Member Spotlight: Phil Newton, Perennial Partners

Michael Miller  ·  Jul 01, 2015

Phil Newton’s overhead for his business consists of a laptop, a tablet computer, and a phone. He has a corner in his basement to work from, but is more likely to be found doing that at a popular local coffeehouse, where he gets free Wi-Fi, not to mention good tea.

The low overhead suits the co-founder of Perennial Partners, a two-man fundraising consulting firm started in February. Phil likes to stay “nimble,” which is what he says the ministerial entrepreneurs he helps have to be as well.

“You need to be able to move quickly and adapt to a changing environment,” Phil says.

He’s adapting to a very new environment after serving as executive director of South Side Mission in Peoria, Illinois, for 12 years and working at another rescue mission in Bloomington for six years before that. Seeking funds was a key part of those positions, and he is turning that experience into service to nonprofits large and small. Phil is the fundraiser, and his business partner, fellow believer Rick Richardson, is a CPA who helps clients manage the funds that Phil raises.

“We help charities, churches, and schools anywhere in the country raise more money, keep more money, and plan for the long term,” Phil says.

For instance, “I’ve got a wonderful, small charity on the South Side that specializes in building wheelchair ramps for the elderly, the handicapped, and veterans,” he says. “But I’m also consulting with larger organizations, too. I’m writing a lot of grant applications. With diminishing government money, nonprofits are looking to me to help them get some money that is not necessarily affiliated with the government.”

He learned to do that at South Side Mission, which takes no government money so that requirements or restrictions accompanying the money can’t impede the mission’s purpose. “We became adept at figuring out funders who didn’t have those strings: companies, family foundations.”

Perennial Partners also helps new ministries get nonprofit status from the government.

“Once you get that, you can build on top of it,” Phil says. “So many young ministries get bogged down in that step.”

Taking the step out of secure employment to Perennial Partners didn’t frighten Phil.

“I would love to say that it was a really scary thing, but I’ve always felt like it was a God thing,” he says. “My wife, Jilleen, saw it before I did. Our wives are so discerning. She was pointing me in this direction for months before I decided. And when I finally joined my wife and the Lord, then I had peace about it.”

The new partnership has given Phil more freedom, too.

“My priorities have always been God, family, work, in that order, so I won’t let this get in the way of those priorities,” he says. “But it’s the ultimate in flexibility. If I want to, I can work a 12-hour day and then not work again for two days.”

He’s getting his family involved in the business, too. He trained his daughter, Grace, in grant writing. She wrote more than $20,000 in grants for South Side Mission in one year as an intern.

“This may end up being Grace’s summer job (with Perennial Partners),” Phil says. “All of my kids are good writers, so it could end up being a family business before it’s all over.”

The flexibility extends into the future.

“I don’t ever intend to retire,” he says. “This is something I can do when I am at retirement age also, writing a few grants here and there, doing a campaign here and there, and taking the afternoons off to go fishing with the grandkids.”

In the meantime, though, his job consists of going to foundations or corporations and asking them to give money to the nonprofits he represents.

“If you think about it, especially in a ministry context, I’m just asking somebody to do what the Lord wants them to do anyway. He says, ‘I’m the Lord. With the firstfruits of all your crops, bring your tithes and offerings into the storehouse. See if I will not give you so much blessing that you can’t even hold it all’ (paraphrase of Malachi 3:10). So I’m just giving people an opportunity to invest in things that God might be tapping them on the shoulder for. It’s cool to be a conduit for the Lord in that regard. It’s really exciting for me to see a donor get so excited about making something possible happen.”

Phil didn’t think he’d end up here. After graduating with a degree in public relations, he thought he’d work at a Fortune 500 company or big PR firm, “but the Lord had other plans”—ministry and nonprofits.

“And it’s a lovely career, it’s just a really great thing to be a part of the end product being a changed life, and knowing that in some small part I helped contribute to that. As a believer, I get most excited about someone coming to know Christ, so I really enjoy working with ministries as much as anything that I do.”