Nonprofit executive of the week: Maria Lopez Vento

Maria Lopez Vento, vice president, programs and partnerships, Bader Philanthropies, Inc.
Organization address: 233 N. Water Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Industry: Philanthropy/Nonprofit
Number of employees: 13
Family: Husband and three sons

How long have you worked for Bader Philanthropies (previously the Helen Bader Foundation)? What attracted you to the foundation?
“I have been part of the foundation since 1992, its first year of awarding grants in Milwaukee and beyond. Over the years, I have seen how this organization nurtures the talents of its employees and encourages us to reach out of our comfort zones. That spirit has helped shape the person I have become over the past two decades.”

How is Bader Philanthropies different from what the community has known as the Helen Bader Foundation?
“We are now comprised of two funds: The Helen Daniels Bader Fund and the Isabel & Alfred Bader Fund. Earlier this year, a new investment from Isabel and Alfred Bader allowed us to take a long-term look at how we address issues as well as allow us to boost our overall annual grant funding. The investment will allow us to expand our international giving, while also doubling our commitment to the arts in Milwaukee. It is an exciting time to be part of this organization.”

What is your approach to addressing community issues?
“While grant funding is the core of what Bader Philanthropies does, our team devotes a great deal of time to listening to partners and identifying innovative approaches to the challenges in our key interests: Aging, employment, youth, education, among others. Many times, we find ideas in the community that are little diamonds, perhaps a bit rough, but that can be nurtured and spread. At the other end of the spectrum, there are also systemic issues that need multiple partners and multiple funders at the table.”

From your perspective, in what ways has the foundation made the greatest community impact?
“On all of the issues Bader Philanthropies works to address, one effort that crosses all of them is our commitment to an infrastructure that builds nonprofit leadership. Our goal is to help nonprofit agencies, themselves, become more sustainable and more effective in the long term, and a key part of that is to continue to attract talented, passionate individuals to nonprofit work.”

What will be the foundation’s main challenges in the next year?
“Bader Philanthropies is expanding its international giving programs to include issues affecting Central Europe and Israel, in addition to our current funding of Alzheimer’s programs for older Israelis. Both regions are undergoing complex demographic and social changes right now, which are an opportunity to make a long-term difference on helping marginalized groups and others in need. Locally, one of our top priorities is preventing youth violence, so we are coordinating with city and nonprofit partners on a plan of action.”

Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in the organization in the next year?
“We have added one staff position in light of our expanded international giving, and we have just added a new group of interns to help further our various efforts across the community. We have a great deal that we want to accomplish in the near future, and we need a strong team to make that happen.”

How healthy is southeastern Wisconsin’s nonprofit sector? What are the most significant challenges facing local nonprofits?
“Our team is always thinking of long-term sustainability among our nonprofit partners. The economic downturn shook up a lot of agencies and while some were not able to stay open, the ones that are here today have generally shown the importance of a smart board and engaged donors. It is an ongoing challenge to have a business model that relies on private donations, so we encourage our partners to look at their current operations and see how they can stay afloat during the next economic dip.”

Do you have a business mantra?
“Stick to it.”

From a business standpoint, who do you look up to?
“My late mother provided a strong role model, and who taught me that hard work and dedication always pay off.”

What was the best advice you ever received?
“One of my coworkers shared a quote from C.S. Lewis: ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.’ For all the ambitious goals we strive to attain, I have found that putting myself in that mindset helps to put our everyday interactions into perspective.”

Where do you see the community – and yourself – in 10 years?
“Across the community, I want to us reach a point where all children have the opportunity to thrive, and their families can help build stronger futures for themselves. At the personal level, I want to look back and see that the seeds of ideas that we planting today pay off in programs and systems that allowed positive change to happen.”

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