Gift of Real Estate Fuels Family Philanthropy
THE AHERN FAMILY CHARITABLE TRUST
By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
When the Ahern family decided to sell their 90-year-old commercial painting business, there was one major asset left: the commercial property located in downtown Melrose, a renovated Coca-Cola building that had been serving as company headquarters for decades.
“I didn’t know what to do with the building,” said Paul Ahern, who discussed possible plans with his accountant, Richard O’Connor of Wakefield firm Johnson O’Connor.
The large financial services firm through which Paul had been conducting his charitable giving did not accept real estate assets. So, O’Connor connected him with Essex County Community Foundation, which considers gifts of real estate, one of the many complex assets the foundation accepts, on a case-by-case basis.
“I was familiar with ECCF and I was confident it would be a good match,” said O’Connor. “We knew the size of the donation would be impactful to the foundation, and we needed an organization that would be flexible in accepting a large real estate gift.”
O’Connor said the process was simple and gave his clients the opportunity to give through the foundation almost immediately.
Coming Full Circle
John D. Ahern started the family business back in the 1930s, and when Paul took over for his father about three decades later, he grew Ahern Painting Company to include clients all over New England before passing the baton down to his own son, who ran the business for 10 years.
Proceeds from the sale of the Melrose property enabled Paul and his wife, Mary, to establish the Ahern Family Charitable Trust at ECCF and list their children as successor advisors to the fund. And the business that had once been passed down from father to son became the foundation for charitable giving that would also be passed down from one generation to the next.
“I’m 80, so I don’t expect to use all the money in my lifetime,” said Paul about his ECCF donor advised fund, which gives him the opportunity to organize all his charitable giving in one place. “I want my wife and kids to be charitable too. So, there is continuity there, which is important to me.”
Paul, who graduated in 1958 from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, gives regularly to his alma mater and to Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence, St. Jude’s, Shriners Hospitals for Children and a variety of Catholic charities.
He said that ECCF has helped make him aware of other nonprofit organizations too. “It’s allowed me the option of looking into other charities that do good work,” said Paul, who attended a recent ECCF Lunch & Learn, a regular series of events that introduces donors to Essex County’s biggest social challenges and the organizations working collaboratively to solve them.
In addition to the immediate tax benefit the gift of real estate afforded him, the ability to establish a legacy of charitable giving through the foundation, and ECCF’s local insight into the nonprofit sector, Paul said giving through the foundation has been easy and seamless.
“I’ve found it to be a very simple process,” said Paul, who has awarded 75 grants to organizations within and outside Essex County since opening his fund with the foundation in 2020. Though ECCF’s work is focused primarily on the 34 cities and towns within Essex County, fundholders are free to award grants to any qualified nonprofit organization. “We give all over the U.S. and that was a nice feature, that there were no geographical restrictions to where the grants go,” he said.
As a fundholder, Paul likes that he gets an immediate confirmation of his grants, and that there is always someone ready to answer any questions that might come up.
“I’ve been very happy and satisfied with ECCF,” said Paul. “It offers me everything I need at this point and time of my life.”