DCCF Connects Charitable Community Members, Organizations
| 2016 Q2 | story by LIZ WESLANDER | photos by Earl Richardson
Lawrence is full of generous people who want to support their community through charitable donations. It is also full of nonprofit organizations that rely, at least partly, on donations to fulfill their missions. The Douglas County Community Foundation (DCCF) exists to help address the needs of these two groups.
Community foundations exist all over the world, and the first community foundation was established in 1914 in Cleveland. The Douglas County Community Foundation was established in 2000 with a major gift from the late Tensie Oldfather, a charitable champion of Lawrence.
“She was looking for a way to improve the way she gave away money and also to provide other folks an avenue to do their charitable giving,” says DCCF Executive Director Chip Blaser. “She learned about the idea of community foundations and set one up in Douglas County.”
Marilyn Hull, DCCF program and communications officer says community foundations generally serve three roles in a community: grant making, providing donors a vehicle for charitable giving and community leadership.
“Everything we do connects to those main roles,” she says.
Since its inception in 2000, DCCF has given more than $18 million in grants to the Douglas County community. In the last five years alone, it has given more than $10 million in grants. The money for DCCF’s grant making comes out of the more than 150 individual funds that families, individuals and organizations have set up through the foundation.
Hull says DCCF’s community grants, for which any Douglas County nonprofit organization can apply, are the ones with which people in the community are most familiar. These grants come out of a general, unrestricted fund that was established by Oldfather and are given out twice a year. DCCF awarded its most recent round of community grants in March, with 24 local nonprofits receiving a total of $133,000. Cottonwood Inc. and Family Promise of Lawrence received the largest grants, of $15,000 each.
Hull says the DCCF’s lesser-known grants are the ones that come out of donor-advised funds, which are funds set up by individuals to manage their charitable giving. These grants differ from the community grants in that there is no application process. Instead, fund donors direct the grants according to their interests.
“Almost all of these donors are longtime Lawrence residents, and they, in many cases, already have an established relationship with several nonprofits, so they know what they are interested in supporting,” Hull says.
Nearly half of the dollars that go out to the community from the DCCF come from donor-advised funds, Hull explains.
People often ask Blaser and Hull why setting up a fund for their charitable giving through the DCCF is a good idea. In a nutshell, the answer is return on investment and convenience.
“In many cases, it can be effective and efficient for families or individuals to put one donation into a fund, and then, over time, they can decide the causes and organizations they want to support,” Blaser says. “The money is invested and grows over time. It’s really a way to have a charitable piece of their overall financial plan.”
Hull says it’s not uncommon for people to believe the best way to use a charitable donation is to give the entire sum of money to a charity right away. But because of the concept of compounding interest and income on investments, putting money in endowed funds allows a substantially greater impact on the community.
“One of the things we are always trying to educate on is the fact that endowed funds actually produce many more dollars for community over time,” Hull says.
Another advantage to setting up a fund through DCCF, Blaser explains, is that families or individuals can give stock, mutual funds, shares or even real estate as their charitable gift to the community foundation, which can then be turned into money to use for charitable donations for grant making.
Starting up your own private foundation is time-consuming and comes with cumbersome tax requirements, Hull says. When a family gives to the community foundation, it doesn’t have the burden of those administrative aspects. DCCF also offers various donor education opportunities related to charitable giving, such as estate-planning tools and education on community issues.
“We are providing donors some money management; we are also making it efficient for them in that they don’t have an organization to manage and do all the reporting for,” Hull says. “On top of money management, they are getting some education and consulting.”
DCCF’s third role, community leadership, is, in many ways, what gives the foundation’s grant making and donor services maximum impact.
The Douglas County Community Foundation Board of Directors is made up of people with a longtime and strong interest in the charitable sector in Douglas County, and the DCCF staff is involved in various task forces and planning processes within the community.
“Because we have a wide lens on what’s going on in all the charities in the community, sometimes we can help connect the dots between cause and effect, or between different organizations, that similar goals can work, Hull says. “That leadership can be as important as the grants we make.”