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Fall 2012

What is a Community Foundation?

by Janna DeLissa

A Community Foundation is a philanthropic organization working in a specific geographic area which, over time, builds up a collection of funds from a variety of sources. Many of the funds are endowed, meaning that the original assets donated to the foundation remain permanently in the foundation's portfolio of funds. Only the interest earned on the funds is used to make grants or to otherwise benefit not-for-profit organizations in the community. Two examples of how a Community Foundation work follow.

Larry Zant and Marjorie Williams loved animals. During their marriage, they had as many as five dogs at a time. They joked that the doggy door in the dining room was probably the most frequently used door in their home. Their love of animals went beyond their own pets. Friends going on vacation would leave their dogs with "Uncle Larry and Aunt Marje" while the family was away. A countless number of foster dogs stayed with them until a permanent home could be found. If the humane society needed something, they did whatever they could to help. Marje served as treasurer of the Finney County Humane Society for years. They didn't know how much they could contribute, but they wanted whatever extra funds they had to benefit the Finney County Humane Society. Through the Western Kansas Community Foundation, they found a way to benefit the humane society for many years to come.

While studying the great artists of the world, students at Sunnyside School in Dodge City experienced just a bit of the challenges Michelangelo faced when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as they painted on paper that was taped under their desks. This study is part of the Private Opportunity Program (POP) Fund established by Peggy Stein, who dreamed of providing young students with educational life experiences in music, art, dance, theatre, gymnastics, sports and science. Ms. Stein had a vision and created the fund, which was supported by other private donations.

Most contributors to a Community Foundation make a (typically tax-deductible) donation because they want to help make their community a better place to live in the future. One of the characteristics of a Community Foundation is that it's very flexible. Other than fulfilling the common goal of improving life for future residents of the community, funds held by a Community Foundation can be quite different. A donation can be placed in an unrestricted fund, from which grants are given at the discretion of the local Board of Directors of the foundation. A specific fund named after the donor can be created as a memorial to a specific person and his/her's passion in life. A donation can become part of a larger pool of funds created to benefit a charity or a specific group of people. The donor may actively participate in recommending where the distribution of earnings from the fund goes, or the Board of Directors may make that decision, based upon the stated purpose of the fund.

A fund can be established while a person is alive, or upon their death. A fund may be created from a one-time gift, or from contributions made over a period of time – either from one person or a group of people. Assets other than cash may be accepted and then converted to cash to create a fund.

Community Foundations are designed to meet the individual needs of a community. The Plains Community Foundation and the Ashland Community Foundation both helped build a much-needed community center. The Wichita County Community Foundation made it possible for the Wichita County Museum to install a chairlift so that new displays in the basement of the museum were accessible to the handicapped. The Grant County Community Foundation helped develop a community garden. The Scott Community Foundation purchased a new sonogram machine to benefit future residents of Scott County.

While most funds are built with donations from individuals, businesses and organizations, on rare occasions other foundations give financial support to Community Foundations. Beginning in 1999, the Kansas Health Foundation has worked to help strengthen Community Foundations throughout Kansas. 36 Community Foundations in Kansas have received grants from the Kansas Health Foundation. Four southwest Kansas Community Foundations are the most recent grant recipients: the Community Foundation of Southwest Kansas, the Grant County Community Foundation, the South Central Community Foundation and the Wichita County Community Foundation. The Kansas Health Foundation will match contributions made to these Community Foundations during the years 2012 to 2015. The Kansas Health Foundation hopes that philanthropists in these foundations' communities will seize the opportunity to maximize the impact of their individual donations during the years of matching grants.

The first Community Foundation in the United States was created in 1914 in Cleveland. Since then, over 700 Community Foundations have been established in the United States. Of the approximately 100 Community Foundations in Kansas, 10 of them are in the southwest part of the state. A publication of the Western Kansas Alliance of Community Foundations explains that a Community Foundation is not a place to give money, but that it's a way to give money to your favorite charity. More importantly, with endowed funds, it's a way to keep giving to your favorite charity, year after year.


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