The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound just doubled the money it has available for future grant-making to nonprofit programs that strengthen our community.
The foundation, formed in 1989 to champion philanthropy in South Sound and channel charitable gifts to worthy causes, had a little more than $5 million in assets a week ago. Today, the ledger shows more than $10 million.
That’s because the trustees of a private foundation created upon the death of Olympia electrical contractor Irving A. Lassen 37 years ago tomorrow have transferred the more than $5 million they manage to the Community Foundation.
Suddenly, the Community Foundation is a bigger player in the world of South Sound philanthropy, which can only be a good thing for a variety of cultural, educational, health and environmental organizations in Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties.
In the past five years, the Lassen Foundation has typically distributed more than $200,000 a year to about 30 grant recipients – mostly Thurston County nonprofits, but also the Northwest Kidney Centers and Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, which has a room named after Lassen.
Meanwhile, the Community Foundation’s annual giving, which occurs in the spring and fall, has averaged about $80,000 a year, also going to about 30 groups.
Examples from the spring 2010 grant cycle include:
• $2,500 to the American Red Cross chapter serving Thurston, Lewis and Mason counties to replenish disaster kits and pediatric supplies.
• $7,500 to the South Sound YMCA for its cancer-survivor fitness program.
• $1,250 to support the Olympia Symphony Orchestra’s 2010-11 season.
Applications for future Lassen funds will be reviewed and awarded by the Community Foundation’s grants committee. The committee’s hands are not tied, but it intends to honor the grant traditions of the Lassen Foundation, according to Anne Kirske, programs and communications manager for the Community Foundation.
Routinely, the Community Foundation receives twice as many requests for funds as it can fill. Chances are the infusion of new money will help to reduce the list of unfilled grant requests in the years ahead.
“The transfer of the Lassen Foundation gives us new stature in the community,” Community Foundation Executive Director Norma Schuiteman said. “The economies of scale resulting from this growth will allow us to increasingly strengthen the three counties we serve.”
The change is an important step forward for both foundations. The three Lassen trustees – Olympia attorney Frank “Buck” Owens, retired Olympia businesswoman Julia Wiegman and community volunteer Jacqueline Gavin – said the transfer will reduce administrative costs, leaving more money to give to charitable groups.
The move also provides tax benefits and eliminates the requirement that private foundations have to give out 5 percent of their net assets annually.
But the main benefit of the transfer is the opportunity to help more nonprofits achieve their community goals, Owens said.
Irving A. Lassen, a Chicago native, moved to Olympia in 1920 and started his electrical business in a basement workshop. In 1929, he and his business partner, Bill Bergstrom, opened Olympia Sport and Electric Shop on Fourth Avenue. In 1945, Lassen started Lassen Electric Service Inc., at 111 Columbia St. N.
Lassen’s commercial and residential electrical contracting company was a successful one, working on many projects in the area, including the Capital Center Building, the Olympia Brewery and several public schools. He was known for his generosity and a greenhouse at his Boston Harbor home filled with prize orchids he loved to share with friends and family.
“He was a longtime Rotarian and was a quiet man, but well-respected,” recalled Olympia attorney Steve Bean.
Survived by his wife, Mildred, a stepson and three sisters, Lassen left much of his estate in a trust for the benefit of the people of Thurston County. Over the years, grants from the Lassen Foundation have far surpassed the original $2 million estate. In the past 10 years alone, the Lassen Foundation has made more than $2.1 million in grants to 116 nonprofit organizations.
The Lassen Foundation trustees and officials from the Community Foundation began talks in 2007 about a possible transfer, Schuiteman said.
“We view the Community Foundation as an ideal partner to continue Irv’s legacy,” the Lassen Foundation trustees said in a Sept. 27 letter addressed to friends of the Lassen Foundation.
The Community Foundation has scheduled an information meeting next month for nonprofit groups and others who want to know more about how the new arrangement will work. It’s set for 10 a.m. Nov. 3 at the Family Education and Support Services classroom, 1202 Black Lake Blvd. S.W., Olympia.
Nonprofits seeking Lassen fund grants will use the same application process as they did before, and the next grant application deadline for Lassen funds is March 18.
There’s every reason to believe a seamless transition beneficial to the community is under way.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/soundings