A Strong Foundation

Community foundations underscore community values

Back Commentary Oct 28, 2016 By Kathy Anderson

A  local high school marching band needed repairs to their dilapidated trailer so they could haul instruments to games and other events. Several area food banks requested help stocking their pantries. The Blue Star Moms asked for money to pay for postage to ship care packages to local military on deployment. These are just a few of the requests granted by the Sutter Yuba Community Foundation, headquartered in Yuba City.

The beauty of the diversity of a foundation such as ours is that there is an unlimited scope of possibilities for assistance, as opposed to a foundation that grants funds for a specific purpose only.

Because of its relative youth — it was founded in 2008 — the Sutter Yuba Community Foundation has relied on an annual dinner and auction to fund most grants. One of the major challenges of a new foundation is public awareness. Board members, when soliciting prizes for the auction this year, continually found themselves explaining to local businesses the nature of the foundation; many residents still haven’t heard of it.

A 501c(3) foundation is a non-governmental organization that is established as a nonprofit corporation or a charitable trust, whose main purpose is to monetarily support organizations or institutions for educational, cultural or other charitable purposes. It is a tax-exempt entity, registered by the state and by the Internal Revenue Service. A foundation gets its financial support from individuals, grants from government agencies and other foundations, and fundraising efforts.

Related: Community Collaboration

A community foundation such as SYCF, however, goes beyond simply making grants that advance charitable activities. A community foundation also identifies current and emerging issues, and channels resources to address the needs of the community. They are overseen by volunteer boards of citizens, and sometimes are run by professionals with expertise in identifying their communities’ needs. In the case of the SYCF, all board members are volunteers, so every dollar goes back to the community. Board members individually support many local groups’ fundraising efforts and belong to other organizations, thus keeping their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the community. Having local control is vital to accommodating the requests of the smaller organizations that wouldn’t be able to compete for large-scale grants from major entities. Foundations such as SYCF also influence lives by funding scholarships. We handed out five such scholarships last year to local seniors planning to attend either colleges or trade schools.

Since all members are volunteers and involved in multiple civic activities, having time to do such things as write grants is always a concern. The board currently consists of a contractor, financial planner, farmer, attorney, banker, two businessmen and two retired school administrators. When it comes time for the annual fundraiser, all hands are on deck to ensure the event’s success. Representatives of the grantee organizations volunteer to help as well. The month before the big event is a flurry of meetings to keep everyone on the same page, moving forward.

As with most organizations, there are various necessary housekeeping duties. The treasurer must submit paperwork to the foundation’s accountant once a year to file taxes. The secretary posts agendas prior to the monthly meetings and keeps the minutes. There is an abundance of brochures, posters, letters, programs and other documents essential to generating the dinner and auction. Keeping track of grant requests is paramount and having a well-rounded board of directors helps disseminate the workload.

According to the Council on Foundations: 780 community foundations in the U.S. gave over $5.2 billion in 2013. It’s refreshing to hear “billions of dollars” in the context of giving, outside the realm of government. Community foundations advance localized aspirations by acting as “facilitators, catalysts, conveners, advocates and trailblazers,” according to the Community Foundation Atlas.

The community foundation movement is worldwide, a tribute to humankind’s desire to better itself.