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.               

 

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.

Personal Testimonies Show NNY Pride

Rande Richardson

“When we decided to move back we wanted to create the culture that we wanted to live in. If it’s something that we love, then we want to help create it. In many ways, if you live in a small community, where you give helps to decide what becomes important. If you want a certain community and you want it to have a certain feel or if there’s an area that you want to strengthen, then you have to go do that.” -Jeff Ginger

“There are a lot of negative aspects of humanity, but you often find what you look for. If you’re looking for the positives in others, you want to recognize the positive gifts that have been given you and then the best way to say thank you is to give them to someone else. It is important to give back to that community. It’s where we raise our kids. It’s our community. It’s our home. We decided to live here, and we want to see the community flourish.” –Brenna Ginger


In 2016, through this column, the Community Foundation, in partnership with WPBS-TV announced the launch of an oral history initiative: Northern New York Community Podcast- Stories from the Heart of Our Community. The intent was to capture personal testimonials about their life in the region, why they’ve chosen to live here, and the various ways they’ve found to enrich their experiences through their community and the organizations that make it special. Since that time, 23 interviews have been conducted, with more scheduled. The full conversations are available at www.nnycpodcast.com.

    As more interviews have been completed, they have come to provide an interesting, diverse and varied portrait, representing Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. Some of the interviews are well-known names, but I’ll bet there are some that you don’t know. The more the project progresses, we’ve been able to uncover some great gems of civic pride. While you can find a common thread in the stories, each one has its own special message. One of the primary goals was to capture the essence of what has driven community involvement and citizenship across the generations. It was hoped that providing insight into how others have seen their role in shaping their community’s quality of life could provide the backdrop for conversations with those who will inherit that same community. We still maintain that this type of inspiration will be an important enduring legacy of this endeavor.

    As we’ve begun to capture stories in a multigenerational way, the podcasts help provide valuable insight into the means through which those who will inherit our community will strive to make a difference. I would recommend taking the time to listen to Jeff and Brenna Ginger’s podcast. This young couple was raised in the north country, went away, and came back start their own family and careers. Their message of proactively helping to create the community they want to live in embodies both the mission of the podcast initiative, but also of the Community Foundation itself. The most transformational leadership within all of our region’s nonprofit organizations carry that theme. It is this type of lead-by-example thinking that distinguishes good from great.

    Other than our Youth Philanthropy program and our Young Professional LEAD program, documenting these stories has become one of the Foundation’s most transformational endeavors. Their example can encourage us all to more deeply explore what makes for a fulfilling life. If that is accomplished, our community and the organizations that help enhance it will be much better positioned to continue the tradition and heritage of what makes Northern New York so special.

    This is an ongoing initiative and we want to continue to broaden their scope and reach. Part of doing good comes not only in the good itself, but as a catalyst to inspire others. The best way to honor our community’s history and heritage is to perpetuate its relevancy through meaningful expressions of care. If there is a story that needs telling, there is no better time to inspire than now. Our community’s future is calling.

               

Giving, Sharing, Makes Lives Better

Rande Richardson

BY: Rande Richardson
Nonprofit organizations across the country are looking at the implications of the tax reform bill on the work they do and those they serve, including operational and compliance issues, potential related state and local government changes and the impact of the increased standard deduction as it relates to charitable giving. Changes in laws that affect nonprofits have direct impact, and make a statement on how we view their role in our society and the value we place on them.

    At the same time we were hearing about tax reform, media retrospectives were reminding us of lives lived and lost. The year-end summaries honor those who have left an imprint on our world. It is in those moments that we have a heightened sense of the way others affect our lives and shape us. The most profound legacies are those that reach deep into our collective, human souls and the heart of our communities.

    There are diverse ways others touch us and leave their mark but there is a common theme. As a society and as individuals, the greatest meaning comes from that which makes us uniquely human. Throughout our lifetimes, the things that become the fabric of our culture and heritage are the expressions of the essence of our humanity.

    Each December, the Kennedy Center recognizes those whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of artists whose careers reflect lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. There are numerous other awards that we bestow that affirm the values and ideals we hold most dear. It is through these that we celebrate and uphold what matters most to us.

    What this has to do with nonprofits? When I hear acronyms such as NPOs, NGOs and NFPs to generalize the nonprofit community, I cringe. When I see legislation enacted that devalues charitable investment and its role in our country, I am disheartened. Somehow, in the generalization of “nonprofit,” something gets lost in the translation. If you take the time to think about the way nonprofit organizations have become part of all of our lives, you realize that they are simply a formal expression of our humanness. They embody the values and beliefs that make us human. They represent the best in the human spirit that demands that living life by simply existing is not enough.

    Our nonprofit organizations are a primary mechanism through which we make a difference in the lives of others and express our values. They are the way our own lives are made more enriched and fulfilled. Their importance goes beyond a classification.

    Our community’s nonprofit organizations not only provide a tangible link to the golden rule, they also are the way we sustain things government and the private sector should not or cannot alone provide.

    It is natural to generalize when we place groups in a sector. In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of what the sector actually is. In a world where over-generalization happens too often, we should pause and see nonprofits as an extension of our human existence and our love for the things that make life worth living.

    As long as there are good people in our world, those organizations providing the most value will find the support needed to continue. If you found a way to make a difference in 2017, congratulations. You already know how it feels to experience something so fundamentally human.

    Use 2018 to find more opportunities to express what matters most to you. It is in this way, that nonprofit organizations quickly become more than a sector, more than an acronym. They are an essential part of our lives, they are worthy of our care and nurturing. Ultimately, they are a clear reflection of ourselves. When you look back on the retrospective of your own life, may it have had meaningful moments that are consistent with the core of the beliefs and values that our nonprofit organizations embody.

    So what are nonprofits really? They offer us opportunities to surround ourselves with things that really matter, and, in the end, help ensure that we have more happiness and fewer regrets through this transitory experience called life. Giving, sharing, volunteering and working for a better world makes our lives better, tax deduction or not.

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.

Arts Play Role in Community’s Vibrancy

Rande Richardson

During the holiday season we are especially aware of the important role the arts play in the vibrancy of our communities. You surely have a yuletide carol or two that reaches deep within you and touches you in a way nothing else can. While, rightly so, much focus is placed on nonprofits that serve basic human needs, supporting, sustaining and nurturing our arts and cultural nonprofits must remain in our focus. They are an important enhancement to quality of life and bring us closer together within communities and across communities.

    I recently attended two nonprofit-sponsored arts performances over a weekend. Not once did I think about the political affiliation of the performers or the audience. Not once did I care to think in what ways we were different. At both, there was a multi-generational element. This all speaks to the fundamental human enjoyment of the arts and the way they touch, move and inspire us. The arts are a great unifier with a universal language.

    We are fortunate to have opportunities to enjoy varied expressions of the arts. We have second-to-none, live symphonic experiences provided by the Orchestra of Northern New York. We have both participation and performance through local theatre groups. Arts organizations introduce and develop a love and appreciation among children and youth. Stage Notes and Watertown Musicales combine both youth arts engagement and purposeful civic mindedness. 

    Throughout the year, nonprofit organizations and events such as the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund at the Clayton Opera House, Thousand Islands Piano Competition, Community Performance Series, Ogdensburg Command Performances, Norwood Village Green Concert Series, Clifton-Fine Summer Arts Series, Disabled Persons Action Organization and Trinity Concert Series and others bring programming that we would be a lesser community without. Volunteer groups such as Northern Choral Society, the Clayton Community Band and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Ensemble offer especially memorable moments. Local schools bring their students together to produce amazing musicals and concerts. There are other arts organizations, including within our north country colleges and universities, venues for all the various expressions of the arts and humanities.

    We recognize the importance of the arts, not only to fulfill something fundamentally human, but also in the way they indirectly support our local economies. Nationally, the arts contribute a large share to the country’s gross domestic product. Locally, there are many who benefit indirectly from arts and cultural opportunities. People being recruited to relocate here often ask what types of entertainment options are offered. Increasingly, arts programs are tied to involving children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the elderly, the developmentally disabled, at-risk youth, and numerous arts in healthcare programs. Just recently the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council awarded a grant to launch a music therapy program for those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Many would agree the arts are not an add-on; they are not just nice things to have around. In many ways, they reach into a special place of the heart, soul and mind. They represent the best things of our human existence. We must do all we can to make these opportunities both accessible and appealing. Each year, although the Community Foundation makes substantial investments in the arts, we pay special attention to those that are provided free of charge to people of all ages across the vast geography of our region. The Orchestra of Northern New York this season is offering free admission to  those 17 and under. The annual concert in Thompson Park is fully underwritten, and Sackets Concerts on the Waterfront Series is open to the public.

    I hope you have had the opportunity to be exposed to the arts in ways that have enhanced your life. If you’re able, consider supporting the arts and nonprofit organizations that bring them to our communities. Fill the seats, show your appreciation, bring your children. We never want to live in a community without the special something the arts offer us. Through the will of the people, may they continue to unite us to sustain them and sustain ourselves to better face the many challenges life presents. In this way, it will help make our days, and those of our friends and neighbors, more merry and bright during the holidays and all year long.