Nonprofit promotes business, gives back

By Bill Howard

Late in 2019, Charlie Pratt and Blake Foote, financial advisers for Modern Woodmen of America, came up with an idea: why not start a nonprofit that would not only promote business activity in Fountain City, but also give back to the community?

More than a year later, Fountain City Forward has 29 members. On St. Patrick’s Day last Wednesday, it held its first service project of this year by sponsoring a blood drive at Fountain City Church. The goal is to do at least four service projects annually.

“We came up with the idea of forming a nonprofit networking group where we build each others’ businesses and positively impact the community,” said Board President Pratt. There’s great businesses here, there’s great people here. We just figured we should all work together to help grow our businesses.”

Member businesses pay $120 per year. The money goes primarily toward operating costs. Any remaining at the end of the year goes back into the community, according to Pratt. “You get the opportunity to network with other members, opportunity to set up at community involvement days and get exposure for your business,” he said “But the main thing is referrals to your business from members.”

Suzanne McCarter is FCF’s Community Involvement Director. “This (blood drive) is our first-quarter service project,” said the Account Representative for Burns Mailing & Printing, Inc. “Our goal is 100 donations throughout the month of March to show our support for First Responders. (The service projects) are what really make Fountain City Forward unique.”

“Usually organizations are 100% service oriented or 100% business-building,” McCarter went on. “I think what’s enabled us to grow is the ability to do both of those things with one group of folks that you can really build long-lasting personal relationships with.”

“We want to build relationships with one another,” said Pratt. “There’s not a better way to do it than serve alongside each other. So we’ll do things like clean up in the park…this blood drive is our first (project) this year. We get to know each other in a business setting and a service setting. That was kind of the brains behind Fountain City Forward. We invited business professionals and business owners to network with us.”

Realtors and financial services firms are common FCF members, but a variety of industries is included. A business does not have to be located in Fountain City to join.

TVA Employees Credit Union marketing rep Jessica Baker explained how being a member of FCF can directly pay off.

“Month after month I see tangible results,” she said. “(FCF member) US Bank has passed several loan referrals to me that they weren’t able to help their customers with. And I can help them become members (of the credit union) and do loans for them through the credit union.”

Daniel Willis is the Membership Sales Manager for AirMedCare Network. “It’s a great way to get the information (about your business) out into the community. We were formed in 1977, and yet we’re one of the best-kept secrets in East Tennessee.”