Foundation for Northwest Illinois: Empowering, Strengthening the Region

For more than 50 years, donors who have wanted to make an impact in their community have had one trusted partner. As this nonprofit adjusts to a new mission, it’s also spreading its impact.

Since its founding in 1975, the organization now known as Foundation for Northwest Illinois (FNWIL) has worked to enrich the lives of all in Stephenson, Jo Daviess and Carroll counties.

Formerly known as the Freeport Community Foundation, this organization achieves its work by maximizing a donor’s charitable goals while increasing the impact those dollars have on the region’s nonprofits.

The organization revised its mission statement five years ago and began expanding its reach to communities beyond Freeport. This June, it rebranded and became the Foundation for Northwest Illinois, to better reflect the organization’s growing work.

“Our goal is to support and lift nonprofits, private businesses and civic partners so they can collaborate and find solutions to our pressing community issues,” says Michelle DeHaven-Quast, chief executive officer.

How does the foundation begin its work? It starts with individual donors, endowed assets, legacy gifts, real estate and corporate gifts that are placed in the care of the Foundation. In turn, the interest and financial growth of these assets is reinvested into the community, primarily in the form of grants and scholarships.

One of the Foundation’s most enduring community funds is the Marvin-Wilson Community Needs Annual Grant.

“Since 1975, we have done about $4 million in grants, with 25% of those grants given in the past five years,” says DeHaven-Quast. “Our assets have grown to a size where we have sincerely started to impact the community.”

On average, FNWIL hands out about $200,000 to $250,000 annually. Nonprofit organizations that seek FNWIL grants undergo a stringent vetting process.

“Our board members and community partners read and score the grant applications thoughtfully, deliberately and with much discussion,” DeHaven-Quast says. “With the Marvin-Wilson Community Needs Annual Grant, we don’t have a cap on the funds a nonprofit can request. We let the need dictate the request because some grants are for ongoing programs with greater potential for our region.”

The Foundation also invests in the works of individuals who are meeting needs in the community and personifying the foundation’s mission. To that end, it presents the Matt A. Marvin Community Impact Award and the Craig Wilson Ecological Stewardship Award at the annual Bridges to the Future Gala.

James Rhyne of Freeport received the 2023 Marvin award, which DeHaven-Quast says “embodies a living, breathing example of servant leadership.” Rhyne, who serves as executive director of The Boys & Girls Club of Stephenson County & Northwest Illinois, was recognized for his 30-plus years of dedication to youth development.

David and Patricia Casper of Galena were named this year’s Wilson award winner.
“The Caspers donated the bulk of their farmland to the Jo Daviess County Conservation Foundation, now the Casper Bluff Preserve, which is a gorgeous piece of land near the Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort on the Mississippi River,” DeHaven-Quast says.

While many donors have made funding available for charitable work, plenty of regional donors also want to invest in the future, in the form of college scholarships. The Jeanette Lloyd Scholarship is open to communications students at Freeport High School. The Craig Wilson Scholarship is presented to agricultural students at Highland Community College.

“We would like to see our scholarship opportunities grow beyond what we currently offer,” DeHaven-Quast says.

One of the Foundation’s most ambitious endeavors is taking charitable work to a new level as it coalesces a wide range of local nonprofits. The Food Insecurity Initiative aims to provide a readily available and adequate food supply to residents of Stephenson, Jo Daviess and Carroll counties. The issue of food insecurity is widespread, not only in Freeport’s urban core but in many of the small towns of this region, where a grocery store is not always present. The issue becomes especially acute for senior citizens, who often lack mobility and reliable transportation, says DeHaven-Quast.

“Our area has some of the worst food insecurity in the state. We were at or below national trends before COVID-19 and since then, those rates have held steady,” she adds. “To help combat these trends, our board created the Food Insecurity Initiative, a program aimed at easing our region’s urban and rural food deserts.

One of the initiative’s main goals is to increase the efficiency and efficacy of community food pantries that touch this region.

“Though we are located in Stephenson County, we recently gave a grant to the Durand Food Pantry in Winnebago County, as they serve many people living in the far northeastern edge of Stephenson County,” she says. “It’s closer for people living in Davis to get their food in Durand than to travel to Freeport.”

The Foundation has also supplied grant funding to the Mobile Market program of the Northern Illinois Food Bank and JDLF Gives (Jo Daviess County Local Foods). These particular groups are focused on easing rural food deserts.

“The Mobile Market brings a grocery store to rural communities in Stephenson County like Lena, Winslow and Davis,” DeHaven-Quast says. “The JDLF Gives program is a fantastic farm-to-pantry program that brings fresh produce, locally grown meats and locally produced dairy to rural areas. It’s a huge asset to have these fresh products raised in the area available at a pantry.”

One of the advantages of the Foundation’s expanded reach is its ability to better connect with nonprofits across northwest Illinois. Through its Northwest Illinois Nonprofit Alliance (NINA), the foundation is helping to connect leaders, increase educational opportunities and maximize resources. Monthly Coffee Connections act as an open forum for nonprofit leaders to network, share ideas and brainstorm.

A one-day symposium on Oct. 13, called Thrive: A Nonprofit Symposium, is open to fundraising leaders from northwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin and aims to address several topics related to running a successful nonprofit.

“We will have experts from our region speaking on strategic planning, the power of good storytelling, working in cooperation and other pertinent topics,” DeHaven-Quast says.

Donations to the Foundation are always welcomed and can be shared in many ways. While cash is one of the most popular financing tools, the Foundation also works with donors through gifts of stocks or bonds, life insurance, estate gifts, and real estate or other tangible assets. There are many ways to employ these tools, and they include opening new funds or adding to FNWIL’s existing assets, like the Marvin-Wilson fund. Anyone interested in making a donation can contact FNWIL or learn more at

DeHaven-Quast sees FNWIL’s evolving mission as an opportunity to maximize the gifts of these donors and the collective power of the region’s nonprofit sector. The future is always changing, but it’s almost certain there will be needs that charitable causes can help to address.

“We as a region need to do everything we can to ensure the success and stamina of our rural areas and provide the necessary resources for area-wide growth and vitality,” says DeHaven-Quast.