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Gundlach’s million-dollar gift inspires more generosity

David Gundlach's huge gift to the Elkhart County Community Foundation created a ripple effect that may increase the positive change for the community, the head of the foundation said.
Justin Leighty
Posted on Dec. 26, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Not only did Guy David Gundlach’s gift open up nearly $150 million in possibilities for the community, he opened up the community’s generosity and the imaginations of those involved in nonprofit efforts.

That’s what Pete McCown, head of the Elkhart County Community Foundation, has seen in the four months since the foundation announced Gundlach’s massive gift to his home community.

Dave’s gift seems to be a catalytic thing right now,” McCown said. The final tally isn’t yet in, but with the sale of two of Gundlach’s homes closing in the last few weeks, it looks like his final gift to the foundation will be somewhere between $145 million and $150 million, McCown said.

June 30, the foundation had $43 million in assets. Now it’s about $185 million, with more coming in, McCown said.

In addition to Gundlach’s estate, there are another couple of estates pending that will add $10 million, probably by Jan. 1, McCown said.

Estates aren’t all, either. “A couple of weeks ago I was invited into the office of a gentleman I met for the first time,” a man who has a charitable foundation with his wife. They’d in the past considered giving that money to the community foundation to manage, but the administrative cost of one percent a year was too high.

Now, thanks to Gundlach’s gift, the foundation board dropped the administrative fee to a quarter of a percent, effective next summer, McCown said. That helped the couple decide to contribute their private effort into the community foundation.

In another case, a man who along with his wife donated $100,000 to the foundation stopped in recently, asking if the foundation would be open between Christmas and New Year’s Day (they are). “He said, ‘Oh, good, because I’ve got a check I want to drop off. We’re going to add another million dollars, maybe a little more to the fund we started last year.’”

McCown said, “The door has been opening and closing and opening and closing and opening and closing like we would never have imagined, with people being generous.

“Folks have asked me, do you think Dave’s gift is going to suppress giving in our community and cause people to say why would they need my money? The precise opposite is true, at least in this interim,” McCown said.

Perhaps surprisingly, not a lot of people have been coming out of the woodwork asking for money. Plenty of nonprofit agencies have been talking with the foundation, McCown said, having “meaningful, exploratory conversations,” asking about the priorities for the gift. “What it has caused them to do is believe in this brighter future,” and as organizations dream big, they attract more generosity, McCown said.

The foundation’s board and other volunteers have been working hard on various aspects of handling the gift, from the nuts and bolts of disposing of Gundlach’s property to deciding how to invest the foundation’s assets to figuring out the long-term way they’ll make $8 million in grants each year instead of the $800,000 they’ve been making.

The foundation has launched a listening tour, the one part of the whole process that hasn’t been overwhelming to McCown, whose education and research expertise is in exactly the type of research the foundation is doing over the next months. “This is a formal research project” to find out the community’s input on how the gift should be spent. “Everyone’s been thinking about this in the community,” he said.

On the listening tour, “if somebody has spent some time thinking about this, I’m open minded to their best thinking. What I want to see is what are the common, most frequent themes?”

In the end it’s up to the foundation board, McCown noted, to decide how the money’s allocated. “I don’t even have a vote at the grant table,” he said.

When the board makes its decisions next year, “It’s informed by we’ve heard from 1,000 people who live and work across this community. For goodness sakes, it could end up being 2,000 people” by the time the tour ends, McCown said.

It’s been an interesting year for McCown, with ups and downs. Still, he’s enjoying the intensity of a process that he said will be “definingly transformative to Elkhart County. I think it’s actually going to inspire the whole county to believe that a brighter, better future is possible and then do something about it themselves, even if we can’t fund every good idea.”



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