Building a force for good

Community foundations are an unheralded gem, remaking the face of local nonprofits and philanthropy. Nimble and creative, community foundations spur meaningful change without much hoopla.

But hoopla is needed, if only to remind us that good works don’t materialize out of the ether. They require initiative. And dinero.

The Greater Everett Community Foundation has only been around since 2001, an outgrowth of the Everett Parks Foundation. The model is inspired: Start by building an operational endowment to underwrite administration and use additional funding for direct services and support for nonprofits. It’s worked. Over the past decade, the foundation has contributed more than $6 million to the community.

Eight founding families with familiar surnames such as Newland, Schack and Bargreen ponied up the initial $2 million to anchor the foundation. Farsighted, non-parochial leadership has made it an adaptive force for good in Snohomish County (The “Everett” part of the title only represents a slice of its geographic scope. Programs and services extend throughout the region.)

The sweet aspect of a community foundation is the ability to tailor a donation to a specific interest or in memory of a loved one. Donors can pick from a menu of options and benefit from the foundation’s investment experience. There also are specific funds that address community needs such as the environment, arts and culture, education, health and wellness and human services (the human services fund is named in honor of former County Executive Bob Drewel.)

Nonprofit agencies throughout the county can invest their endowment and benefit from the generated income. Here community foundations shine: The focus is to help other nonprofits to thrive and, by extension, make for a healthier, more vital community. Nonprofits often compete with each other, angling to tap the same donor pool. Community foundations get to stand slightly above the money scramble, providing guidance and governance advice to small and medium-sized nonprofits.

Thanks to support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the GECF has helped to invigorate the region’s nonprofit sector. This includes offering free workshops for staffs and boards on fundraising, along with consulting support and resources.

There are tax benefits for establishing a charitable fund, contributing real estate or making a bequest. The mission is to encourage everyone — not just millionaires — to do something purposeful with their income.

Today marks the first day of national community foundation week. One antidote to the season’s political noise is giving to a worthy cause. For donors and service providers, community foundations are the connective tissue.

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