Not a Millionaire? You Can Still Leave a Legacy
“The Community Foundation is a wonderful organization that helps people who are charitably minded,” says Dennis W. Fliehman, president and CEO of the foundation. “They are able to achieve that goal through our organization. We are a 501(c)(3) charity. Our board of trustees is made up of community leaders whose goal is to improve the lives of folks in our community.”
While it takes a minimum $10,000 donation to establish your own fund ($25,000 for a scholarship fund) through CRCF, anyone can contribute $10 or $20 to either a specific, established endowment fund, such as the Physically Impaired Association of Michigan Endowment Fund, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing Endowment Fund; or the Boys & Girls Club of Lansing Endowment Fund, or individuals can contribute to broad community causes, such as scholarship funds, basic needs, the arts, community development and human services. This money is then distributed to nonprofit organizations serving Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties through a grant application process.
“We accomplish our mission by helping individuals establish permanent endowment funds,” says Fliehman. “We give out grants based on the wishes of the donor. Some of that benefits specific charities, such as the symphony, Listening Ear and the Boys & Girls Club. We write up the funding agreements.” The Community Foundation currently has about 100 established endowment funds to benefit individual nonprofit agencies, he notes.
“For field of interest funds, local nonprofit organizations can apply for grants, and we have a grant committee who decides how the money is spent,” he continues. “[With those funds] we are allowed to select the respondent with the greatest need in the area of interest.”
Fliehman says the Community Foundation gets about 200 grant applications a year. “We look at those grant applications, and give out money based on those applications, considering how we can best improve the community.”
For those who cannot afford to donate money now, the Community Foundation can also set up testamentary funds with money to be received after the donor’s death. “We get quite a few folks of modest means, who can’t write out a big check during their lifetime, but they can still leave a legacy,” Fliehman explains. “They need their money to live on while they are alive; but when they pass away, they can leave it to us, and we will spend it according to their wishes. We can work with donors to carry out their wishes in perpetuity. We follow the donor’s intent according to the terms of the agreement.”
The foundation also accepts gifts of stock, life insurance proceeds, personal property and the occasional gift of real property.
The Community Foundation was initially created in 1987, going into full operation in 1990. Fliehman, a “recovering lawyer,” has been with the organization since 2003. In November 2011, The Community Foundation, along with five other nonprofit organizations, moved into the new Nonprofit Center at the Armory on Marshall Street in Lansing.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Fliehman says of the move. “It’s a physically wonderful place to work from a collaborative perspective. It’s great to have other nonprofits and staff all working together, sharing information to make this a better community.”
The site, which, Fliehman notes, had previously been blighted, is now host to 70 employees, eight of whom work for The Community Foundation. The new facility is capable of hosting meetings and other activities for outside nonprofit organizations.
The Community Foundation currently has about $65 million in assets, according to Fliehman. About $60 million of that is endowed. In 2011, the foundation distributed over three million in grants to local nonprofit organizations.
“We don’t run our own program,” says Fliehman. “We are a vehicle that donors can use to achieve their goals. We represent all charitable organizations, no matter what your charitable organization is. We benefit the charitable organization that you want to support, and we start a fund that supports that organization with a permanent endowment.
“Rather than the donors setting up a trust or private foundation and having to follow all the rules and regulations, we can set up a permanent foundation professionally for them, providing ongoing management and administration.”
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Christine Caswell is a local attorney with Caswell Law PLLC, practicing in the fields of elder law, probate and estate planning and family law.