Brenda Skelton, who has led Siebert Lutheran Foundation as chief executive officer for six years, has transitioned out of her role to oversee a new initiative aimed at growing the Milwaukee-based foundation’s funder base and impact.
Skelton was hired on as the foundation’s president and CEO in 2013, after serving on the foundation’s board for eight years. In 2018, Charlotte John-Gómez, formerly the director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Milwaukee office of Community Planning and Development, joined the foundation as its president and chief operating officer. John-Gómez has now assumed leadership of the foundation’s day-to-day operations.
In her new role as executive counsel, Skelton is launching the foundation’s new effort to partner with family foundations, private donors and other funding entities who “want to grow their philanthropic impact” with Lutheran schools and ministries and poverty-alleviation programs in Wisconsin – areas that the foundation has grown to be a thought leader over the last 65 years, Skelton said. For the first time, the foundation will begin accepting bequest and planned gifts from donors, she said.
Siebert Lutheran Foundation was established by Albert F. Siebert, the founder of Milwaukee Electric Tool Company. The foundation later sold its interest in Milwaukee Electric Tool Company to Amstar Corporation in 1976 and today operates as an independent foundation under a trust agreement.
To date, all of the foundation’s resources have come from Siebert, who died in 1960. He didn’t specify a sunset date for the foundation, leaving that decision up to its directors.
“While we have occasionally discussed that issue, and have talked to our grantee community, the feedback has been that the foundation has been a very valuable resource for ongoing support and (our grantees) would hate to see us sunset,” Skelton said.
Since it was established, the foundation has funded more than $131 million in grantmaking. Last year, the foundation granted $4.3 million to 106 organizations and ended the year with $93.5 million in assets.
In addition to courting new funders, another priority of the new initiative is to use the foundation’s funding expertise to help donors determine where they should direct their dollars.
“The funds wouldn’t necessarily flow through Siebert,” Skelton said. “But let’s say we convene a gathering to focus on educating high risk students in the city of Milwaukee. Many of the Lutheran schools that Siebert is already funding are among best-performing schools for urban youth in the city. So we could convene other funders and family foundations … and encourage them to step forward and fund. It’s about bringing other people to the table who have resources to increase the collective impact.”
The new initiative continues the Siebert’s efforts in recent years to grow its impact in the region and help find longer-term solutions to the causes it has historically supported. That effort has involved adding more board members, completing a strategic plan and relocating its office from Brookfield to the SoHi Building at 27th and Wells streets in Milwaukee’s Avenues West neighborhood, which has put the foundation closer to many of its funded ministries.
“Siebert has been building and cultivating relationships with the Lutheran ministry and nonprofit community for more than 60 years,” said Deni Naumann, Siebert’s board chair. “Brenda Skelton has served Siebert for 15 years, first as a director, then as CEO and president for the past six years. Siebert’s deep and refined experience is an untapped asset for philanthropists with the desire to increase the impact of their giving. We are gearing up to offer Siebert’s counsel, guidance, and support to family foundations and donors who are eager to share their financial gifts with ministries and nonprofits who serve as the hands and feet of Christ.”
As a pilot project for the foundation’s new initiative, Skelton in 2018 worked with donor John Schaller, principal at Léargas Consulting, to determine where he and his wife would direct a charitable gift.
“We were looking into essentially taking advantage of what otherwise would be donor-advised funds,” Schaller said. “We were looking for direction around the causes that could use support. We were trying to do a one-year gift that would spread over two years so the charities would have cash flow over the two years. Siebert acted as a pathway. Siebert gave us a number of options, we talked through the pluses and minuses of different organizations, and my wife and I decided where to put the money. I’ve never met someone with (Skelton’s) depth of understanding of the Lutheran Church and its related charity world in Milwaukee.”