Foundation proves there's strength in numbers

July 10, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER


There's strength in numbers - especially when the task is raising money for agencies that were designed to serve rather than to generate a lot of money themselves.

For the past several years, the Community Foundation of Washington County has aided local nonprofits by managing endowments designed to ensure a long-term funding source for those agencies' activities. Since the first endowment was established with the foundation in 1997, the number of endowment funds has grown to 118, with total assets of just under $9 million, according to Executive Director Bradley N. Sell.

Foundation endowments are like a savings account for nonprofits, Sell said. An endowment can be established for as little as $1,000 in cash or property, with the intention of growing the fund balance to $5,000 within five years. The fund becomes a permanent part of the foundation, and the charity receives interest earned on the account.


Last fall, the foundation got a boost when longtime Washington County businessman John M. Waltersdorf and a foundation established for his friend, the late Richard A. Henson, issued a challenge to Washington County nonprofits: Waltersdorf and his wife, the late Margaret Waltersdorf, and the Richard A. Henson Foundation agreed to provide a total of $5 million to establish endowments for agencies that agreed to raise matching funds.

The response to the Waltersdorf/Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign was "phenomenal," according to the Community Foundation, as 35 different nonprofits responded.

Waltersdorf, a former chairman of the foundation's board of trustees, said he wasn't surprised by the response of local charities.

"I was very, very pleased by the number of agencies that were interested, but not really surprised because that's what we wanted," he said.

Broad appeal

Steve Farrow, a Henson Foundation trustee, said a similar challenge campaign issued by the Kresge Foundation and the Perdue Family had inspired the Waltersdorf/Henson campaign. The Perdue-Kresge Challenge was a $12 million campaign administered through the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, headquartered in Salisbury, Md., as is the Henson Foundation.

"The idea behind it is a foundation or individual will agree to match funds," Farrow said.

The Perdue-Kresge Challenge benefited 19 Eastern Shore agencies that raised a total of $6 million for endowments, according to the Eastern Shore foundation's Web site. The Kresge Foundation and the Perdue Family provided a $6 million match.

Farrow noted that Richard Henson "was originally from Hagerstown; the trustees wanted to use his resources in the way we thought he would want them used." Henson was known here for his philanthropy - he'd pledged $1 million for the YMCA that bears his name - and Farrow said the foundation wanted to continue his investment in Washington County.

Henson died in 2002 at age 92.

"We had talked with various organizations," Farrow said, but decided it made more sense to work through the Community Foundation, which had more knowledge of local organizations and what they needed.

The Henson Foundation then contacted Henson's friend, Waltersdorf.

Waltersdorf said he and Henson had discussed supporting various charities in the past, and that he had written to Henson about the Community Foundation. Consequently, the Henson Foundation trustees "were impressed with the Community Foundation ... it gives broad support to the community," Waltersdorf said. "It's locally managed by local people."

"They called me and asked if my wife and I would be interested" in sponsoring the challenge campaign, he said. "My wife and I gave it careful thought."

Ultimately, they decided the challenge was a good idea. The call for applicants went out last October.

New wave in philanthropy

A variety of local agencies, including the Community Foundation itself, were chosen to participate in the Waltersdorf/Henson Challenge Campaign - 16 in all. They range from educational to health-care concerns, from the environment to the arts.

"The thing that is most pleasing to me is the variety," Waltersdorf said, including endowments for "environment and art to scholarship funds."

The Community Foundation was named as a required participant in the challenge campaign; its fundraising goal is $500,000 over the next five years. Altogether, the agencies will undertake fundraising goals that amount to $17,929 more than the original $5 million challenge. Agreeing to match the extra money was not a problem, Farrow said.

More and more communities are looking to such foundations for fundraising help, Sell said. The Community Foundation of Washington County is one of more than 700 such foundations in the country, he said. It's one of seven in Maryland listed by the Council on Foundations on its Web site,

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