Peter A. Dunn

Point of View

Giving Voice Fall 2021: Point of View

The Community Foundation does a lot of things – and I often find as I am out and about in the community that some aspects of our work are more well-known than others. One area of service that we provide – agency funds for local nonprofit organizations – is a good example of our work that is not broadly understood.

For more than 40 years, we have been working with local nonprofit organizations to help them build permanent funds – endowments at the Community Foundation that are designated to support their efforts with streams of income on a regular basis. Today, we administer 80 agency funds for a wide-range of local organizations across our five-county Central New York footprint. This type of fund has been getting more popular. More than half of these funds have been created in just the last five years. For us, this work is fundamentally about building the capacity of the local nonprofit ecosystem to create permanent charitable resources. Through our agency fund program, we are able to share our expertise to support local organizations in new and different ways.

We often find that nonprofit leaders have a modest amount of resources to start with, are challenged with the best way to invest and grow these resources over time, and want to focus their limited staff and volunteer resources on donor engagement and cultivation rather than on the mechanics of fund administration. We aren’t an investment manager or advisor – but we do know a lot about best practices for good fiscal stewardship and working with donors on all sorts of large and complex gifts.

Managing a fund itself is one component of these relationships – but we often find a deeper level of engagement. We have had agency fund partners ask us to manage the process for endowment campaign gift acknowledgments and multi-year pledge data tracking and reminders. We have held coaching sessions for nonprofit board leaders and staff members on structuring conversations around endowment gifts and bequests. We have facilitated online gifts and gifts of stock and provided counsel on marketing messages. We have seen agencies reach goals that they weren’t initially sure that they could attain, including reaching goals for endowed funds that surpass $1 million for the first time.

In our experience, investing in capacity in this way can create new levels of confidence for agency leaders and partners – and additional legitimacy for donor conversations and larger commitments from key supporters. Ultimately, we believe that creating permanent charitable capital is a good approach for helping our local nonprofit partners to move from surviving from year to year to thriving over the long term.

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