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Community foundations are the fastest growing form of community philanthropy in the world today. They are re-shaping the face of giving and they are particularly appealing to “the baby boomers” because they offer a high degree of engagement for donors. Helen O'Connell of the Manukau Community Foundation explains why.
The modern community foundation, which was born out of a particular tradition of philanthropy in North America in the early twentieth century, has been adapted successfully to local cultures, socio-economic circumstances and giving traditions in countries all around the world. Now it is happening in New Zealand where there are eight emerging community foundations serving communities as diverse as Northland, Ashburton and Manukau City.
Philanthropy has a number of definitions but I prefer to talk about the ‘use of private wealth freely given for public good’. The ‘baby boomers’, those born between 1946 and 1964, now control more private wealth than has ever before been available to individuals at any other time in history. So it is not surprising that they want to use their money to create better communities, and they want to take a more hands-on approach than ever before. Gone are the days when writing a cheque satisfied our desire to do good.
Community Foundations are the perfect vehicles for this new form of ‘hands-on philanthropy’ with their focus on meeting the charitable needs of donors and matching these to the needs of their local community.
If you don’t have heaps of cash to give away right now but want to link with groups of other like-minded people who want to get involved in on-going and regular giving, the community foundation will pool your donations into one of its area of interest funds. As its name suggests this option lets you choose the area of community needs you may wish to support – for example the arts, the environment, social services or education and scholarships - and your funds will support a number of projects in that specific area in your community. Regular contact with the community foundation and reporting from the projects or community organisations will keep you in touch with the changes you are helping to make in your community.
If you have significant wealth and want expert advice and robust systems to invest your charitable funds and help to evaluate how best to disburse and monitor the grants your fund can make, then I suggest you think about setting up your own ‘named fund’ at your local community foundation. That way you can really engage with the impact of your giving and you can do so either anonymously or in a way which publicly recognises your generosity. You can nominate what you want to support – the staff at the community foundation will show you how. They will do the research for you, place options in front of you, maybe even arrange for you to visit the projects that you are funding. That way you get to see, up close and personal, the real needs of your community and how your generosity can and does make a difference.
Community foundations are also committed to building up their endowed funds. These are permanent funds where the capital is invested and only the interest given away each year as grants. By working with donors to build this permanent financial asset for their communities, the community foundations are ensuring that future generations will have resources to meet their changing needs.
We hear a lot these days about ‘intergenerational wealth transfer’ – which is a fancy name for the fact that most of us are now much wealthier than our parents. Many of us are amassing significant amounts of financial assets over our lifetimes – not always cash – just look at the level of property investment in New Zealand –and we will need to do something with it when we die. As they say – there are no pockets in a shroud.
The bequest programmes at the Manukau Community Foundation and the Acorn Foundation in Tauranga for example are working with local lawyers to help their clients to appreciate how they can leave a legacy for good when they pass away.
And why do people want to give their money away? – The answer is simple – because they can – and because they care. The desire to help other people is as old as human civilization. In the busy lives of the modern world however we don’t often have the time to reach out to our neighbours or those in need as perhaps our mothers did. And many us think we’d be hopeless at helping other people anyway. We don’t have the skills. But we are full of respect and admiration for the people who do the ‘helping work’ - the work that transforms lives, strengthens families and builds healthy communities.
We can all use some of our wealth to ‘help the people who help the people’.
That is my role and the role of the staff and trustees of community foundations worldwide - to help as many people as we can to realise their personal philanthropy.
For further information about the Manukau Community Foundation please take a look at our website www.manukaucommunityfoundation.org.nz
To find a community foundation nearer to you check out our national website www.nzcommunityfoundations.org.nz
If there isn’t one why not investigate what it takes to set one up to serve your community.