October 7, 2021
Community Foundations Can Help With Charity


By Beth Francis

The historic events that have taken place over the last 18 months have influenced the role businesses play as catalysts for social reform in our communities.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national conversation on race and equity, we’ve seen businesses of all sizes step up in myriad ways. Restaurants have partnered with nonprofits to feed the hungry. Manufacturers pivoted operations to produce personal protective equipment for frontline workers. Many have taken a stand for racial justice by pledging internal change or financial support to local social justice organizations.

There has also been an overall spike in corporate giving over the last year. According to a recent report by Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, corporate foundations and corporate giving programs accounted for $9.4 billion – that’s 44% – of total COVID-19 funding in 2020. Furthermore, the Charities Aid Foundation of America (CAF America) recently reported that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, seven in 10 corporate funders increased their charitable contributions, while 43.7% awarded more grants.

“American corporations are listening and it is making a difference,” CAF America President and CEO Ted Hart said in a recent interview. “They are redirecting their philanthropic support so charitable organizations can meet the needs of their communities.”

Corporate giving already had a strong foothold in the larger philanthropic landscape long before COVID-19. According to a 2017 America’s Charities report, 87% of companies understand there is an expectation to support causes and issues that are important to employees. The past 18 months, which have served as a kind of social wake-up call, have both expanded our individual awareness of existing disparities and opened up new opportunities for businesses to support local communities during their greatest hour of need.

But streamlining that giving, ensuring that it’s aligned with current challenges and intentionally responding to the growing interests of a more socially conscious workforce and client base may seem daunting. A community foundation Donor Advised Fund (DAF) can help.

Like charitable funds at large financial services firms, a community foundation DAF enables advisors – in this case a business entity – to invest funds and make grant suggestions that align with corporate values, without the added burden of administering an in-house corporate foundation. But there are several critical ways in which community foundations differ, and these differences have become especially vital as local need rapidly evolves and changes in a post-COVID world.

  • Deep local knowledge. Community foundations (there are 14 in Massachusetts) have always worked hard to keep a finger on the pulse of the local nonprofit sector. But in the last 18 months, nonprofits, state and local government, and community organizations have increasingly looked to community foundations to collaborate on solutions to local challenges. In Essex County, ECCF can provide valuable insight on local need and connect your business with the region’s 4,000+ nonprofits doing great work for the causes you care about most.
  • A personal giving experience. Your giving is unique. Community foundations understand this and will work with you to create a giving plan that is tailored to your business and your employees.
  • Increased impact. As part of an increasingly interconnected community, your business can have a huge impact on local cities and towns. A community foundation DAF helps you double that impact by reinvesting fees back into critical community work. Your investment in ECCF, for example, supports systems solutions in digital equity, economic opportunity, food security, arts and culture, and more.
  • A community of good. When you open a DAF at a community foundation, you’ll have opportunities to connect with a network of local philanthropists and changemakers and experience the difference of doing good together. At ECCF, where nearly 90% of our DAF fundholders are making grants annually, events like Lunch & Learns bring fundholders together for community conversations with nonprofit leaders on the frontlines of Essex County’s most pressing social challenges.

“By engaging with ECCF, our staff and clients can think meaningfully about giving and leave the administrative grantmaking and compliance to ECCF,” said David McKechnie, managing partner of Beauport Financial Services in Gloucester, which gives away 10% of its annual profits to charity through its DAF, Beauport Financial’s Richard D. Wilson Community Response Gift Fund, managed by ECCF. “The foundation shares data and stories of impact that help us gauge need and be responsive in our community. I’m forever grateful for my relationship with ECCF.”

Since partnering with ECCF, Beauport has awarded close to $1 million in charitable gifts, including critical support of food pantries, like Open Door in Gloucester, during COVID

“It was great to have funds immediately available in our DAF to help the local food pantries in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said McKechnie. “A lot of the food pantries immediately lost funding sources, yet their use by struggling families was expanding dramatically. We were able to move quickly to support those critical safety nets.”

If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that our biggest social challenges are best solved when they are tackled together. And the business sector, which has really stepped up during the pandemic, has a critical, long-term role to play in creating sustainable, resilient systems of support. ECCF intentionally seeks out the support of and strategic partnerships with local businesses and corporations looking to make a difference within and outside their organizations.

We believe that a community foundation corporate DAF is a great planning tool for businesses that aim to be consistently philanthropic and flexible in their giving when emergencies arise. Leveraging the knowledge of a community foundation to understand local need and grantmaking, businesses can be assured that their giving is having the greatest impact.

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