Federal grant allows Madison’s Forward Community Investments to expand reach in Wisconsin

Salli MartyniakSalli MartyniakMadison-based Forward Community Investments (FCI) received a federal grant of nearly a million dollars this summer, and FCI President Salli Martyniak accepted it at a Milwaukee ceremony. She's enthousiastic about what FCI can do with the funds.

Grants are nothing new to this group that provides financing for Wisconsin non-profits. But this grant, in the amount of $953,806, came on August 6 with a ceremony featuring US Representative Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of the Treasury, Don Graves.

The grant will allow FCI to extend their financial outreach to the far corners of the state.

One third of FCI’s income is “grant and donation related,” said Martyniak. “We have been fortunate -- and I really shouldn’t say fortunate, because I think it’s our track record that allows us to continue winning the grants.”

“We have received five [Community Development Financial Institution] grants in the last four years,” she added.

FCI opened their doors in 1994 to offer low-interest loans to non-profit organizations around the state. They operate as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), or a financial institution that supports low-income individuals and communities. The CDFI fund works through the US Department of the Treasury and granted the award that Martyniak accepted in Milwaukee.

“The purpose of CDFIs, specifically as a loan fund, is to help the unbanked and the under banked,” said Martyniak.

Of the 22 CFDIs in Wisconsin, Forward Community Investments is one of the few that serves non-profit organizations, rather than individuals and businesses. Eight Wisconsin CDFIs received grants at the August 6 ceremony.

FCI completed the “rigorous application” nearly 9 months ago, said Martyniak. The application assesses, “past social impact, what exactly have your loans and services accomplished … as well as future intended social impact.”

The money awarded to FCI will be used to further their connections around the state. The grant will become a part of their loan pool, and some will be directed towards the poorest regions in the state, said Martyniak. The group is currently reaching out to counties in the northwestern region of Wisconsin.

“Our big hairy audacious goal,” said Martyniak, “is to have a client relationship in every Wisconsin county.”

Right now FCI has ties to one third of the counties in the state.

“We do have a very rigorous plan that does allow for a lot of outreach … One [staff] person is dedicated to business development in northern Wisconsin,” said Martyniak. “All of us … do a lot of travel and outreach.”

Whether from the grant or their recent and forthcoming work around the state, Martyniak feels good about FCI’s progress and their impact on helping non-profits.

“We’re a fabulous organization,” said Martyniak. “We are privileged to be able to work with non-profits across the state and continue to do good, despite the challenges … as far as budget cuts and so forth.” 

[Editor's Note: This article has been changed to reflect the fact that Forward Commity Investments is not the only CDFI to work with non-profits in the state, as was previously stated.]