ELKHART — Whether it’s company executives, Amish bishops or high-school students, some common themes of advice are coming to the Elkhart County Community Foundation as they work out how best to use the nearly $150 million gift from Guy David Gundlach.
The money should be used in programs that transform people and the community, not ones that increase reliance on the hand-outs.
It should go someplace where there’s already community support, for instance, as matching grants.
Anyone helped by the money should be able to show the impact it makes, quantitatively and qualitatively.
The gift should help non-profit organizations in Elkhart County work together to do more.
The money ought to be used in innovative ways, and it ought to enable people to get over barriers that block their own efforts.
Those are some of the common themes that have come out of the first 25 stops on the foundation’s listening tour, said Pete McCown, head of the foundation, as he talked with group number 25 Tuesday, March 5.
In all, the foundation expects to talk with 100 community groups by September. They recently wrapped up separate roundtable discussions involving non-profit organizations in Elkhart County, and board members are looking around the country for guidance from other foundations as they try to figure out the best way to give out 10 times as much money annually as they did before the gift came with Gundlach’s death in 2011.
“This has been more productive and more fun than I had hoped,” McCown said in the conference room at McGladrey, where he and other members of the foundation staff gathered to listen to the ideas of 10 people, leaders in the local business community.
“We’re beginning to hear some consistent themes emerging,” McCown told them when he kicked off the discussion — though he didn’t tell them those themes. By the end of it, they’d hit on them.
Jim Morton, who hosted the gathering with his wife Karla, said, “In Elkhart County we have some pretty distinct communities with a lot of pride,” and he hopes the foundation will avoid fostering any jealousy between the community as they distribute the roughly $8 million a year.
He cautioned that it won’t fix all problems, but pointed out that in a decade or so, “you could tackle some pretty big stuff with that amount of dollars.”
Martha Peterson said, “If we have a vision for what’s going to happen in the next 10 or 15 years, we can do some amazing things,” she said.
Quality of life issues were some of the specifics that Tuesday’s group discussed, but they are interrelated, with education and community perception all mixed in as areas the group said they’d like to see impacted.
McCown said once the tour is finished, the foundation board will get together and decide how to make the call on which proposals get the $8 million each year.