Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Columbia Foundation Fund

Yesterday, Jane and I filed the paperwork, and our first payment, to set up "The Paterson-Coale Fund" with the Columbia Foundation.  I had been thinking about doing this since July, when I joined the Foundation Board, and we had been talking about it since October.  I knew we were going to go through with it when Jane said "That would be really neat."  My wife, in opposite of myself, is not a very effusive person.  "Neat", and even more so "really neat", is a big win.

What does it mean to have a fund with the Columbia Foundation?

Once our fund is complete (more on that below), Jane and I will be able to contribute a set amount (percentage of the corpus [total amount of the fund]) to a Howard County nonprofit of our choice.  We can also contribute to any other National nonprofit that provides services within Howard County or any other organization with explicit agreement of the Foundation.

Why not just give directly to the organizations you support?

Jane and I still plan to do this, but there is no better way to support the nonprofit community, and the Howard County community, on the whole than by contributing to an umbrella fund like the Columbia Foundation.  The greater assets the organization has, including donor-advised funds, the more it can do.  And the Columbia Foundation does a lot.  In its history, the Foundation has contributed over a million dollars in grants to Howard County nonprofits and does so on an annual basis.  The Columbia Foundation is the only such organization in Howard County that provides funding to all nonprofits, regardless of focus or mission.

Not only that, but our Fund will provide an investment premised on philanthropy.  Yes, "investment".  The Columbia Foundation does not promise a certain rate, but it does project out approximately 5% of the fund value for annual contributions.  That means if your fund is $10,000, you will be able to make an annual $500 contribution to the nonprofit of your choice into perpetuity.  If you continue to contribute to the fund, that amount grows.  $500 is enough to offer a noticeable benefit to the organization and the people it serves.

On the most practical level, this is a "must do" for the most fortunate amongst us...who often receive solicitations for gifts.  Rather than having to make "yes or no" decisions on the spot, you can refer the requesting organization to your fund, give your annual contribution date, and ask them to submit something in writing.  It is the best way to know you are getting the most for your philanthropic dollar. 

That's not to say that the Columbia Foundation is only for the very wealthy.  Jane and I would not consider ourselves among that number.  We are doing this because we find fulfillment and happiness in philanthropy and want to create a vehicle for a lifetime of giving.

So, I'm convinced.  How does this Fund thing work?

Jane and I made our first payment of $1,000 last night.  That was a substantial sum for both of us, but one we had been saving for over the last six months.  Over the next five years, we have a goal of raising another $9,000.  That, too, is a lot of money, but we believe that with a target out in front of us, and a plan to get there, we will be successful.  The Columbia Foundation asks that all donor-advised funds be funded at $10,000 within five years of creation.  Notably, Board Members have the opportunity to create a fund at $5,000, but I am no good as a guinea pig if I utilize that benefit.

How do you get to $9,000 in five years?  $75 a paycheck.  $75 in tax deductible contributions towards your fund, that you will be able to direct for years, and possibly generations, to come.  Not to mention "found money"-type situations when you receive an "extra paycheck" or large tax refund or a fundraiser dinner party, BBQ, or backyard volleyball tournament.

But Tom, $75 a paycheck?  That's a dinner out.  That's real money.

Right.  It is a sacrifice.  But would this really be a worthwhile undertaking if there wasn't a sacrifice of some sort?  They say money can't buy happiness, but Jane and I have been talking about our fund all week.  We're excited by the prospect of giving our money away.  It is irrational.  My reptile brain must be on the fritz.  But we are in love with the idea of formalizing our commitment to philanthropy and doing that through an organization we support.

Starting a fund sounds great, but this is just a little out of my price range.  Is there anything else I can do?

Absolutely.  The grants I've noted above are given out of the Foundation's "Unrestricted Fund", which is the Foundation's bread and butter.  You can set up any arrangement with the Foundation for monthly, annual, or semi-annual contributions towards the Unrestricted Fund AND even volunteer to serve on the Grant Review Committee to help decide where that money goes.

You can also form or join a Giving Circle amongst friends.  The Women's Giving Circle is the most successful example, helped formed by a number of Howard County women, and passionately prosecuted through their continued good works.  (Google "The Women's Giving Circle" to see why this program should be listed amongst Howard County's greatest achievements.)  I've often thought that it would be fun to start a Book Club...ahem...I mean manly Reading Group, and use that as a premise for a Giving Circle.  There are plenty of ideas like this from craft groups, music groups, or even parent play groups.

No offense, but don't you feel a little weird talking about money like this on your blog?  Do you feel like you may be bragging?

Yes.  But this is important and if one of you starts a new fund while the remainder think I am a self-important gas-bag, so be it.  Long-time readers know that I am greatly concerned about the future of our non-profits.  We've somehow transitioned from an age where people tithed to their places of worship, which provided for social need, to an age where government provides for our nonprofits, to an age where neither the government, nor a tithing populace, are funding our nonprofits.  I'm not contributing to our fund out of fear.  I'm doing so out of hope.  And it feels really good.

If you would like to learn more about starting a fund with the Columbia Foundation, or getting a Giving Circle together, please check out the Foundation's website here.

Please also feel free to e-mail me directly with any questions you may have.  I would be happy to meet with anyone who wants to know more about opportunities to give.

Have an amazing Thursday doing what you love.  I know I will.