Nina Stack discovered the beauty of smallness as a girl when her parents rented a home on Block Island. She had summer jobs on the island. She kept returning to the island and bought a house and headed the island’s department of tourism.
While she still owns a house on the island, the family didn’t make it home. For the past 13 years she has held the post of president of the New Jersey Council of Grant Makers. Then she learned of a position from the Block Island Times that brought her back.
Now she is discovering how big the smallest state is.
In June Stack was named to succeed Keith Lang as executive director of the Champlin Foundation that recently announced the award of $22 million to 160 nonprofits.
Stack is in awe of the diversity of state’s nonprofits.
“The range of organizations and the depth [of their missions] is exceptional,” she said in an interview Friday from Champlin offices at Chapel View in Cranston.
Stepping into the job during the process of reviewing grant applications, Stack went on a number of site visits. She met with the people at the Gamm Theatre, the Warwick Center for the Arts, the Varnum Armory and the East Greenwich Odeum.
During her visits she was impressed by the diversity of the state’s historical and cultural sites and “how much history is valued [in Rhode Island].” She notes that while New Jersey has a number of historic Revolutionary War and Civil War sites, they don’t get the same attention and reverence as they do in Rhode Island. She calls them “high touch,” remarking, for example, on the collections at the Varnum Armory and on the passion of those people who oversee these institutions.
She connects the missions of nonprofits to the state’s quality of life and how a cultural organization like the East Greenwich Odeum has an economic impact on a community. She sees the Odeum as a keystone to the economic viability of Main Street, East Greenwich and the vitality of the town center. She said it is building social capital.
The history of the foundation doesn’t escape Stack, especially its commitment to providing grants for capital improvements, which she maintains is “so important.”
The foundation has traditionally been a supporter of libraries. Of those grants recently announced, the Warwick Public Library received $83,340 to build two glass meeting rooms within the library. A $36,500 grant was approved for a new roof at the Pontiac Free Library. In addition, Ocean State Libraries was awarded $288,390 for new routers and new Windows licenses for member libraries that serves libraries. William Hall Library in Cranston was awarded $320,290 for comprehensive renovations. In total, $2 million in grants was earmarked for libraries in the 2018 grants.
Stack doesn’t see that priority as shifting. With the capability to provide the latest in technology, she calls libraries as the “great equalizers.” She notes that libraries are “safe places” and hubs for after-school meeting places and activities. She sees libraries as addressing the “digital divide” between those who can afford the latest in technology and those who can’t.
Likewise, she doesn’t envision the foundation from straying from its support of the Nature Conservancy and groups to preserve open space. Parks and land grants for 2018 totaled $1.9 million. The sector receiving the greatest volume of grants was youth services with a total of $7.8 million.
The foundation will undergo changes as it moves to an online application system and digital process of record keeping. For decades, the foundation has relied on a single page – actually a letter – form of request.
Stack respects the simplicity of such an application process but finds it lacking in supportive information that would help in assessing and determining requests. She said the goal is to have the system in place by the 2020 round of applications.
“We will make it as simple as we can and give us good data,” she said.
More immediately, Champlin Foundation is undergoing an analysis by the Organization for Effective Philanthropy, whereby 200 grant recipients will be asked to complete a survey. Stack said the foundation won’t know what grant recipients will be selected for the survey, or for that matter which participated. She expects the results will assist the foundation “to understand from a grantee’s perspective how they are performing.
According to a release announcing her selection for the post, Stack has over 25 years of experience in the private, government and nonprofit sectors and has worked as a senior administrator and external affairs professional throughout her career. During her leadership of the New Jersey Council of Grant Makers, she strengthened and promoted effective philanthropy in New Jersey through networking, advocacy and programming.
She also shepherded several leadership initiatives of the Council including the creation of the Community Foundation of South Jersey, the Newark Philanthropic Liaison and Facing Our Future, a landmark effort looking at the systemic, long-term fiscal challenges facing all levels of government.
Stack, a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, lives in Providence with her husband Bobby Stack. The couple has three adult daughters and three grandchildren.
Looking on a broader level, she identifies the 2020 Census as an important challenge for the state. She talked about the impact of getting the count and the related data correct on federal funding and how that can determine the ability of the state and nonprofits to provide services.
Since its founding in 1932 by Warwick industrialist George Champlin, the Foundation has awarded more than $592 million to fund capital projects to foster better medical care, improve education, expand access to social services, conserve open spaces, preserve historic buildings, enrich the arts and advance animal welfare.
Stack sees adhering to the role of the foundation as articulated by its grantors.
That is, she said, “to offer help to the helpless and hope to the hopeless.”