What exactly is a community foundation? And why would a donor choose to work with one over starting their own foundation? To explore these questions, Ellie is talking with Neel Harja, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. Neel describes community foundations as the “permanent defenders of donor intent” and as organizations that “take the long view on everything.” He shares the three key platforms of community foundations:
- Managing and growing permanent charitable funds
- Creating change through grants and scholarships
- Promoting philanthropy
Neel also provides an overview of the five main fund types held at community foundations to meet donors needs. These organizations offer flexible tools for philanthropy; there is practically something for everyone.
- Unrestricted funds—future-proof; dedicated to maximizing community impact under the purview of the foundation
- Field of interest funds—dedicated to a specific cause (education, arts, environment, etc.)
- Scholarship funds—dedicated to helping students attend and succeed in college
- Designated funds (also known as nonprofit endowment funds)—dedicated to benefiting a single nonprofit organization
- Donor advised funds—donor-directed grantmaking (learn more in Episode 045)
In this episode:
- Meet Neel Harja (2:20)
- What is the role of a community foundation? (4:40)
- How do people get started with a community foundation? (7:20)
- Do community foundations allow for grants outside of the community they serve? (8:38)
- What types of funds can a donor establish with a community foundation? (11:38)
- A deep dive into donor designated funds (aka nonprofit endowment funds) (14:01)
- Understanding a community foundations investment strategy (29:10)
- Who is (and is not) the ideal donor for a community foundation? (36:15)
- What are your favorite resources (41:10)
- Bonus questions (47:05)
Resources from this episode:
Notable and Quotable:
“When it comes to community foundations, local knowledge, local roots and local connections matter a lot.” —Neel Harja
“Community foundations take the long-view, so we’re thinking about what will be happening 10, 20, 30 years from now.” —Neel Harja
“Community foundations are permanent defenders of donor intent.” —Neel Harja
Neel is the CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) and previously served as its COO and VP for Community Investment. Since Neel became CEO in 2015, AAACF has received a national HUD award for public-private partnerships, a local NAACP award for innovative scholarship work, and was identified by Crain’s Detroit as the fastest growing foundation in southeast Michigan for 2016. AAACF was also one of the 20 fastest growing community foundations nationally from 2015-2017.
Previously Neel was President and CEO of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work and a corporate attorney at Ford Motor Company. For a decade Neel has taught a graduate course at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School for Public Policy. Neel has received two national nonprofit leadership awards: the Aspen Institute Fellowship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders and the American Express NGen Fellowship. Neel holds a BS with honors in Physics from the University of Michigan and a JD from the University of Michigan Law School.
Learn more about Neel at www.aaacf.org.
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