The largest philanthropic organization in El Dorado County arrived in El Dorado Hills this month with high hopes.
The newly formed El Dorado Hills Cabinet of the El Dorado Community Foundation is gearing up to serve El Dorado Hills and bring the community together.
At the cabinet’s April 11 coming out event, a small lunch for a dozen or so potential donors held at the Oak Knoll Clubhouse in El Dorado Hills, foundation Executive Director Bill Roby recapped recent successes and outlined goals that reach well beyond fundraising and grant writing.
He and others shared experiences in philanthropy. Their stories described the means becoming an end in itself. “Amazing things happen when a community comes together,” said Roby.
The El Dorado Community Foundation has distributed more than $3.6 million in its 23 year existence, funding a wide range of services for those who need them most: families in need, victims of spousal abuse, the homeless, seniors and youth. Money has filled gaps in the education system and injected vital funding into health, wellness, recreation, senior, arts, culture, environment, economic development and animal welfare programs.
The local cabinet will function as a standing advisory committee to the foundation board, and will encourage local businesses, nonprofits, churches and community-minded individuals to come together to meet the needs of the community. It will seek financial support for the El Dorado Hills Area Fund from public and private sources to assist in the effort.
A local donor jump-started the giving with an annual endowment that supports $10,000 in unrestricted local grants annually in perpetuity, starting this year.
Grants will be awarded to charitable concerns in El Dorado Hills for educational and vocational scholarships, cultural and historical projects, senior citizen programs and services, youth development, trails and economic development.
Applicants will fill out a one-page “request for proposal,” available on the foundation website May 1.
Foundation assets have grown steadily since Executive Director Bill Roby came on board five years ago. Assets increased 46 percent over the last four years, 18 percent last year alone, to $11.2 million at the close of 2012.
The growth is particularly impressive in the current economic climate, even more so because it was accomplished with a meager 1.5 percent overhead spending.
Investment earnings from that nest egg funded $647,000 in grants for fiscal year 2011-12.
The founding El Dorado Hills cabinet members all currently sit on the foundation board: Georgi Knight, Shelbi Bennett and Board President John Black.
They heard Roby recap charitable giving statistics from a nationwide study conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2009. Using IRS tax records, the study compared tax deductible contributions to household discretionary income to rank community giving nationally.
El Dorado Hills gave more total dollars than any of its neighbors, but ranked last among neighboring communities on the Western Slope in contributions as a percent of discretionary income, slightly below Folsom and well below Granite Bay.
Roby suggested that the study portrays El Dorado Hills as a community “waiting for direction” and that the El Dorado Hills cabinet might provide the roadmap. “We’re here to have that conversation with this community,” he said.
Allan Priest is already talking. He moved his family to El Dorado Hills in 2000 and sold his environmental consulting business nine years later, resulting in what he humbly described as a “cash event.”
He and his wife Jennifer decided the windfall should fund some local philanthropy. His tax advisor suggested the Priest Family Fund. Priest said he was impressed at how flexible the foundation could be in setting up the fund.
“It’s a good way to put some of the blessings we experienced aside for people who really need it,” said Priest, who also sits on the Oak Ridge Foundation Board, which has its annual fundraiser this weekend, see sidebar.
He volunteers at the Community Services District and sees ample need for educational assistance and recreational scholarships for underserved local kids and seniors.
Priest told the prospective donors at the cabinet kick off that he and his wife also use the family fund to impart a sense of philanthropy to their children. The family sits down together each year to decide who should benefit from their donations. “We want to show them… not everyone in El Dorado Hills, let alone El Dorado County, has what we do,” he said.
Georgi Knight and her husband, former supervisor John Knight, have lived in El Dorado Hills since 1980 and have served on dozens of commissions, committees and non-profit boards.
The cabinet will bring the community together, she predicted, providing a “collective voice” for philanthropy in El Dorado Hills and creating a “foundation of moral and social values… that bind us together.”
The resulting social fabric is the true essence of community, “the heart of El Dorado Hills,” she said, joining her hands together in the heart sign popularized by the 2012 Olympians.
The cabinet has no interest in competing with other charities or projects, she added. “We simply want to enhance El Dorado Hills and become part of the community identity.”
Shelbi Bennett’s family founded the annual “Buy-a-Day” golf tournament to benefit homeless charities in Sacramento. She and her son Alex are also helping organize the Mito Kids walk this weekend at Town Center.
Bennett told the prospective donors how Alex brought the family charity into the foundation, redirecting the proceeds to local homeless assistance charities and how participation exploded after Roby got involved.
Following a couple of years of moderate success, it was Alex who asked why tournament proceeds were not being spent locally. He did some research on the foundation and set up a meeting with Roby.
“Alex was only 16 at the time, but Bill treated him with respect, like an adult,” said Bennett. “Bill promised to help us get this charity off the ground in El Dorado Hills.”
Roby made some introductions and families with endowment funds soon signed on.
Roby later explained that the foundation is geared to provide exactly the type of support the Bennetts needed. They advise local non-profits on accounting, public relations and operations, then provide backend administrative support for their efforts.
“We make it easy,” he said. “We send out RFPs, collect them and assemble a package with spreadsheets listing the money available and the decisions to make.”
The Bennett’s Buy-A-Day” golf tournament has generated nearly $200,000.00 for the foundation’s Fund for the Homeless over the last four years.
“In all my experiences with the foundation, the approach has always been like Bill’s interaction with Alex: respect, professionalism, and a partnership approach,” she said.
South Lake Tahoe
El Dorado Hills follows a trail blazed by Wendy David and the South Lake Tahoe cabinet.
Like the Priests, David’s family has an endowment fund and hashes out the distribution of proceeds annually. But unlike the Priests, they live in South Lake Tahoe, which has roughly two-thirds the discretionary income as El Dorado Hills and much greater need.
David is a passionate evangelist for her causes, and preaches her own brand of Platonic justice, “Those of us that are blessed financially or socially have a responsibility to improve things for others in our communities,” she said.
She formed Tahoe Magic in 2001 to help families in crisis with one-time assistance; a month’s rent here, a doctor bill there.
When the local economy tanked, donations dropped and the need increased. She asked Roby for help.
Under his direction they were able to raise awareness of Tahoe Magic in the community, gaining respect and recognition for their efforts. Put another way, “They started having a conversation with their community,” said Roby.
That’s when it took off. The cabinet has dispensed more than $350,000 in grants since 2005, with two major donations in the last couple years.
A legacy gift from the estate of Joan Rochelle guaranties $70,000 to $80,000 of annual grant-giving in perpetuity. A recent $3 million legacy donation is earmarked for the local library system.
She detailed the need for education, patience and public relations in growing a cabinet. A single legacy gift can fund grants forever, but landing one requires absolute trust in the foundation from the donor family and their financial advisor, she said.
Roby, his staff and his highly credentialed board all help instill that confidence, she added.
Schools in South Lake Tahoe have suffered drastic funding cuts in recent years. The South Lake Tahoe Cabinet has correspondingly focused on education, and become the largest private funding source for the school district.
The El Dorado Hills and South Lake Tahoe cabinets are each a success story, one for its quick start, the other for its patience and perseverance in the face of adversity; for making the foundation a viable option for legacy donors with large hearts.
“Those people are also in El Dorado Hills,” said Roby. “We begin that journey today.”