ELKHART — When the Elkhart County Community Foundation unveils their plans today to deal with the huge $150 million gift from Guy David Gundlach, it won’t be plans that came only from the foundation staff or their 21-member board.
From homeless families to corporate CEOs, from Amish bishops to neighborhood associations, the foundation has heard from a huge slice of the community.
They listened to high school students, senior citizens, first-generation immigrants and law-enforcement officials to learn what the community wants them to do with the unprecedented gift, and the foundation staff will detail what they heard.
In all, roughly 1,000 people pitched in to help the foundation’s board prioritize the use of that gift. “We were intentional about doing our best to hear the voices of every possible constituent group,” said Pete McCown, president of the community foundation. “This has been the most interesting year understanding this community,” McCown said.
Dzung Nguyen, one of the foundation’s board members, said, “We took this very seriously. We were very nervous about all this. We want to make sure we do the right thing for the community.”
Over the last year, the community foundation’s board and staff had five meetings, each with 15 heads of local non-profit groups to get their input. They held 80 round-table discussions, each with 10 to 12 participants from all walks of life in Elkhart County.
They also quizzed 36 similar foundations across the country to learn about their successes and mistakes.
Through that process, the community foundation’s board and staff have established a framework for how they will prioritize giving away more than $8 million each year, though with the way they base their giving on averages, next year’s amount will be $4.5 million, double this year’s amount.
The process of working with the community is one that McCown said he felt ready to do, since his background is in qualitative research. Ngueyn said, “we were very fortunate because Pete seems to be the right person at the right time in the right place.”
With McCown’s analytic background, “he was able to step the whole board through the whole process,” Nguyen said.
The community-inspired framework is what they’ll outline today to some of the key members of the Elkhart County community at the foundation’s annual meeting and luncheon.
They’ll detail the standards they’ve set for the board and the staff. They’ll lay out the broad framework they created to deal with funding requests.
The foundation will also describe how they will prioritize requests that benefit youth, ones that benefit quality of life in the county and ones that address immediate needs, all while sticking with their mission to inspire generosity.
“We have said we want to fund big, meaningful projects,” from nonprofit and government groups, McCown said.
“What I realized partway through this process is the process is really important,” McCown said. “There are 1,000 people who feel as though they’ve been engaged with this process.”
It’s a big process, taking a $45 million foundation to more than $200 million in a little over a year’s time.
In the end, McCown said, “I hope that 10 years from now, if nothing else, we’re found to have been thoughtful and trustworthy stewards.”