100 percent: The Importance of Board Member Giving

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” — John Wooden

Rande Richardson

It is generally understood that nonprofit board members are responsible for an organization’s success. Our region is blessed with passionate and sincerely well-intentioned volunteers who answer the call to serve as leaders for the many charities that change our world. As board members are recruited and oriented, they should be made aware of the many functions that are part of their responsibilities. Above all, you must be a roaring advocate for your shared work and mission. You are an evangelist in a sense, and your example is a testimony to that passion and an invitation for others to catch that same energy. Yes, board members are volunteers. The best board members give their hearts, souls, and one of the most precious gifts of all: their time. However, as leaders of an organization that relies on others to make a financial commitment, that leadership must not be overlooked.

Anyone who has served on a board quickly gains a keen awareness of the important role donors play in the ability to fulfill an organization’s work and mission. Unfortunately, what is often downplayed is the way board members must be accountable for the financial health of the institution. Board member giving is natural and essential. The strongest and most engaged boards are those where every board member, in some form, participates in fundraising for the organization. A personal gift by a board member of an organization seeking public support is non-negotiable. Without 100 percent participation, a nonprofit is at a major disadvantage when asking others to commit financial support to a mission driven by board leadership. When organizations ask the Community Foundation to financially participate in a certain program, project or initiative, knowing their leadership is not fully invested is understandably problematic. You would be surprised how often board member names are absent from an organization’s own donor list. Somehow, they have not recognized that leadership giving:

• Is a public declaration that the board member has invested in the charity.

• Indicates that the board member has a commitment to the organization and its work and mission.

• Encourages other donors to give and leads the way for others who provide grants or other support.

As they expect others to give, there is simply no way one can be a fully enthusiastic ambassador for the organization they lead without their own multidimensional skin the game. If a board member does not give, how can they encourage staff to effectively partner with them to raise funds? If a board member does not give, how can they expect them to effectively thank and steward existing donors? While the goal is 100 percent participation at any level, board leaders should consider giving a stretch gift that is among their top three charitable gifts they give each year. People are watching. People want to know. Other funders will ask. Give a gift that you are proud of. Give a gift that invites others to join you. Lead, don’t follow.

When you and your organization are recruiting board members, be sure to explain, write down, and clarify these expectations. It is important enough to commit to something as simple as “Each year, I will make, without being reminded, a personal financial contribution to the organization for which I serve as a board member at a level that is meaningful to me.” The board chairman and members should hold one another accountable around these expectations rather than leaving it to staff. Prospective board members should be told whatever expectations exist and be given a chance to bow out of the process if they aren’t comfortable with them.

Would you be less likely to be a passenger on a plane that the pilot is flying from the ground? You were recruited and asked to serve on a board for various reasons and you’re much better able to be a champion for your cause if you serve from a front row seat. You and the board are instrumental in the future of your organization. As a visible and vocal ambassador, you are passionate about the example you set. It creates and reinforces a culture of giving that is not as achievable by volunteering alone. If you don’t feel that kind of drive for your organization, it may be the wrong cause for you. Board service is a joy and a privilege. Done right, you will always get so much more than you give.

A Dream for a North Country Endowment for the Arts

Rande Richardson

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.” — Lyndon B. Johnson  

I am not alone in the way the arts have contributed to the quality of my life. I was blessed to have early influences from parents, teachers and other adults that fostered an exposure to and appreciation for the arts. Some of my best childhood memories occurred in an environment where arts were seen as an integral part of developing the mind, heart and soul. There was an early understanding of the relationship between the knowledge of and appreciation for the arts and the education of the whole person and the advancement of society.  

    Consider all of the nonprofit organizations that deliver music, dance, theater, visual arts, film, literature and folk arts to north country residents. Access to the many benefits of arts programs would not be possible without a commitment from both public and private sources. Nearly all of the region’s arts organizations and museums rely on this hybrid funding approach. Most would agree that the role of the arts in education, in civic life, in the economy, and art for the sake of art, is worthy of our continued and sustained investment. Arts and culture contribute more than $760 billion to the national economy and employ nearly five million people with earnings of more than $370 billion.  

    Several years ago, I was fortunate to have served as a panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts. That experience opened my eyes even wider to the many diverse forms of artistic expression and the breadth and depth of ways they are offered. In my time at the Community Foundation, I have often literally had a front row seat to the way the arts in all forms reaches deep inside the core of what makes us human. Many reading this column have similarly experienced the way the arts touch a different part of who you are.  

    I believe gifts given to the Community Foundation over the past 90 years were made to invest not only in basic human needs but also enrichment of life in our region. Over the past decade, requests in support of the arts have far exceeded available resources. Most grants to arts activities in the tri-county area are made from our unrestricted funds. Our largest endowments directed for the arts are restricted to supporting live orchestral music performed in the Watertown area and classical music in Clayton. Some donors have made generous future provisions through their legacy planning to establish or build Community Foundation endowments to benefit specific arts organizations in the region in perpetuity. This is will be transformational as arts organizations will require greater commitment of resources to survive.  

    In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965. The act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as separate, independent agencies. That foresight has helped ensure the survival and accessibility of the arts. One of the reasons I advocate for Watertown’s annual Concert in the Park is that there is no charge for admission. There is no barrier to experiencing the joy of the amazing gift of live orchestral music. However, keeping access affordable does not come without a cost.  

    I am fortunate to be part of very personal and meaningful conversations with those who want to leave a legacy. If there is an indication that the arts have touched them, I don’t hesitate to make the case for a north country endowment for the arts. While I am grateful for generous expressions of support for specific arts organizations, I also recognize the importance of a permanent, ongoing resource for the arts themselves, in all forms in all places, for all people, forever. Just as it has nationally, a regional endowment for the arts would help ensure the arts will always remain a priority and help leverage additional sources of funding.  

    There are programs, projects and initiatives as-yet unknown that will only happen with a shared commitment to the arts. We need an enduring resource that promotes and strengthens the creative capacity of communities across Northern New York by providing diverse opportunities for arts participation — a defining strength of our shared experience. Think for a moment about that one song that touches the deepest part of your soul. I am confident that in my lifetime, someone will leave a legacy that will forever be that song. 

The Value of the Unrestricted (Broadly Specific) Gift

Rande Richardson

“The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlives it.” — William James, American philosopher 

I’m often asked what I see in trends in charitable giving. It has become evident over the past decade that the interest in unrestricted giving has been trending downward. Donors have been expressing their interest in being more directed in their support of their communities. 

    When the Community Foundation was incorporated 90 years ago it was done with the premise that making communities better belongs to everyone and that a donor in 1929 could not possibly fully anticipate the needs of the community nearly a century later. Their founding gifts were made with only one restriction —geography. Because of the foresight of these donors, their support has enabled: 

    ▪ Start-up grants to help establish Hospice of Jefferson County, North Country Children’s Clinic, Watertown Teen Center, Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund (Clayton Opera House), Volunteer Transportation Center, and the North Country Children’s Museum.  

    ▪ Transformational grants to advance the work of Watertown Family YMCA, Samaritan Medical Center, Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, Thompson Park Conservancy, Lewis County General Hospital, Carthage Area Hospital, River Hospital, Gouverneur Hospital, Clifton-Fine Hospital, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, Thousand Islands Land Trust, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Disabled Persons Action Organization, and Jefferson Rehabilitation Center. 

    ▪ Ongoing support of organizations such as the Orchestra of Northern New York, Jefferson Community College, Jefferson County Historical Society, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Thousand Islands Arts Center, SPCA of Jefferson County, and WPBS. Support is provided each year to food pantries, soup kitchens and school programs across the three counties. 

    Many of the grants have come at pivotal points in the evolution of these organizations when there might not have been other resources available. They would not have been possible without the trust of an unrestricted gift. They were enabled by the willingness of community-minded donors who saw an avenue to focus their generosity in the broadest way with the highest degree of impact. Unrestricted giving remains the cornerstone of the ability to respond with flexibility to emerging needs at times when they are most needed. 

    This type of giving requires a deeper level of trust between the donor and the organization. While it is easy to resist the notion of leaving a gift at the discretion of an organization’s board, unrestricted giving is critical to almost every nonprofit organization. Even if a donor is supporting a specific program, those programs cannot thrive without the underlying health and supporting structure unrestricted giving provides. Full commitment to an organization helps ensure its health so the things donors care about most can be ably implemented. 

    For those unable to overcome the thought of a totally unrestricted gift, some Community Foundation donors have taken a hybrid approach. “Broadly specific” giving has seen the number of donor-directed funds at the Foundation grow substantially. Many of these funds support certain fields-of-interest (education, health care, environment, children and youth, history, arts and culture, animal welfare). There has also been a trend toward geographic-specific giving. A donor can restrict the use of the gift to a certain city, town or village, or county. Recently, six separate charitable funds have been established at the Community Foundation to benefit St. Lawrence County, including specific provisions for Gouverneur, Canton, Massena, Potsdam and the CliftonFine region. These join other funds that focus on specific communities such as Lowville, Boonville, Constableville and Westernville, Clayton, Cape Vincent, Alexandria Bay and the Six Towns of Southern Jefferson County. Some of those geographic-specific funds also have directives within them for certain focus areas. 

    Many donors have created endowments to benefit multiple nonprofit organizations in perpetuity in the spirit of an unrestricted gift with the accountability of a directed gift. These funds also contain field of interest language in the event a specific organization ceases operation. This certainly proves the point and has helped provide middle ground. 

    Whether it is unrestricted giving or broadly specific giving there are mechanisms available to help ensure the gifts are good for both the donor and community and are enduring and relevant far into the future. 

    While causes may come and go, we need strong charitable organizations to be nimble enough to meet the changing needs of a region bolstered with undesignated gifts. They provide both the fuel for growth and the proper execution of specific programs, projects and endeavors. Knowing the variety of options to support the work of nonprofits and affect change ultimately helps ensure that whatever way you choose to see your values and interests perpetuated, there are a variety of options to better guarantee lasting energy and actions with stewardship both broadly and specifically. In this way, every gift goes further. 

Young Leaders Provide Glimpse Into Our Community’s Future

Rande Richardson

“It wasn’t until I got into Youth Philanthropy Council that I saw the community is as a whole and what the needs are. It opened my eyes not only in Jefferson County and Watertown, but to Lewis County and St. Lawrence County. I think it taught me great life skills and the lessons that I’ve learned will be with me for a long time to come. Those values that YPC has instilled in me will carry on.” — Marcus Lavarnway, Youth Philanthropy Council alumnus 


Studies show that involvement as a youth is a significant factor influencing how adult volunteers and donors behave. This follows an approach of moving away from viewing youths as problems to be solved to seeing young people as resources to engage in community development. In this way, they can contribute more meaningfully to their own growth as leaders and to society in general. Students benefit from exploring community issues, the work of the region’s nonprofit organizations, and opportunities available for volunteering. They gain knowledge that is not as easily offered in the traditional school setting. This includes interpersonal problem solving, consensus building, diplomacy, confident, productive and respectful disagreement and higher-level communication and networking skills. 

    The Youth Philanthropy Council (YPC) became a pilot project of the Community Foundation in 2010. In nine years, high school students have been entrusted with grantmaking resources and empowered with the responsibility of properly stewarding gifts from generous annual donors combined with matching gifts from major sponsors Watertown Savings Bank and the Renzi Foodservice Charitable Foundation. Their work also led to engagement of middle school students through the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge. The results are proving the wisdom of asking our youth for their input. 

    Former YPC members recently reflected upon their experiences as they related to their time in college and as they advance their careers and personal lives. Each alumnus cited YPC as their most transformative high school experience. Others said the program helped them “find their place” in the community and become connected with adults and organizations in meaningful ways. They all agreed that it caused them to seek out opportunities to serve. They now see community service as a fundamental part of a fulfilling life. (To hear their full comments, visit www.nnycpodcast.com). 

    This year’s YPC is preparing to make its $20,000 in grant recommendations. Nonprofit organizations should take note of some emerging trends of this generation:  

  • They take very seriously the responsibility of being entrusted with other people’s money.  
  • They prefer to provide support for the heart of a program, project or initiative. 
  • They are not inclined to offer help unless they are confident in the organization’s ability to do what they say they will do. They expect accountability and good stewardship. 
  • They don’t allow geographic “boundaries” to get in the way of supporting something worthwhile.
  • Despite “youth” in its name, YPC members see their mission and responsibility as transcending programs that exclusively benefit young people. 
  • They understand the balance between supporting basic human needs with enriching the quality of life. 
  • They demonstrate an ability to remain assertive while respecting, valuing and appreciating opposing points of view.
  • They do not want to be underestimated or marginalized.

Youth philanthropy is, at the broadest level, passionate involvement of young adults giving of their time, talent and treasure in support of the common good, just as philanthropy is itself. The added ingredient we can all provide is the energy, excitement and spark that will continue to nurture the types of communities where all of our lives will be enriched. This helps us all to better answer the question: “What do I care about?” 

    More importantly, we affirm that we must have a desire, commitment and will to integrate caring more deliberately into our daily lives. There should be no doubt that we all benefit from a community and a world where authentic caring, respect and stewardship is valued, expected, affirmed, and non-negotiable. By learning from each other, we help ensure that the leadership of the past is linked to the leadership of the future. 

Best Stories Of the North Country Are Its Human Ones

Rande Richardson

“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.” — Author unknown

Funeral directors don’t deal well with mortality. Staring daily into the face of death has many effects, including a continual awareness of the fragility and transitory nature of life. At the same time, it has a way of helping sort through the things that matter, creating urgency around living your life with purpose and meaning.

    Last month, one of my funeral director mentors died at the age of 80. There were feelings of regret for not having had that last conversation, that last opportunity to say “thank-you” for the way he shaped my life. I learned so much from him and his son. In many ways, his funeral service served to provide the bridge to the next step in accepting a world without him in it. In that moment, too, as I witnessed the memorializing of someone who had always been on the other side of serving families in need, the importance of remembering became even more fundamental. In so doing, we remind ourselves that each of us, in our own time, is responsible for carrying on, just as those who have come before us.

    I am often asked where I work, what I do. In many ways, what I do is very similar to what I did as a funeral director. I am the temporary custodian of something preciously valued. I am honored with the duty of care in honoring the memory of our community’s people. Ultimately, the stories of the north country are its human ones; people who, during their lifetimes, lived, loved and cared in a way that affected others.

    I prefer to answer the question of why I do what I do. I feel a tremendous obligation to tell our community’s stories honorably in a way that helps ensure that those who have come before us are lovingly remembered. Perhaps more lasting, though, is how their lives provided an example of a continuum of care for where they spent their lives — the teacher who left an imprint on thousands, the doctor or nurse who was there to comfort and heal, the person from any walk of life who simply chose to make a difference. Not only is it right to honor these legacies, it is how others are inspired to continue that tradition.

    After a decade at the Community Foundation, I’ve been there long enough to carry out the wishes of those whom I had previous conversations regarding how they intended their support of important causes to endure when they were gone. Because of their thoughtful planning, they continue to support the people, places and organizations of the region with consistent, thoughtful, lasting care.

    At the end of the day, the things that make our community more than average are made possible by the work and mission of our region’s charitable organizations, through the support of donors of time, talent and treasure. Many caring citizens have partnered with nonprofit organizations as a tangible expression of their interests and values. These range from education, health care, a wide scope of human services, animal welfare, arts and culture, history and recreation.

    The early citizens who made gifts to build the Community Foundation did so long before many of today’s needs were clearly apparent. A donor in 1929 likely would not have anticipated the desire to offer hospice services in the region 50 years later. They would be pleased to know that the stewardship of their desire for a better community could impact lives in meaningful ways far into the future. It is hard to separate honoring one’s memory and telling the story of the forever effect of their existence. Just as matter is neither created nor destroyed, kindness, caring and generosity has an extended half-life. One way or another, each of us is forever part of our community’s story.

    In a recent CBS “On The Road” feature, Steve Hartman remembered his dad, stating “His death makes me an orphan. I can tell you this is a unique kind of emptiness. When there is no one left on earth to love you quite so unconditionally.” Sooner or later, we all can relate. “Although losing such a parent can feel like kryptonite, remembering them in all their glory can make your heart fly.”

We are at the intersection of today and tomorrow. Remember that our own lives will continue to ripple throughout our communities for a long time to come. Be ever aware of the story you were born to tell. Focus not only what you leave behind but what you made possible. Not so much for the gifts you give, but the love behind them. Do so with purpose so that others will want to remember you in ways that causes many more hearts to fly and the goodness in our communities and its organizations to endure across the generations.               

 

Access to Quality Child Care Can Strengthen Our Region

Max DelSignore

There are many factors to consider when determining the quality of life in a prospering community. One of the key pillars to a thriving community is access to education.

    The education provided by north country school districts and higher education institutions remains robust as the needs of our region evolve. However, research shows the greatest and most critical development in young children takes place from ages of 18 months to age 4. More than 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age 5. The availability of quality child care and early childhood development programs becomes a focal point for not only the healthy growth of local children, but the community as a whole.

The LEAD Council of the Northern New York Community Foundation is examining this community need more closely. The advisory committee of more than 20 young professionals recently launched its “LEAD Impact Grant Program,” which is designed to address strategic needs affecting residents of all ages in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The Council representing the tri-county area researched the issue and convened with local experts to identify meaningful support in child care and early childhood development as a community priority.

    Many nonprofit organizations, school districts and local agencies offer support in child care and early childhood development. While some programs receive federal funding to operate, other agencies scramble to secure appropriate resources and staff to optimize their programming. A compromise in the quality of programs is likely to hinder the preparedness of children entering kindergarten and grade school. Children are not only challenged with fundamentals in education, but with development of cognitive and social skills as well.

    “It is a simple and an incredibly complex fact that a person’s earliest years set the stage for the rest of their life,” said Joanna Loomis, a LEAD Council member and director of provider strategy and transformation at the North Country Initiative. “The quality of child care services for any child, along with other factors that influence their early development such as housing, family relationships and nutrition, all intersect to inform not only that child’s well-being, but by extension, that of their community.”

    LEAD is an acronym that means Leadership, Engagement, Access, and Direction. The LEAD Council and the Community Foundation announced in February up to $25,000 in grant funding is available to tri-county nonprofit organizations with a mission to provide services and support in child care and early childhood development. The focus areas for this grant opportunity are programs, advocacy, accessibility, and opportunities to support staff through training and professional development. Nonprofits, as well as other publicly supported organizations, such as school districts and municipalities, are eligible to apply for funding. The application deadline is April 19, and grant awards will be announced in September.

    “Although our grant is not a fix-all, we felt strongly that we could make a significant impact in this field with the potential that our grant is a step toward overall betterment,” said Andrew Boulter, LEAD member and a lifelong Watertown resident.

    Across the country, advocacy for quality child care and early childhood development is building momentum. Some municipalities have built partnerships and initiatives into their strategic plans to focus on providing growth and sustainability to support early childhood development. Bruce Stewart, the executive director of the St. Lawrence Child Care Council, noted that raising awareness of the gaps in support is one of the north country’s greatest challenges. Recent results from the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College reflects good or fair outcomes related to availability of child care in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. But local municipalities continue to evaluate feasible models to make improvements.

    “Child care and early childhood development should be thought of as infrastructure when it comes to community planning,” said Jennifer Voss, LEAD member and senior planner with the City of Watertown. “It’s an integral part of economic development. Parents who cannot find secure, affordable day care are not able to work outside of their homes. Child care is more than taking care of children, it’s a vital component to a community’s quality of life.”

    Investment in a child’s education and development begins well before the first steps into a kindergarten classroom. The LEAD Council and its “LEAD Impact Grant Program” will help continue the conversation and serve as a catalyst to augment support for optimal child care and early childhood development efforts in our region. As our communities evolve and grow it is important that we are mindful of properly nurturing our young children to give them the best chance to succeed in Northern New York.

 

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.

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

At the Community Foundation, we hold a firm belief that the best way we honor the north country’s history and heritage of commitment to community betterment is to find ways to thoughtfully perpetuate it. Much like in life, you can never start too early to instill positive concepts and lead by example with the help of positive role models. When our youth learn the value and practice of giving and civic and social responsibility, all of our community’s organizations, including schools, benefit.

                Last fall, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge was launched as a mission-centric way to proactively encourage civic engagement among middle school students. Seventh and eighth graders were asked to put into words what “community” meant to them and then identify a local nonprofit organization that they felt helped make their community a better place. Over 60 students from nine school districts expressed consistent themes of neighbors, safety, love, beauty, happiness, betterment, togetherness, kindness, helping, caring, belonging, sharing, and respect. I think we all want to live in a community where these themes run through it. At the same time, it is likely that the process led to conversations between the students, their peers, their teachers and families. All good things.

                A total of 23 students were able to present grants ranging from $500 to $1,000, totaling $10,000. As part of the program, students also visited the organizations that their grant was supporting. This allowed them the opportunity to see the work of their charitable organization up close. There is no doubt that the first Giving Challenge left memorable impressions on these young adults. At the same time, 19 organizations across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were provided with additional resources to advance their missions. The students’ interests included arts, culture and education as well as health and human services. Adelyne Jareo, who was awarded the largest grant to Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown, said “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you. Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible. Lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, or even a friendly warm smile can make the world a better place. That is what community is all about.”

                While the first year had positive outcomes and good participation, there is now an opportunity to have even more students involved in directly improving the quality of life in their community. From now until Nov. 19, seventh and eighth graders attending school in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties are encouraged to participate. Entry applications are available at www.nnycf.org or at the Philanthropy Center at 131 Washington St., Watertown. We encourage teachers and parents to begin conversations that foster an environment of caring and respect, and inspire student engagement and contribution.

                It is always good to remind ourselves that all of our actions impact more than just ourselves. The more seeds we plant, the better chance we have of developing critical thinkers, leaders and lives that inspire the pursuit of the fulfillment of life-long service and action for the common good. There are four kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happened and those who don’t know that anything happened. If we continue to plant good seeds, we will reap a bountiful harvest of those who will make things happen.

‘Uncertainties’ in Nonprofits Are Uncertain

Rande Richardson

One of the most frequent words used when discussing the future of nonprofit organizations is “uncertainty.” Nearly every week I hear speculation that the next generation won’t choose to support the work of nonprofits in the same way their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. Others wonder whether the work and mission of some nonprofits will be relevant to those in line to lead them. While I remain optimistic based on what I see through the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council, Young Professional’s LEAD Council and Youth Giving Challenge initiative, I believe that “business as usual” for some local charitable organizations may be turning the page on its last chapter.

                It would have been difficult to predict 25 years ago that the Syracuse Symphony would cease to exist after 50 years, but we all know what happened in 2011. While there were likely multiple reasons for this, one of them had to be the changing landscape and the growing disparity between the mission, its sustainability and those willing to support it.

                At the Community Foundation, we continue to look for opportunities to encourage and support the thoughtful consideration of nonprofit reorganization through mergers or other affiliations, as well as sharing of resources. Indeed, there have been successful examples of preservation of mission over entity, including the Teen Center finding sustainability under the auspices of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County or Meals on Wheels finding a natural collaboration with the Watertown Urban Mission. The Philanthropy Center now allows five nonprofits to share space and other resources, with one more expected soon. More of these will happen. Some organizations may even dissolve completely where the mission has become increasingly irrelevant or obsolete or another organization has found a more sustainable way to fulfill that same purpose.

                All is not lost, however. When I meet with charitably-inclined citizens looking to perpetuate their giving for a specific nonprofit, I will usually ask: “Is it the organization you want to support or is it WHAT THEY DO that you want to support?” There is a distinction. In most cases, the donor acknowledges that it is the work and mission they are supporting, not the organization itself. While they may be sentimentally or emotionally attached to the current provider of that work and mission, they recognize that it is the result that they want to see sustained through their gift or bequest.

                While community foundations exist to support diverse aspects of a region’s quality of life, what truly makes them unique is their ability to maintain appropriate flexibility and adaptability through something called “variance power.” In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service issued Treasury Regulations that endorsed and codified the variance power as an essential feature of community foundations.

                Back to the Syracuse Symphony illustration. Many years ago, a committed group of residents teamed up to raise funds to establish an endowment to support Syracuse Symphony performances in the Watertown area. That fund was entrusted to the Community Foundation, and through prudent management, has grown to nearly $700,000. Because of this, when the Syracuse Symphony officially dissolved, the Community Foundation’s governing body was able to deploy those funds to support live orchestral music performed by other groups. The charitable purpose endures as each year the fund supports performances by the Orchestra of Northern New York, among others. Recently, a donor created an endowment to support their church, with provisions for three other nonprofit organizations if the church should someday face an unforeseen end. The might and muscle of this variance power cannot be overstated, both for the purpose and the donor.

                I will always feel strongly that the best gift is an enduring one, and the future of the nonprofit sector will increasingly rely on that long-term support. As organizations shuffle, the sacred trust and stewardship of donors who want to see vibrant, healthy, happy communities must be positioned to do the most good, regardless of the organization doing it. If not for variance power, we run the risk of not only losing the charitable resource, but providing an obstacle for perpetuating legacies that can make a difference, despite the nonprofit landscape of the future.

                Remaining relevant in a world that, inevitably, will change, applies not only to nonprofit organizations, but also to the resources that are used to support them. Part of that relevancy includes providing an approach that balances the desire for specificity and the desire for thoughtful flexibility over time so the larger charitable intent remains intact. The standard for variance action is extremely high, however, when it is needed, its value to the donor, the nonprofit sector and the needs of our ever-changing community landscape is even higher.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships…love or the lack of it. A great gift of any adult to a child is to love what you do in front of them. Let them catch the attitude.” –Fred Rogers


American treasure, children’s television icon and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, is being honored with documentaries and on postage stamps in this year when he would have turned 90 and as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood commemorates its 50th anniversary. Mister Rogers showed us all how a little compassion, kindness and love can make a world of difference in every neighborhood.

    Recently, the Northern New York Community Foundation, in partnership with Stage Notes, announced the results of the first “Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge.” This competition was an invitation for area middle school students to talk about the things they love about their community. They were competing to award a total of $10,000 to area charitable organizations. Whether they realized it or not, they were really exploring, thinking, and reflecting on the importance of love of community, love of the place where they live, and making it better for them and their neighbors.

    What does an ideal community look like through the eyes of our young people? Of the 62 essays submitted from 9 school districts, there were several common themes including love, kindness, joy, caring, connecting, safety, support, helping, togetherness, diversity, belonging, neighbors, beauty, happiness, betterment, belonging, sharing and respect. These young adults also recognized that it takes all different types of organizations to help create and sustain their best vision of their community as they nominated charities that they felt help supported their love of community.

    These young minds demonstrated an awareness that quality of life includes addressing the most basic of needs as well as the enhancement of quality of life. Sackets Harbor Central School student Adelyne Jareo, wrote an essay that won a $1,000 grant for Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown. “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you,” she said. “Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible.” I can assure you that if you were able to read every essay submitted, you would be inspired.

    Other organizations receiving grants include: Croghan Free Library, Lewis County Humane Society, Credo Community Center, Jefferson County SPCA, Carthage YMCA, Orchestra of Northern New York, Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service, PIVOT, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Children’s Miracle Network, Croghan Volunteer Fire Department, Historical Association of South Jefferson, Cape Vincent Community Library, Clayton Figure Skating Club, Clayton Youth Commission, Hawn Memorial Library, Relay for Life of Jefferson County, and Thousands Islands Area Habitat for Humanity.

    As generational shifts continue, programs like this not only provide insight into how those who will inherit our communities think, they also are a proactive way to instill concepts of civic engagement and nurture the importance of giving of oneself to maintain a vibrant community. It is easy at times to cast doubt upon our community’s future. Indeed, recent generations relate differently, communicate in new ways and find relevancy in contrast to their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

    I asked my 14-year-old son if he knew who Mister Rogers was. He did not. While the 1970’s me was stunned, I suspect if he watched the first broadcast of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, the messages delivered would apply even more today. We all must find ways to continue to do all we can to pass along to our community’s children an affirmation of love. Our world needs it now more than ever. Every participant in the inaugural Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge gives us all reason to be hopeful and confident.

                We must not stop there. We must look for all the ways to present positive role models for our children and introducing them to ways to make a difference in expressions that are meaningful to them. We must show them how much we love our community. We must encourage and challenge them to carry the torch forward.  With your help, the Community Foundation will remain vigilant in providing pathways that will make all of our neighborhoods, and the organizations that enhance them, better. Our greatest gift to those who have come before us is to make sure those who come after see our example and love it enough to “catch” the attitude to perpetuate it.

rande richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.