By Steve Martin
Larry Johnson admits he’s gained a reputation as “Mr. Fixit” in the area of philanthropy, and it’s a title he’s happy to hold.
“I am most personally proud … of the donors, staff and volunteers I have been privileged to know and encourage,” said Johnson, founder and principal of M. E. Grace, a Caldwell-based firm that provides professional fundraising and advancement counsel.
The company – named for Johnson’s three daughters Mary, Elizabeth and Christiana Grace – has served clients in the Panhandle, Salmon, Ketchum, Boise, Nampa, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls, assisting with board and volunteer development, fundraising audits and assessments, and campaign counsel and direction.
Johnson, a Nashville native, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Yale University, and both a Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Science degree from Vanderbilt University. He traces his interest in nonprofits back to his work as a volunteer in the Vanderbilt Alumni Association, where he served as a member of the national board for 10 years.
His professional resume has included a stint in program management for Westinghouse Electric, followed by a career shift to national fundraising consulting firm Ketchum Inc., where he served as director for six years working with more than 25 clients in diverse nonprofit sectors and regions of the country. His emphasis in higher education fundraising eventually led him to Idaho in 2005, where he took on the position of vice president for College of Idaho.
Jennifer Deroin, vice president/business and professional banking for Intermountain Community Bank in Nampa said Johnson has helped organize and facilitate many workshops for the bank in partnership with M. E. Grace dealing with varied topics related to issues such as fund development, board governance, strategic planning and capital campaigns.
“Every workshop is well-attended, and the reviews are constantly outstanding,” Deroin said. “Larry offers his expertise at the workshops pro bono, understanding the need to bolster and strengthen the communities in which we serve.”
Fisher’s Document Systems President and CEO Chris Taylor, board of directors president for the Discovery Center of Idaho, said Johnson has been an invaluable resource to help understand the culture of the center’s board, clarify the organization’s mission and identify disconnections between the two.
“Larry provides a refreshing honesty that is needed in any course correction,” Taylor said. “He boldly exposes weaknesses while embracing strengths. His methodology and personal culture reflect a truly differentiated style and approach that I have found to be more effective than traditional development approaches.”
Kim Diercks, community development officer for Panhandle State Bank in Sandpoint, praised Johnson for an “engaging and inspiring” 2009 seminar he delivered about how effective boards can raise more money.
“Several of the nonprofit agencies in attendance hoped to contract with Larry directly so that he could deliver his presentation to their full boards,” she said.
“Fundraising is about making friends, keeping promises and being loyal,” Johnson said, “while giving donors the opportunity to invest in organizations and causes that are meaningful to them. Doing these things consistently over time will unequivocally yield success in both good times and bad.”
Johnson said he intends to continue his work in the philanthropic field, offering his services to those wanting to benefit from his expertise.
“I believe that preserving and enhancing the rare quality of life found in our region will depend, in large part, upon a vibrant philanthropic community characterized by thoughtful giving and wise stewardship,” he said. “My goal for M. E. Grace is for the firm to be a prime catalyst in growing a culture of philanthropy in Idaho and provide only the best professional counseling to its clients.”
Steve Martin is the special sections editor for the Idaho Business Review in Boise.