Bringing Innovative Ideas to Life

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If you want to see something grow, you must invest in multiple ways to have a productive garden. That’s a key lesson I learned growing up in “the country,” in a small community in south-central rural Indiana. My sisters and I had household responsibilities from an early age. One of mine was to work in the large family garden, planted by my parents to supply much-needed food stores in the winter. My chores included weeding, watering and helping gather the harvest.

Now as Chief Development Officer at the CICOA Foundation, I still look for our investment of time, energy, and good planning to result in an abundant harvest. In today’s era of unpredictable funding, public policy changes and inflation, diversifying our revenue is critical and adds sustainability to CICOA services for vulnerable older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers.

Innovation and philanthropy combine for social impact

One such endeavor is our Venture Studio, led by our capable Vice President of Innovation, Jonathan Haag. Jonathan is working to bring staff-generated, innovative ideas to life, standing up new, profitable businesses in support of the Foundation, CICOA and Indiana’s economy.

Venture philanthropy offers a way for individuals to invest in a high-potential business with a measurable social impact. While this concept is not new, we are in some rarified air.

Indiana University has IU Ventures, which exists “to invest to generate significant and long-lasting social and economic impact for IU, Indiana, and the World.” This is business with a social conscience in support of the broad human service sector.

Another model of venture philanthropy is found at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, CFF funded the development of therapeutic drugs to provide relief for cystic fibrosis patients. However, no pharmaceuticals existed to address the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis. That’s when CFF embraced venture philanthropy to stimulate cystic fibrosis research among pharmaceutical companies.

Both IU Ventures and CFF are pioneering this model of venture philanthropy to provide sustainable income to fund and support positive change in the world.

Growing social ventures at CICOA

We are doing some pioneering work at the CICOA Foundation, as well. In 2021, CICOA launched Duett, Inc., a for-profit tech start-up designed to match people who need in-home care with providers who offer the services.

While Duett continues to grow and become profitable, we are this month launching our second venture, Postbook, which is an intergenerational postcard exchange and keepsake journal designed to kindle connections and reduce loneliness for seniors.

It takes significant funding to provide the necessary runway for new ventures, from ideation to prototype, ongoing usability testing and launch. While ventures and venture philanthropy are not exactly growing a garden, the principles of hard work, sowing, harvesting, and time still apply.

We will continue traditional models of fundraising, but we also want to seed our garden with successful ventures. Your investment in CICOA’s Innovation Fund will nourish an amazing entrepreneurial garden that can yield a harvest for decades to come!

Stephen Gerber
Stephen Gerber

Stephen Gerber brings experience in pastoral ministry, nonprofit management and fundraising team leadership to his role as CICOA’s chief development officer. Stephen is responsible for the agency’s overall fundraising strategy, leading annual campaigns, major gifts, planned giving, grants and special events.

He holds designations for Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®), and the executive certificate in religious fundraising. Stephen earned a bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Temple University, a master’s degree from Grace Theological Seminary and a master’s in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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