It has been said that a charitable foundation is a pile of money surrounded by people who want some.
Of course, what a foundation really is depends on the type, the purpose as established by its founders, and who is charged with providing leadership, stewardship, and making day-to-day decisions on the operations of the organization.
In my experience, when people think of a foundation, they generally think of private foundations, which have a specific definition in the Internal Revenue Code of the United States and are usually funded by an individual, a family, or a corporation. The other popular type of foundation in the United States is a public charity, and is often a community foundation or a foundation established by another nonprofit group that solicits donations from the public (other examples would be a university foundation or a research foundation). While private foundations can offer donors more direct control over their charitable giving, they also have fewer tax benefits and more restrictions than those foundations that operate as public charities.
The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry (serving Beaufort, Colleton, Jasper and Hampton Counties) is a community foundation; it is one of more than 700 such foundations in the United States and more than 1200 worldwide. In our case, we have over 260 different funds within our framework, and so you might think of over 260 different individuals, families, groups and businesses who have used the framework of our Community Foundation to accomplish their charitable interests.
Imagine a couple that wants to establish a scholarship for students who graduate from a local high school. Imagine a grassroots community group that wants to start a fund to help veterans, or people fighting cancer, or children who want to learn to dance. Imagine a nonprofit that wants to raise funds to build a building, but has a small staff and really cannot handle the many transactions and receipts that are part of a major fund drive. Imagine a family who wants to recognize the life of their patriarch who has passed away by establishing a charitable fund to support causes he always supported in life. All of these wonderful ideas, and more, have come to pass with the support and guidance of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.
The reality is, the Community Foundation is far more than “a pile of money surrounded by people who want some.” We care about all areas of charitable interest: arts and culture, community development, education, environment, health, human services. We make it possible for generous people to have a significant impact without having to establish a nonprofit organization and deal with the governmental filings and solicitation licenses required. We have a knowledge of the needs in the communities we serve, and can assist donors to direct their philanthropy in areas of great importance. We can do the research necessary to determine how well certain nonprofit organizations do their work—how efficient and effective and stable they may be, and whether they have measurable outcomes to show for their effort. We strengthen area nonprofits not just with grants, but also with advice and training. We make significant efforts to marry volunteers with nonprofits who need them, and donors with causes they care about. We can convene groups of people with similar interests so they might work together to solve a problem or share information and resources.
And “we” are really “you.” The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry is “the community’s foundation.” We are an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization, with local leadership and local concerns. We are not a part of a franchise or a branch of a national organization. Folks just like you established our funds, and folks just like you contribute to a number of funds that provide for needs throughout the Lowcountry. You may recognize these folks as your friends, colleagues or neighbors. We know them as connectors, community change-makers and superheroes.
We invite you to join us. If you have not supported one of the more than 260 different funds at the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, do so. If you want to establish a fund now or as part of your estate planning so that your vision for a better community can be brought to life, do so. If you want to have a conversation with one of our staff members about your passions, your concerns, and your ideas for an improved Lowcountry, we would be thrilled to hear what you have to say.
Visit our website: www.cf-lowcountry.org. Call our office: 843-681-9100. Become a part of the family. Help us to help you, your community, and the causes you care about most. Most of all, Live Generously!
Denise K. Spencer is President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.