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. 

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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. 

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