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John Ing: Illumination Foundation Home Run

“Who better to represent an organization whose sole purpose is to disrupt the cycle of homelessness than one who lived it?” Conexus founder Matt Primeau said as he introduced John Ing, the chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Illumination Foundation, as the winner of the Business Journal’s CFO of the Year Award in the nonprofit category on May 9 before a crowd of 600 people at the Irvine Marriott.

Ing has spent the last five years as CFO for the Santa Ana-based organization, which provides emergency housing programs and recuperative care services for locals dealing with homelessness.

When Ing first arrived in the United States as a 8-year-old child with his mother, they found themselves staying at the occasional shelter or sleeping on an available couch. As he grew up, Ing, a native of Thailand, was working a handful of jobs at a time and bussing between Chinatown and Tujunga for school in Los Angeles.

He eventually won a scholarship to attend the University of California, Irvine, to major not in finance or business, but English.

Ing’s high school accounting teacher Patricia Rowely had encouraged him to first pursue an education in liberal arts before moving on in his financial career, Ing told the Business Journal, chuckling at the beginnings of his career that’s now almost 30 years.

She told him that it was important to build a skill set of critical thinking and good communication no matter what field he went into.

After graduating from UCI’s School of Humanities in 1995, with a minor in history as well, Ing started to work at Citigroup as “an assistant to the assistant of the assistant administrator.”

He was later approached by the office’s managing director and told to apply for an open analyst position at the firm. From there, Ing climbed his way to managing director of the local firm until 2005.

With 10 years at Citigroup under his belt, Ing jumped from one company to another in both finance and operations leadership roles while also co-founding and serving as CFO for several technology startups in the education and financial sectors.

He also received his MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business during this time.

Ing spent the next 15 years in corporate finance and investment banking until he was introduced to the employees at Illumination Foundation in 2019 and realized it was time to give back.

“My success has always been because people have come to my side,” Ing said. “I wanted to be one of those people.”

Positive Change

Over the last five years, Ing has strengthened Illumination Foundation’s fiscal health; revenue has climbed 165% to $55.4 million in 2023.

The foundation helped 2,600 people in 2018. Last year, Illumination provided services for almost 7,000 individuals in 2023 and is on target to serve 9,700 in 2024.

The number of people housed went from 596 in 2018 to 959 in 2023 and the foundation is on its way to housing 1,150 people by the end of this year.

Ing also added the role of COO in July 2023.

“I have gratitude to my work family at Illumination Foundation, who together strive to do small things with great love so that we can do something wonderful for our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” Ing said at the awards ceremony, referencing his favorite quote from Mother Teresa.

Ing is credited with balancing rapid growth at Illumination while ensuring a fiscally responsible and strategic approach to maximizing the organization’s impact.

“Growth is complicated—our business model is for us to go out of business,” he said. However, “with growth, we needed to build an infrastructure to keep up.”

His priorities when first entering the CFO role, after a year on the board of directors, included bringing a business mindset to the nonprofit. He set up proper policies and procedures such as internal reporting for management and operations.

Ing also ensured the foundation would have enough data points to make the most strategic decisions for its network of funding streams and resources.

What makes it work are the key performance indicators (KPIs), Ing said when accepting the award. The most important KPIs are keeping people informed and inspired as well as integrated processes, he explained.

The executive noted the importance of transparency with all teams involved with the nonprofit and how vital it is to keep track of how debits and credits impact all parts of the organization.

Lastly, he noted that change can only happen consistently when people involved are inspired.

“To be a leader is to be an agent of positive change,” Ing said.

Making Leaders

The executive is extensively involved in organizations outside Illumination as well, such as World Vision International and Hope for Haiti.

Ing is also a founding trustee and treasurer for Scholarship Prep Public Schools, which centers on foster youth and students experiencing homelessness.

He attributes the trajectory of his own career to his high school principal, Dr. Gary Turner.
Over the last four years, he has served as a volunteer instructor in nonprofit financial management for OneOC.

Ing also participates in the business plan competition at Concordia University’s School of Business and Economics.

He established a seven-week leadership development program at Illumination in 2022. Supporting staff and growing new leaders have been as much a part of Ing’s mission at the foundation as providing housing.

“The mission to end homelessness will not be ended by growing, but by making leaders,” Ing said.

The week Ing was honored at the awards ceremony was also his final week with the Illumination Foundation.

He said his next role, whether it’s consulting or joining a new organization, will still deal with the issue of homelessness. Ing added he wants to pause and enjoy the next couple of months to celebrate graduations and anniversaries with his family.

“I’ve reached a point where I’ve done what I needed to do with Illumination,” Ing said.

“I’ve invested so much that I feel good leaving now because I leave the foundation as a much better place.”

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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