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Donors' generosity will strengthen community

July 07, 2005

Last October, a Hagerstown couple and a foundation named for a Washington County aviation pioneer pledged $5 million in a challenge designed to get local nonprofit organizations to start their own endowment funds.

Last week that generosity paid off for 16 local groups, which will get the opportunity to win matching money to build a fund to offset their expenses for many years to come.

The challenge was launched through the Community Foundation of Washington County by John and Margaret Waltersdorf and the Richard A. Henson foundation. To spur interest, both agreed to provide up to $500,000 annually for five years.

To get that money, the nonprofits chosen must agree to raise a matching amount over the next five years. An agency raising $100,000 would end up with a $200,000 endowment and earn about $10,000 per year in cash.

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That may not seem like a large amount of money compared with most agency budgets - unless you have ever tried to sell $10,000 worth of raffle tickets. And, once the endowment is established, the money will come in year after year, whether any raffle tickets are sold or not.

More important, having an endowment encourages the organizations to keep adding to them and to encourage bequests. Over time, the burden of raising money will be reduced and volunteers can instead concentrate on serving their clients.

The plan is a tribute to the Waltersdorfs - John Waltersdorf is a previous winner of The Herald-Mail's Person of the Year Award - and Henson, the late philanthropist who contributed $1 million to the construction of the new Hagerstown YMCA building.

Both donors are examples of the best of Washington County, of local people who used the proceeds of their success not to indulge in luxuries, but to improve the community instead. Their gifts will not only serve to build these endowments, but also should inspire the next generation of developers to become philanthropists as well.

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