I love a good story. Give me something that reads well, has a little mystery and drama to it with interesting characters and a few subplots and I’m hooked.
That’s why I love reading the “founders” stories of our community foundation clients. Take this snippet for example:
“The idea was not to come up with some competitive fundraising thing; it was to be an endowment, a community endowment…In other words, you would start to get people who didn’t have a very precise idea how they wanted to leave their estates or support their community activities…Many people already had a pretty good idea, but there were a lot of people who really didn’t, and they also didn’t have any opportunity of setting up a fund of their own unless they wanted to create their own foundation. So this was to provide another mechanism for people…in their own philanthropy in the community.”
You might think the above statement was written long before “modern” community foundations were born. It could have come from the early days of Cleveland, Indianapolis, Los Angeles or Chicago. While the idea expressed here is as old as our field itself, this quote is not. It comes from the founder of a community foundation that began in the last 30 years.
This particular foundation was born out of a community in crisis – major businesses were closing, unemployment was hovering around 20%, and homes were being foreclosed on or given up by their owners. To the eternal credit of the leaders of this community, they recognized the need to develop “vehicles to attract and broaden the base of giving” so that the community had more capacity to care for itself. Today it does just that.
It’s truly remarkable to see what this foundation has become given its humble beginnings. What’s even more remarkable is how many other communities across our country and world now tell a similar, but wholly unique story about their own community foundation.
Twenty-three years ago, I was the founding executive director of one such startup. I saw firsthand the resilience, compassion and hard work it took by so many people to make that organization viable. I still think often about those founders. The courage it took for them to give their enthusiastic support to an idea that not one of us fully understood, suspending their own disbelief that it would even work, and then having the commitment to make sure it finally did.
Every community foundation has its own “founders” story. This story should be told and retold forever. Do you know what yours is? Have you told it to anyone recently?
Steve Alley, Managing Partner