Organizations trust Greater Milwaukee Foundation to help reach goals

For just over 30 years, Danceworks has been a staple in Milwaukee’s art education sector. And with its recently established agency endowment at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, it hopes to be there for many more. 

“I think one of the important things for us was to establish this endowment, to create a foundation that ensures sustainability for Danceworks for the next 30 years,” Julia Gray, executive director of Danceworks, said. “In light of what happened with the pandemic, it would be nice to know we have our own little nest egg. Hopefully not to be used in an emergency but to strategically position ourselves moving forward.” 

Danceworks is one of many nonprofits that have an agency endowment with the Foundation. This type of fund allows nonprofits to invest money and generate revenue from the investment earnings, allowing the principal investment to grow in perpetuity with the organization. It can be used for operating support, grant services, programmatic support and more. With an endowment, organizations can plan for sustainability, support their sectors and help strengthen the overall community.

The Foundation partners with organizations of all sizes, with funds ranging from $100,000 to several million. 

“Organizations can retain flexibility with how the funds are used,” said Emanuel Rios, a philanthropic adviser at the Foundation. “By allowing organizations to diversify their revenue streams, they’re able to focus less on fundraising and more on fulfilling their missions. That means nonprofits can spend more time providing services, resources and outreach.”

An endowment for sustainability

Gray first introduced the idea of an endowment to Danceworks’ board a year ago. It interviewed several institutions before deciding on the Foundation. The paperwork and process were simple, she said.

“This particular endowment gave us some flexibility more so than a traditional restricted endowment,” Gray said. “We knew that if we were going to take the leap and invest, that we wanted to be sure we had access and could make the choice to withdraw it if ever we needed it. But also have something a little more robust to be saving with and be able to have those conversations and relationships with people who have been with us through the years.”

With the endowment established, Danceworks will be able to concentrate on its studio programming and partnerships with schools and community centers.

“It’s about keeping arts education alive in Milwaukee,” Gray said.

Making a difference

GPS Education Partners offers equitable access to work-based learning opportunities for students in collaboration with schools, businesses and community. The nonprofit began in 2000 with one business and five students; today it has programming in five states with over 200 business partners and over 2,000 students served, with a goal of reaching 10,000 students by 2026.

“The growth has really been a result of partnerships that are focused on embedding work-based learning into the everyday curriculum…This is an opportunity for entire communities to come together to help students succeed in careers of the future through work-based learning,” Stephanie Reisner, president and CEO of GPS Ed, said.   

In 2022, it established an agency endowment at the Foundation to sustain its growth, continue its expansion and provide quality programming.

Reisner noted that financial support for many of the programs comes from school funding, business participation and philanthropy. The Foundation’s reputation and previous partnership made it the right choice. 

“It gives investors that confidence that not only is this an organization that’s been around for two decades successfully transforming the lives of young people in communities over the years, but now they have financial stability with an organization like the Greater Milwaukee Foundation that’s going to be very responsible with those funds,” she said. 

Through GPS Ed, students participate in activities that expose them to the world of work. From career awareness activities to paid youth apprenticeships and hands-on learning. These experiences are designed to foster a student’s ability to find their purpose and pursue their career path. In addition to being trained in the job, students learn soft skills such as financial management, teamwork, communication, time management and more. 

The organization hopes that work-based learning becomes embedded into the educational model.

“We envision a world where every student can access quality work-based learning to discover their pathway to a proud and productive life. We know we can’t do this alone so we need a sustainable funding stream to be sure we are around long enough to make a major impact in setting up our future generations for success,” said Laura Derpinghaus, director of marketing and fund development.

Answering a need

WisPact, a pooled special needs trust organization, established its endowment to create a charitable fund for its foundation. After researching several community foundations, it chose the Foundation due to its knowledge and willingness to help get the fund off the ground.     

“The mission of WisPact is to improve the lives of persons with disabilities through the use of special needs trusts. By creating the fund, we’ve expanded our mission,” Eric DeGroot, the foundation director, said. “We want to help support the efforts of other nonprofit organizations that are providing assistance to persons with disabilities in a myriad of ways whether it’s educational, recreational, transportation or various other types of programming.” 

WisPact uses the income generated from the fund to support organizations that work with individuals with disabilities such as Beyond Vision, Bloom360 Learning Community and The Ability Center.

DeGroot said the goal is to become a go-to source of support for services within the disability community, while expanding the amount and type of organizations it can support.

“I’ve come to understand in my time now working in philanthropy, that the disability community is one of the more underserved sectors within gift making or grantmaking. If our organization can really start to become an anchor within that sector, we’re more than happy to do that because disability services is the only area of interest for our foundation.”

Interested in starting an endowment?

“If you’re interested in establishing an agency endowment, I would start by assessing your organizational readiness. Endowment funds are meant to provide support for long-term organizational growth – so ask where you see the organization in 10, 20, 50 years,” Rios said. 

Ask questions like: Do you have the resources to invest now? Is there a program or initiative that could benefit from a perpetual stream of funding rather than annual fundraising? 

To discuss your options, contact Emanuel Rios at