Today For Tomorrow: The power of endowment

Rande Richardson

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb 

More than ever, nonprofit organizations providing valuable services that enrich and enhance our lives are finding the wisdom and necessity of diversifying their revenue. Just as in the private sector, survival is enhanced when there are reliable streams of operating funds. Just as there are short-term, near-term and long-term needs, there should be a resource approach built with each in mind. 

    Currently, over 150 nonprofit organizations, churches and schools serving Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties have committed to ensuring their long-term viability by partnering with the Community Foundation. Through these partnerships, they have consciously established and built dedicated resources for the purpose of creating a financial bedrock for the sustainability of their work and mission and best stewardship of gifts entrusted to them. While organizational endowments are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, I can point to many charitable organizations, large and small, whose strength has been enhanced by a permanent fund with the accountable discipline only an endowment brings. 

    This approach continues to be of interest to donors who seek to extend their annual giving beyond their lifetimes. Individuals often prefer to make major gifts, including legacy bequests, to provide support for specific charities that will remain in place in perpetuity or to those charities for specific purposes. Recognizing the importance of annual support, the typical Community Foundation donor creates or adds to a permanent endowment for multiple charities at various percentages. Contributing to an endowment provides an enduring gift that can support programs, projects, buildings and initiatives that the donor may have helped previously provide for. 

    This is a primary reason why the Community Foundation now routinely couples grants with an incentive to help build protection for the initial capital expense. To that end, we are currently doubling gifts to build endowments for over 30 local organizations. Just as in life, it is wise to consider the ability to maintain, improve and properly care for things we have made investments in. Even for smaller charitable organizations, an endowment demonstrates to the community and donors a long-term thinking and a commitment to building capacity for the future. In many ways, earnings from endowments help complement and maximize the annual giving that is so critical to fulfillment of mission. This may draw further support from those who wish to provide for an institution that has stability, longevity, permanence and strength. 

    While some may point out that an endowment is of minimal help until it reaches a certain level, taking the first step to proactively focus on the long-term may help a nonprofit’s most loyal supporters see a clear pathway to do the same. The endowment goal should be aligned with realistic levels of giving for this institution even though organizations often underestimate the ability of one donor to be a game changer for future strength. By demonstrating to donors a responsible, stewarded mechanism to perpetuate their support, the case becomes more compelling. Community Foundation endowments help build even more confidence knowing that there is an additional layer of oversight and accountability through leadership changes over time. Being able to stipulate alternate uses for endowment funds in the event an entity ceases to exist is also incredibly powerful from a donor advocacy perspective. This aligns closely with the sanctity of donor intent knowing that what an organization does is likely the ultimate motivation for the gift over the organization itself. The delivery of that program or service may someday be offered in an alternate form. 

    Whether you are a board member, donor or employee, if you believe that the work your organization does is important enough to support today, finding ways to support that mission long-term should be equally critical. As with a savings or retirement program, there is no substitute for starting early. Endowment gifts help ensure that legacies are best remembered for generations to come, in service of the things about which you care most. Ultimately, this protects the investments you’ve made in those causes during your lifetime and has the potential to provide many times the impact of a gift made in one lump sum. When the generosity of the past is combined with the actions of today’s donors, a powerful effect is created, making both acts of kindness more powerful and far reaching. Together, this helps increase the chance that organizations that are here for good can remain here for good. 

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org. 

United Way Partnerships Boost NNY Programs

Bob Gorman

Prior to this gig at the United Way of NNY, I was a journalist for 39 years. After interviewing a lot of people over the years and paying attention to what they said one day and then what they said the next, I concluded – only half-jokingly – that I became adept at diagnosing mental illness. I just didn’t know how to treat it.

    Frankly, I am no good at helping anybody who needs serious help. For instance: You have an addiction? Just say no. You’re depressed? Snap out of it.  In other words, I don’t have the right words when it comes to truly helping people.

    But helping the helpers? I figured out a long time ago that THAT is something I can do.

    At the United Way the easiest way to see that help is in the $420,000 or so in grants we make every year to our nonprofit partners. But there’s more to helping the helpers than just money.

    In the last five years we have produced programs with nationally recognized speakers to support the work of agencies that make a difference in the lives of thousands of north country citizens.

That includes:

  • Former NFL All-Pro Joe Ehrmann on the subject “The three lies every boy is told on what it means to be a man.” St. Lawrence Renewal House, Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, Catholic Charities, Mountain View Prevention and Lewis County Opportunities joined us in bringing Ehrmann to SUNY Canton, Massena and Lowville school districts and Jefferson Community College.
  • Olympic Champion Carl Lewis on organ donation, in which we partnered with Jefferson Community College and area health agencies, including the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.
  • Roger Breisch, who has spent 15 years on regional and national suicide hotlines. His talk “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” was attended by more than 4,000 area high school students. We partnered with the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, and the north country’s suicide coalitions, made up of representatives of dozens of human service nonprofits.

Partnering has allowed us to create the highly successful Food 4 Families programs at the Watertown City School District. By working with officials from the district and city, we developed a program through the Food Bank of CNY that allows the district to provide weekend food to 100 students a week during the school year. The advantages for the district are many: The food is less expensive than from a commercial store; it is already vetted for nutritional value; it is delivered directly to the school district by the food bank.

    Several years ago, a roof leak at the Salvation Army in Watertown forced the agency to close its soup kitchen for a week. But after we made a few phone calls, we put together a temporary daily lunch at the Watertown First Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall with the food prepared by the Mental Health Association of Jefferson County.

    (As an aside, we contract with the Mental Health Association once a year for our annual awards luncheon for state workers who make payroll deduction donations to area nonprofits. If you need to feed 30 or 40 people and want good food at a good value, you should contact the Mental Health Association at (315) 788-0970).

    Partnering works for us. A few years ago we rallied 35 businesses to provide a day of free labor to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in Carthage. And every fall we ask businesses to support our county food drives. Watertown Savings Bank and Northern Credit Union generate huge shipments of food every year, and added to the donations large and small from so many others, we generated 24,000 items that were shared by every pantry in Jefferson County.

    And we partner with individual companies, such as the Wladis Law Firm, to create adult education scholarships, which are awarded through Lewis County Opportunities, St. Lawrence Community Development Program and Community Action Planning Council.

    Helping the helpers is the best way to understand community service. Personally, I have no interest in providing anyone medical care. But donating blood through the Red Cross? Now you’re talking. After donating 13 gallons of blood in the last 50 years I can say without fear of contradiction that blood donation is the lazy man’s way to save a life. You sit on a table for 20 minutes while reading your smart phone, and then they give you snacks and apple juice. It’s the best deal in town.

    Let’s face it: The people who DO help people have a pretty tough row to hoe. Working with people who suffer through poverty, addiction, developmental disabilities, etc., often means a lot of days where progress can be hard to find, and relapse is a constant threat. If the rest of us don’t provide help through board membership, volunteer help and financial donations, those services will wither.

    At the United Way, we are committed to ensuring our community continues to help the helpers.

Charitable Contributions A ‘Non-Factor’ to Determine Domicile

Rande Richardson

Approximately one-third of all annual giving occurs in December. Supporters of local charitable organizations are generous throughout the year; however, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on year-end giving to fulfill their work and mission for all 12 months. At the Community Foundation, in addition to annual giving, many donors turn their thoughts to ways to perpetuate their support of causes through lifetime giving and legacy planning. At the same time, many take advantage of utilizing the benefit of the unique tool of a Community Foundation donor-advised fund to help ensure they reach a level that allows all of their yearly charitable giving to surpass standard deduction levels to ensure their deductibility.

Meanwhile, more Northern New Yorkers have become residents of other states (predominantly Florida). For local nonprofits, this is a trend that may be a cause for concern. An unintended consequence of a change of domicile is that now-seasonal New Yorkers inevitably become attached to charitable organizations and churches where they spend the winter. This is understandable.

What is less understandable, however, is some former residents are wrongly led to believe that their choice to change their residence limits, or even prohibits, their ability to make charitable contributions in New York. I occasionally have conversations with donors who have spent their lives, raised their families and earned their living in the North Country who fear that their domicile status may be jeopardized by their expression of charity. Not only is this notion hurtful to our area, it is simply not true. There are checklists of “do’s and don’ts” where domicile is concerned, however, published tax audit guidelines make clear the intent of the law is not to interfere in any way with personal giving, either within New York or anywhere else.

You should always consult your advisors for accounting and legal advice, and the Community Foundation will soon publish a more in-depth article on this written by a local estate planning attorney. For the purposes of this column, it is simply worth noting in broad terms that New York State auditor’s guidelines specifically state that a taxpayer’s charitable contributions are a “non-factor” and are not to be taken into account in determining domicile. The guidelines go even further to ensure that volunteer service not be used in any way to jeopardize domicile. Taken directly from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance website: “Live out of state? Donating to a NY-based charity doesn’t make you a NYS resident for tax purposes. Making a charitable contribution to a New York State charity does not determine your domicile (your permanent and principal home for tax purposes). We want residents of other states to know that they can contribute to New York State charities with full knowledge that such a contribution isn’t taken into account when determining domicile.”

The North Country relies on gifts of both time and treasure from all for whom this place holds special meaning. We must do everything we can to help ensure that both organizations and the donors who support them are not misled down a path that somehow those relationships need end with a change in domicile.

Charitable giving is a very personal decision. Done properly, it is an extension of the individual and a reflection of one’s interests, passions and values. For many, that includes causes that they have supported for many years, across multiple generations. It is a reflection of their fondness and appreciation for the way the North Country has weaved through their lives. If donors choose to cease their giving and sever their ties to Northern New York charities, it should be for reasons other than mistaken myth and misconception.

Our region has been blessed by a culture of giving that has enhanced the quality of life here. Not only do our regional organizations rely on and value that type of generosity, those donors who desire to be part of that heritage need to be reassured that domicile need not be an obstacle to their personal and individualized expression of their core values in an enduring way.

World of Working Poor Misunderstood

Bob Gorman

The late Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a millionaire many times over, lived in the same house on the north side of Pittsburgh from the 1930s until his death in 1988.
     That seemingly insignificant fact is actually an example of a very significant point made in the book “Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam.
     Children in America today don’t experience the same variety of life—and views—as children did decades ago because they no longer live around families of different economic standing. Anybody living today in the same economic stratosphere Rooney conquered years ago would never live in the same neighborhood for 50 years, surrounded by an increasing number of unknown neighbors who can only afford to live where property values are declining.
     Through voices and statistics, Putnam shows how we have become a nation of economically segregated communities. The world of the impoverished and the working poor is all around, but it is misunderstood and misinterpreted by those well off because often our only interactions – if there are any at all – are through the service industry. We only speak when you take my dinner order or when you show me in which aisle I can find light bulbs.
     If asked, we can give myriad examples of how the world has changed dramatically over the last 30 years because of the digital revolution. We get our money out of an ATM, our music out of a phone, our weather forecast out of an app. Communication isn’t the same; sports aren’t the same; medicine isn’t the same, education is not the same.
     But with poverty, many of us are guilty of thinking the same things we thought 30 years ago. Such as, poverty can be ended overnight, if only: 1) People would stop being lazy and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and 2) Government would stop giving away so much welfare.
     Except there is this: The economic decline of the U.S. since the 1980s has ensured that more people do not have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient. The ability for thousands of north country citizens to create sufficient wealth—such as that produced on assembly lines at Air Brake, General Motors and a myriad other businesses in the north country— has disappeared.
     With the loss of stable, 40-hour-a-week jobs that included health insurance and pensions, thousands of people under the age of 40 have entered a job market that bears no relationship to the world their parents entered. Meanwhile, the ability to hand down financial support from one generation to the next is eroding as well.
     And that trend will continue, as outlined in the book “Humans Need Not Apply” by Jerry Kaplan, who has been at the epicenter of the creation of “artificial intelligence” for the last 40 years.
     While government crows loudest when employment is highest, business is most profitable when it employs the fewest people possible. And artificial intelligence – from the airline and concert tickets you buy online today to the driverless vehicle you will buy/rent in a few years – is eliminating one job after another, particularly those that the working poor are most able to do.
     (Just to be fair, Kaplan points out that artificial intelligence will eventually be providing the majority of initial medical diagnoses and routine legal work, knocking off a lot of jobs in medicine and law too.)
     This is producing one massive conundrum: Government is trying to move those in poverty and the working poor toward jobs that are being eliminated by artificial intelligence.
     Right now around 100 citizens in Watertown are taking part in a program that is trying to find local answers to that very issue. The Watertown/Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) is one of 16 such studies going on in New York that are giving communities an opportunity to receive state funds if they can develop a plan to make more people self-sufficient.
     Locally the program is being administered by the United Way of NNY and directed by former YMCA
     Executive Director Peter Schmitt. Dozens of meetings are being held to discuss four primary areas: housing, transportation, education and workforce development.
     With continued progress, a road map for Watertown will be submitted to the state this summer and programs will be funded and begin soon after.
     There is no guarantee that anything can be done to reduce poverty in Watertown. But as Putnam and Kaplan show us, doing nothing will allow the problem to become worse.

Nonprofits Today: We can make ‘good enough’ better

Some of the best things in our communities came to be not because they were mandated, but because it was the will of the people to make it so. People from all walks of life have built and sustained some of our most cherished community assets. Our museums, libraries, health care organizations and a variety of other human service, arts and culture, environmental and quality-of-life enhancing entities exist as a result of the great north country charitable and can-do, giving spirit. [Read more…]