Once a mere dream of Fredrick Goff, a banker and former partner in a prestigious law firm in Cleveland, Ohio, community foundations have become mainstays in the world of philanthropy. Since Goff established the first community foundation in 1914, the community foundation concept has blossomed, becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of philanthropy in the United States today. According to the annual Council on Foundationsí Investment Performance and Practices of Community Foundations 2006 Edition report, the average community foundation produced a 7.0 percent return last year, exceeding the national trends for investment returns and placing them in respectable financial positions to better serve their communities.
Community foundations play an integral role in building strong communities. They provide donors with a venue through which they can make charitable donations to organizations working to solve causes that are important to them. They exist to build, invest and administer permanent charitable endowments while serving the needs of donors in their geographic area.
The Coastal Bend Community Foundation in Corpus Christi is one of the more than 700 community foundations in the United States. The Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of Cecil E. Burney, started the Foundation in 1981 with a $150,000 donation from the Paul and Mary Haas Foundation. Twenty-five years later, the Foundation now manages $40 million in assets, administers 226 different funds, and has distributed more than $50 million to charitable organizations and scholarship recipients throughout the seven-counties of the Texas Coastal Bend which includes Aransas, Bee, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio, and San Patricio counties. Last year they awarded $ 3,463,616.06 in scholarships and restricted and unrestricted grants.
For More Intelligence for Members Only, TXNP Paid Members may login and click here to find answers to the following key questions about the foundation and an overview of granting activity in 2005.
Q.What is the one thing that grant seekers should know about your application process?
Q.What advice would you give to those applying to the foundation in regards to their projects and proposals?
Q. In the past year, what are the three projects that the foundation has funded that stand out and what makes them special?
Now, letís take a closer look at the foundation and its current CEO and President, Mr. Kent Williams.
Mr. Kent Williams: A Conversation about the Foundation and its future
Q. You are relatively new to the Coastal Bend Community Foundation. What interested you about serving as the CEO of the Foundation?
A. No one who has enjoyed success in his life has done it without the help of many others; family, friends, and community. There comes a time in your life when you want to give something back for all that help. Often, however, the people who helped you are no longer around. So, on their behalf, you turn your efforts to helping others. You can do that alone through volunteer activities, and I have. But a community foundation offers the chance to give back in a more organized way. It lets you work with other successful people who are trying to make a difference in many ways. By combining these efforts, you can collectively make a far greater difference than anyone of you could do individually. The chance to be part of such a team Ė donors, board and staff Ė to help improve the quality of life in the Coastal Bend really got me excited.
Success to me is a simple measure: did you leave it better than you found it? Here at the Foundation I go home every night knowing that we made a difference for the better in someoneís life that day. I canít think of a more rewarding way to spend my time.
Q. Under your leadership, what goals do you hope to accomplish?
A. My goal is to see the foundation continue to grow: to involve more donors and to benefit more people in the community. We are only 25 years old. We started in 1981 with $150,000, a contribution from the Paul and Mary Haas Foundation. We now have assets totaling over $40 million! But we havenít just been putting money in the bank. In those 25 years, on behalf of our donors, we have put $50 million back into our communities in the form of grants and scholarships. That has certainly met our mission: to improve the quality of life in the Coastal Bend. But as our communities grow, so does the need. This year our grants committee awarded $650,000 to worthy organizations. The problem is that twice that amount of need went unfunded. My goal is to make others more aware of what some of those unmet needs are and to persuade them to join with us in filling them.
Q. What do you envision in the future for the Foundation?
Much of our effort in the past has been reactive, to respond to needs that were brought to our attention. I think that is very typical in the early years of a community foundation. Going forward I think we have to find ways to be more proactive in searching out needs and working to address them. This may involve our Board determining areas of priority in our communities where they want to make a difference. It could involve more partnering with other organizations: by adding our scarce resources together it will allow us to multiply our collective results. It likely means asking prospective donors what they would like to do and then tailoring some of our activities to achieve those ambitions.
Q. One thing that I have noticed is that many people give to organizations that they love, but more times than not, their gifts act simply as band aids, temporarily masking the real issues. Hunger isnít about food, homelessness isnít about housing, and poverty isnít about money. How do you envision our community working together and creating dialogue to develop a diverse, sector wide strategy to solve statewide and even nationwide issues? Many people say that until we do, we will continue to be ineffective and still serving a constituency of disenfranchised people. What are your thoughts? Could community foundations have an integral role in this process?
Remember the old adage: give a person a fish and you feed him today. Teach that person to fish and you feed him for life. I donít think they are mutually exclusive. I believe you have to have both: protection and prevention. In our communities we work with organizations that are approaching problems in both of these ways.
Q. How is the Coastal Bend Community Foundation working to better Texas communities?
There are many generous people in our communities who want to help others. Often, they are unsure about how to do it or where their help is needed. They are looking for a ďtrusted agentĒ to guide them. Our community foundationís reputation for trust, integrity, and financial stewardship makes us a great choice to fill that role. As others have said, it enables us to match people who care with causes that matter in our communities.
Q. Why should donors perform their grant making through the Coastal Bend Community Foundation rather than establishing their own private foundation? What are the advantages and disadvantages? How do you help them to achieve their philanthropic goals?
A. By using a community foundation, donors avoid the time and expenses that would be needed to set up their own private foundation. That means they can do more good sooner by using an existing community foundation structure. Also, their recurring expenses are reduced because they share in the economy of scale provided by a community foundationís infra-structure. On the giving side, their contributions can be married with those of other donors with similar interests. In combination, they can often have a greater impact than acting individually. Also, they get the expertise of the community foundation staff to help insure that their funds are used properly and for the purposes they intend.
Q. Which are your most popular fund options with donors and why?
A. Our most popular funds are scholarships and donor advised funds (DAFs.) People like scholarships because they are an investment in a communityís future and the youth who will shape that future. It is the ultimate legacy giftÖ one that literally keeps on giving over the life of the scholarship awardee. DAFs are popular because they allow donors to have a continuing involvement in how their contributions are used. Many donors today want to do more than just write a check. They want to influence how their gifts are used to improve their community.
Q. What tips would you offer donors on making wise and strategic contributions?
A. Successful giving comes from the heart but needs to be guided by the head. People need to contribute where their passions are. But they also need to be sure that their contributions are being used as they expect; that groups receiving their gifts are capable of using them successfully; that their gifts go for programs, not overhead; that they get meaningful feedback on how their funds were used and the benefits they realized; and, when they are no longer able to be involved, that there is an independent third party able to provide oversight for their contributions. My experience suggests that combining the passion of the donor with the stewardship capabilities of a community foundation insures the best probability for a successful outcome in making a significant charitable contribution.