Did you know that the very first Community Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, was established in 1914 by a banker named Frederick Goff?

Chances are you didn’t, but his story is one of vision, inclusion and, most of all, the empowerment of the private sector for the greater good.  His original idea was to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists into a single, great and permanent endowment for the betterment of his beloved city.  Little did Goff realize that he was starting a movement that would one day produce 750 community foundations in the United States that now collectively manage over $48 billion in assets! (The idea has also gone global with more than a 1,000 more worldwide.)

Of course this has taken 103 years, but these days the movement continues to evolve and is changing the way people of all income brackets give and transform their communities. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to share how your High Point Community Foundation actually works and why it is such a valuable resource for everyone in our community.

Downtown High Point. Photo by Exwhysee at the English language Wikipedia.

Most people know us as a local granting organization that annually awards grants to nonprofits in the greater High Point community.  These grants are overseen by our Grants Committee which is made up of our Trustees and community members. In addition to this we manage Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) which are much like a private foundation without some of the restrictions and we take care of all the administrative and legal responsibilities. The donor makes a gift to the Foundation, it goes into their DAF, they immediately get the tax benefit and they may then “advise” gifts from their DAF to the nonprofits of their choice. So, we are a highbred nonprofit, we don’t compete with other nonprofits as we are often the vehicle through which gifts to other nonprofits flow.

A Community Foundation’s endowment is actually owned by the people in the community they serve.  We are not federal, state or municipally owned. The oversight for this Foundation’s endowment will always be the responsibility of our local Board of Trustees.  We are essentially a financial resource that serves as a “safety net” for current/future unmet needs in our community. Since 1998 our Annual Grants and our Donor Advised Fund Grants have given over $45 million, we currently have over $70 million in assets under management and to date we have raised nearly $12 million for Say Yes Guilford. These combined numbers reveal the enormous impact our community foundation has, and will continue to have, upon High Point.

A community foundation is built for permanence which insures that once the endowment is established it will remain as a resource for the community in perpetuity.  So, when someone makes a gift to the Foundation we can actually say it will touch lives in High Point forever.  Another way this helps our donors is that we are often asked to oversee gifts to be made after they have passed away. This is written into a donor’s fund agreement and enables you to continue to support nonprofits you love long after you are gone.

Unlike other nonprofits we don’t raise money through annual campaigns, in fact what typically drives larger gifts are “taxable events.” These “events” could include the sale of a business, a death in the family, the sale of a home, or anything else that could cause a donor to be taxed.  Because of our IRS designation we can provide the maximum tax benefit for our donors who, in turn, may “advise” us to grant the money to the nonprofit of their choice or simply have it placed in a DAF for future giving. Unlike private foundations there is no required annual 5% disbursement and gifting can remain absolutely anonymous if the donor wishes.

It is also important to note that community foundations are not just for big donors. Our goal is to provide a way for everyone in this community to be an impacting giver.  Many of us don’t realize the power of smaller gifts, in fact it is the $50 and $100 gifts that enable the Principals’ Fund to provide grants for unbudgeted needs that arise in our local schools, and the Heart of High Point Fund to give immediate relief for basic human needs in our community. Community Foundations, which have been around since the early 1900s, have always believed in and fostered the incredible impact smaller gifts can achieve when folks combine resources and a common vision to change their community for the better.

Community foundations are catalyst granters, not sustainers, we like to find promising nonprofit organizations and/or initiatives that have great potential but just need a boost to reach the next level. This can be seen in our long-term commitment to education which has led us to help with the establishment of the Guilford Education Alliance and later teaming up with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro to lead the charge for the Say Yes Guilford Initiative.

Perhaps the best way to understand the role of a community foundation is to see us as a “conduit” that connects donors with unmet community needs.  In our world it is the vision and generosity of our donors that makes all the good things happen and we consider this relationship with our donors a sacred trust and a true privilege that we will work hard to earn every single day.

The High Point Community Foundation ~ For High Point… For Good… Forever.

—Paul Lessard