Our views: Foundation invests in community

The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound is one of the region's best kept secrets.

That's too bad because the foundation - a link between donors and charities - has a wonderful success story to tell.

Think of it this way: The United Way is the community's checking account - with money flowing in and out on an annual basis. Donors, through payroll deductions or other payment, provide the United Way with dollars that are distributed to the providers of human services in Thurston County.

The Community Foundation is the community's savings account with donors focused on long-term giving. Frequently donors designate how their dollars will be distributed, but other donations are unrestricted.

Donors who want to clothe the needy, feed the hungry or serve the poor generally do that by contributing directly to a charity or through the United Way. Donors who want to leave a bit of a legacy, to have an impact on the community after their death, contribute to the Community Foundation.

And fortunately, there are individuals in our community who contribute to both - ensuring short-term and long-term investments in the quality of life in South Sound.

A growing portfolio

The Community Foundation has undergone a tremendous growth spurt. The foundation's portfolio in 2002 was $1.8 million. It grew to $2.7 million in 2005 then leapfrogged to $4.5 million last year. That reflects a growing bond of trust.

An increasing number of non-profits in South Sound are turning to the Community Foundation to invest their funds. The foundation pools financial resources and last year had investment earnings of more than 10 percent. Those using the foundation pay a 2 percent fee for administration - a very low overhead cost.

Under the expert leadership of Executive Director Norma Schuiteman, the Community Foundation distributed $310,000 in grants and scholarships in 2006 to 103 recipients.

That could be a needy high school senior who received a $1,000 renewable scholarship from the Learning Seed Foundation, or the Olympia Union Gospel Mission's receipt of a Community Foundation grant for a cavitron, a device used in the mission's free dental clinic to remove plaque from the teeth of clients.

Donors to the Community Foundation have a couple of options over the distribution of their dollars. They can designate general areas for their money, such as the education of elementary school age children. They can select specific charities. Or they can put no strings on their donations at all. All donors need to do is work with Schuiteman to determine how much they want to be involved in the distribution process.

$500,000 contribution

Take, for example, Don Rhodes, a member of the Foundation board of directors. Rhodes, who recently retired as chief executive officer of Heritage Bank, has a reputation for generosity. He has willingly assisted multiple charitable causes in South Sound. But he wanted his giving to extend beyond his lifetime and he wanted to involve his sons in the giving process.

Rhodes created a couple of donor-advised funds totaling a half million dollars. He and his sons will work through the Foundation to distribute earnings from those invested dollars to help nonprofits in Olympia and Chehalis. Funds will continue to be disbursed even after Rhodes' death.

Kimberly Ellwanger, a past Foundation chair, has a special place in her heart for children and women. She is a supporter of Safeplace Rape Relief Women's Shelter. But as Ellwanger says, Safeplace may not be around forever. By creating a donor-advised fund through the Community Foundation, Ellwanger can provide financial assistance to Safeplace now, but know that her dollars will be distributed to women and children programs after her passing.

Some foundation donors don't put any restrictions on their donations. Those unrestricted dollars can be used to meet community needs in any area - the arts, education, environment, community development, health, human services or scholarships.

This is a caring and giving community as evidenced by another record year of charitable donations by active and retired state employees. It's wonderful to have a resource like the Community Foundation in place to guarantee that legacy of giving for generations to come. The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound

Address: 111 Market St. NE Suite 375, Olympia, WA 98501.

Phone: 360-705-3340.

On the Web: www. thecommunityfoundation. com.