STLCF Hires Eskridge to Lead Invest STL; Celebrates Record-Setting $88 Million to Nonprofits In 2018

Fresh off a record-setting 2018 year end that saw the St. Louis Community Foundation and its donors give $88 million to nonprofits in St. Louis and around the country, Foundation officials announced the selection of Dara Eskridge, a well-respected urban planner and development leader, as executive director of Invest STL, the Foundation’s community development initiative.

“Dara’s background in community development and urban planning will be a real asset for us as she leads Invest STL,” said Amelia Bond, CEO and president of the St. Louis Community Foundation. “She has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to mobilize community leadership and leverage philanthropic resources to drive success.”

Eskridge will report directly to Bond.

Formed in 2016, Invest STL is dedicated to sourcing and allocating funding for stabilization and redevelopment initiatives in underserved neighborhoods in the St. Louis region. Its first investments are located in the city of St. Louis – specifically Dutchtown South and the West End neighborhoods north of Delmar.

Dara Eskridge, Executive Director of Invest STL
Dara Eskridge, Executive Director of Invest STL

These locations were selected from a field of 14 applicants based on their strong community fabric and network of engaged residents, Foundation officials said.

Among the Invest STL partners are Washington University, St. Louis University, the University of Missouri – St. Louis, the City of St. Louis, Rise Community Development, the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis, and the Metropolitan St. Louis Community Reinvestment Act Association. To date, the group has raised more than $4 million to fund initial Invest STL efforts.

“Leading Invest STL is an inspiring opportunity to acknowledge, amplify, and advance the revitalization efforts of everyday communitive members and organizations from not only Dutchtown South and the West End, but neighborhoods across the region,” said Eskridge. “I look forward to working with regional community and civic leaders, and our Invest STL partners, to spur and sustain reinvestment to create vibrant neighborhoods and a cohesive St. Louis for all.”

Eskridge: An Urban Planner
Most recently, Eskridge worked at Urban Strategies, a national nonprofit that specializes in neighborhood redevelopment and revitalization. As the director of operations for the firm’s St. Louis region, Eskridge and her team directed planning for more than $8 million of mixed-finance investment in St. Louis’ Near North Side neighborhood.

Before joining Urban Strategies, Eskridge served as a senior planner in the St. Louis County government from 2013 to 2017.

Eskridge received her master’s degree in urban planning from Columbia University in New York and her bachelor’s degree in architecture from Tuskegee University.

“Dara’s background is ideally suited to leverage neighborhood leadership, funders, community decision-makers, and philanthropy to generate results,” Bond said. “St. Louis has had many redevelopment plans over the years, but it is Invest STL’s reliance on people power and neighborhood leadership that sets this effort apart.”

St. Louis Community Foundation 2018: Nearly $90 Million to Nonprofits
Just six years ago, the St. Louis Community Foundation and its donors made $18 million in grants to nonprofits. During 2018, that number increased more than fourfold to $88 million. This record-setting total eclipses last year’s $79.1 million in contributions.

Approximately 90 percent of the funds were granted to nonprofit organizations in the St. Louis region.

“Our donors are more engaged than ever because they want to leave a legacy in St. Louis, as well as have a strategic, localized, and long-term charitable-giving plan in place,” said Bond. “What sets us apart from the donor advised funds offered by banks and brokerages is our local knowledge of the nonprofit landscape, our hands-on execution, and our personal follow-up.”

The number of grants made to nonprofits also increased to 6,077 in 2018, versus 5,500 for the year prior.

New Donor Gifts to the St. Louis Community Foundation
In 2018, the Community Foundation received $66 million through 2,792 new donor gifts, which was its third highest one-year gift total since its founding in 1915.

In 2017, the Foundation received 2,600 new donor gifts valued at $176 million. This total also included a $100 million gift – the Foundation’s largest ever.

“Giving is contagious,” Bond added. “We are finding that our donors enjoy spending time together, discussing ideas, and exploring what’s possible. This is why we offer a number of special events throughout the year that focus on specific donor interests like community development, education, and the environment.”

St. Louis Community Foundation: A Catalyst for Change
Over the last 10 years, the St. Louis Community Foundation and its donors made nearly $422 million in grants to charitable organizations, while the Foundation’s asset base closed the 2018 fiscal year at $458,833,000.

About the St. Louis Community Foundation
Since its founding in 1915 as one of the nation’s first community foundations, the goal of the St. Louis Community Foundation has been to promote and inspire charitable giving within the St. Louis region and to expand the impact charitable dollars have on improving the quality of life in our area and beyond.

Click here to read more about this feature in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.