Untitled Skateboards and the owner of Downtown Omaha brand strategy and design firm Secret Penguin. “That’s all they think about…skating. They’re consuming, passionate people.” So when fellow skateboarder Mike Smith asked if he’d like to be on the board of a new nonprofit called Skate For Change, “I was like, yes, instantly. Completely excited about it.”

In his TEDxOmaha presentation last October, Smith explained that a closing skate park had offered him its ramps while he was working with homeless teenagers in Lincoln (TEDxOmaha is a local conference inspired by world-renowned TED events, dedicated to spreading world-changing ideas). Taking the opportunity and running with it, Smith started Bay 198, an indoor skate park in a Lincoln mall. “It answered a missing point,” Nelson says. “The kids needed a place that was genuine and safe.”

In the meantime, Smith had been skating through Lincoln on his lunch break, handing out socks and bottled water to the downtown homeless. Friends started joining him, then kids, then energy-drink maker Red Bull even stepped in with a launch party for the park and effort. “I’m just watching all of these skate kids pour their lives and their hearts and their souls into helping people,” Smith said at TEDxOmaha. “Feeding people.”

“He said when I gave him that board and took time to talk and skate with him, it made him realize that there are good people out there that do care about others.”

Secret Penguin handled the branding of the new incarnation of the skate park (now simply called The Bay) at 20th and Y streets in Lincoln. The Bay’s new park is made out of cement and bricks, “so it would feel more like the street,” Nelson explains. Most indoor skate parks are made of wood.

An indoor skate park for Omaha similar to Lincoln’s The Bay isn’t far from Nelson’s thoughts, but for now his typical haunt is Roberts Skate Park at 78th and Cass streets. He’s there about three times a week, meeting new people and trying new tricks.

“A few months ago,” he recalls, “I ran into this kid that I’d met at Roberts maybe 10 years ago.” The young man told Nelson that on that day, his parents were gone on yet another bender. His friends knew no one was home, so they broke into his house and stole all his stuff. The boy decided he was going to kill himself but first, one last skate at Roberts Park. He met Nelson there, who gave him one of the boards from his sponsors and talked with him. “He said when I gave him that board and took time to talk and skate with him, it made him realize that there are good people out there that do care about others,” Nelson remembers. “He said that was the first time he can remember feeling like someone cared. And that skateboard was a representation of hope to him throughout the years.”

On Saturdays, Nelson meets interested skaters at either the Mastercraft building, 13th & Nicholas, or in front of The Slowdown for Omaha’s own version of Skate For Change. “We’ll go hand the stuff out to whomever,” he says, referring to the donations of bottled water or socks received at the Secret Penguin office or purchased with donations forwarded from Smith. “Kids just get behind something like this.”

“We don’t need money,” he says, “just supplies.” Anyone wanting to donate water, socks, canned tuna, or hygiene kits can drop them off at the Secret Penguin office in the Mastercraft building.