A non-profit organization can begin with the best of intentions, a brilliant idea for helping people and the momentum of the Energizer bunny, but without structure, know-how and money, the endeavor will most likely fail.
That’s where Brenda Grove comes in. She has made it literally her business to help non-profits, and as a result is the recipient of the Turner Center’s Small Business Advocate award for her business, Enabling Non-Profits, Inc.
A native of Peoria, Grove grew up with a single mother in a family of nine children. “The first organization that comes to mind is Salvation Army. They always showed up,” she said.
Grove recalls Salvation Army taking her entire family camping in the summer. “We got to experience sleeping in a cabin, fireside stories, being out in the green terrain with trees and meeting other people. We wouldn’t have experienced any of that, otherwise,” she said.
Another nonprofit, Peoria’s Carver Center, “was where we went to have fun.”
Grove got a summer job with United Way making mailing labels. “I was working around professional people for the first time in my life and I loved it,” she said. “I also loved being able to buy things for school.”
Through these experiences, “I began to think what else could be possible for me,” says Grove.
After graduating from Manual High School, Grove lived in a number of different cities, including Philadelphia, Kalamazoo, Baltimore and Tampa. She earned her degree in business administration from Nazareth College in Kalamazoo, then her master’s degree in public administration at Western Michigan University.
She has worked in government, academia and business, including assistant to the city manager of Kalamazoo, a senior administrator at Johns Hopkins University, director of restricted funds accounting at Morgan State University, deputy director of the Maryland Small Business Development Center, and executive director of Tampa Hillsborough Housing Plan.
Along the way, Grove took her knowledge of grants and contracts to start her own business, teaching aspiring entrepreneurs how to write their own business plans.
In Tampa, at the request of her pastor, Grove created a proposal for a children’s summer program involving multiple locations and resulting in several hundred thousand dollars in funding for the organization.
It was after that resounding success that she began training others to do what she was doing, “how to start a non-profit, how to get volunteers, how to get funding,” she said.
“From there I did less and less for small businesses and more and more for non-profits in the community,” she said.
When Grove returned to Peoria and recreated her business of non-profit development, she shared her business acumen through the Peoria chapter of the SCORE mentoring program for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She also connected with the Small Business Development Center at Bradley University.
In nominating Grove for the Turner Center award, Chris Youngmark, assistant director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley, wrote, “We are proud to have Ms. Grove serving central Illinois with her vision and actions to support nonprofit development. Aligning with our SBDC mission to engage all who walk through our doors, Enabling Non-Profits guides entrepreneurs through nonprofit organizational development further than ever before.”
Grove has so much non-profit information to impart that she literally has written the book on the subject.
The Book on Building Nonprofits: Master Doing It Right From A-Z, written by Grove and published in 2021, is a glossary identifying key words in nonprofits, intermingled with her words of wisdom on how to do things the correct way.
“Everybody wants grant funding, but they don’t always know how to manage it, which is where they can end up in a lot of trouble,” said Grove. When dealing with federal funding, for example, tracking and accounting for expenditures are integral to the process.
Grove sees tremendous potential in the Peoria area for the growth of her business and the growth of successful non-profits. “There are plenty of dollars out there for grant funding,” she said. “The key is having the solid structure to respond to the demand for services.”
The Southside Community Center in Peoria is one of the local non-profit organizations with which Grove works. The center offers parenting support and education, as well as youth leadership and enrichment. The Center’s director, the Rev. Irene Lewis-Wimbley, is trying with Grove’s help to find funding for more services there.
Another of Grove’s clients is the Sunflower Mentoring Program for girls between fifth and eighth grades. Alynceia Boyce started the program last year with nothing more than a desire to instill confidence, sisterhood and a vision of opportunity in the young girls’ lives. Grove has taken on Boyce’s program to help her create organizational structure and secure funding.
“We have tons of passion,” said Lewis-Wimbley, “but if we have knowledge and skills, we can go for the funding and oh, what we can do.”