The Complexity of Philanthropy

How a community foundation can maximize and simplify giving

I remember as a small child going to the city and seeing people living on the street—without shoes! As a six year old child, I was confused when my father would get upset with me for handing money to people who clearly needed it more than I did. My father would tell me that it wasn’t safe to just give money to a stranger because they looked as though they needed shoes. I would argue that these shoeless people clearly needed shoes, but my dad would explain that sometimes folks chose to buy something different than what I thought they wanted or needed. Although he commended me for my spirit of giving, he never offered me an avenue for which I could give my money so that I could help a person in need end up with shoes.

As I got older, I came to understand the complexities of giving and how money could be leveraged to buy even more shoes, if administered correctly. I also came to understand that maybe some people didn’t want shoes—they prefer to go barefoot and so giving money with “shoe” strings attached may not always be as purposeful.

This is where I eventually connected the mission of a community foundation to the needs in a community.

Connecting people who care with causes that matter.

The first community foundation was established in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio by Frederick Goff and operates now as the Cleveland Foundation. Many other community foundations have popped up since then and according to the 2011 Foundation Center statistics there are 750 community foundations nationwide with a total combined asset value of $57,937,653,849.[i] The Alaska Community Foundation itself has grown from a single donor advised fund to house over 315 different charitable pots that hold $83 million dollars for the benefit of all Alaskans.

Had my father known about the community foundation model, it would have been a good avenue for my giving. My small donation, leveraged with others’ charitable gifts would have fulfilled my intention to make sure people who couldn’t afford shoes, but wanted them, could have them. The effect of “connecting people who care with causes that matter”, can make anyone’s small gift become equivalent to that of a grand philanthropist’s.

So, maybe it’s not all that complex after all.

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