For 11 years, the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service has made it its business to cover news that matters for the communities of color we serve.
As a nonprofit newsroom, we have been blessed to have the financial support of many of Milwaukee’s leading philanthropic foundations, including the Zilber Family Foundation, Bader Philanthropies and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
And we would not be able to meet our mission to provide evidence-based reporting without the steadfast support of Marquette University and the Diederich College of Communication, where we are based. This support and the support of donors enables us to provide our work free of charge and to pay the salaries of our newsroom family, the most diverse staff in Milwaukee.
Now, we are beginning the work that is needed to sustain our business.
As we’ve told you in previous columns, the American Journalism Project has jointly awarded the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism $1.4 million over three years to support our efforts to reshape the local news ecosystem in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin.
The grant will build revenue and operations teams at both nonprofits to support the expansion of journalism that represents, informs and engages local communities.
And (drum roll and tambourine, please), it has allowed NNS to hire our first Director of Development and Partnerships who will help us craft a fundraising strategy and forge new relationships to build Neighborhood News Service’s visibility in the business and philanthropic community.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Deborah Heffner.
Heffner is a nonprofit leader with over two decades of experience in development, grants administration and program evaluation. She specializes in advancing the mission of organizations and community-based coalitions by leading sustainability and growth-building efforts.
Before joining the NNS team, Heffner served as the Strategy Director at Community Advocates, where she oversaw its housing stability programs. She spent the pandemic leading a team that has administered emergency rental assistance to over 12,000 households that have experienced financial hardship during COVID-19, disbursing $64 million in federal stimulus dollars since June 2020.
Heffner is especially passionate about forging relationships and building partnerships to achieve a common goal or create change. Most recently, she coordinated the launch and implementation of the groundbreaking Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center, a collaboration of nine co-partners working together to prevent eviction through coordinated service delivery. Heffner helped raise over $1 million dollars to sustain this effort since 2020.
Previously, she served as grants manager for the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute and coordinator of the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. Before joining the Community Advocates team, Heffner served as the associate director of Evaluation Services at the Center for Self- Sufficiency.
A proud University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate, Heffner has a Bachelor of Science in Educational Policy and Community Studies. She’s been married for nearly 20 years and is driven by her three children, who inspire her to grow and continue to work toward a Milwaukee for all.
“The pandemic brought us all into uncharted territory,” Heffner said. “We became isolated at a time where access to news and resources were never more vital.
“As my team and I worked to administer emergency rental assistance to those experiencing financial hardship, the inequities that exist in our community around health, well-being and safety were also elevated,” she said. “I saw firsthand what a critical role NNS plays in providing news and resources to traditionally underserved populations in the central city and in holding agencies accountable when it was needed the most.”
Heffner said she looks forward to helping NNS continue to excel.
“Keeping grounded in our mission and guided by our greatest assets, our readers, we will forge new partnerships and generate resources to transform news in Milwaukee,” Heffner said.
For more information
You can reach Heffner at firstname.lastname@example.org