Photo courtesy of Community Foundation of NCW
Beth Stipe has been executive director of the Community Foundation of NCW since 2003.

Community Foundation of NCW channels funds and goodwill throughout the region

By Mike Irwin
Wenatchee Valley Business World

The devastating wildfire summers of 2014 and 2015 sparked generosity from across North Central Washington, the nation and the world. Donations of food, clothing, building materials and money poured into the region to help thousands of residents who saw some part of their lives go up in smoke.

While first responders — the Red Cross, United Way, area churches, social service agencies and other groups — eased immediate concerns for housing, food and clothing, the Community Foundation of NCW quietly mustered its six-person staff, board of directors and trustees to settle-in to provide long-term assistance to those with burned-out homes and burned-out emotions.

Three years and more than $2 million later, the foundation is still helping those fire survivors.

“People here are strong and resilient,” said Beth Stipe, the foundation’s executive director. “But sometimes they need a hand. Maybe it’s to rebuild a house. Maybe it’s to re-equip their business. Maybe it’s simply for a plane ticket back home to family. And maybe it’s help that comes long after a tragedy strikes. We’re there.”

For more than 30 years, the Community Foundation has accepted, invested, managed and dispersed millions of dollars in donations to local nonprofits, schools, individuals and worthy causes. Each year, the organization contributes up to $4 million to support individual and community efforts — about $500,000 for scholarships and up to $3.5 million in grants to nonprofits.

Since 2003, when Stipe was hired as director, the organization’s funds have grown from $12 million to nearly $75 million split among more than 450 funds — large and small — that help finance everything from the Numerica Performing Arts Center, Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, college scholarships and other worthy causes, mostly through nonprofits dedicated to the arts, environment, recreation and social and human services.

“It’s all local money from donors who live here and care about this place and its people,” said Stipe. “Local people helping local people.”

Those aims were summarized by the theme of the Community Foundation’s 2016 annual report: “Good grows here.”

Here’s how it works: The Community Foundation encourages residents to become philanthropists by creating a charitable fund for as little as $5,000. Usually, these are dedicated funds for a specific purpose — buying art, helping salmon or forests, supporting parks, improving conditions for families and children — that are managed for growth through the Community Foundation.

Planning ahead

These local philanthropists are often successful retirees who are thinking about their final years and planning for what might happen to their estates — house to the spouse, inheritance to the kids and, maybe, money to a favorite project or activity. Such as, Wenatchee’s Foothills Trails through the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society, the Methow Arts Alliance or a specific charitable group (Mobile Meals, the Literacy Council of Chelan and Douglas Counties, Chelan-Douglas CASA).

In the next 20 years, said Stipe, billions of dollars will be transferred between generations as baby boomers retire and plan dispersal of their estates. “It’s a transfer of wealth that we’ve never seen before,” said Stipe. “If we could be the recipient of just 10 percent of that transfer … well, then great things could happen for our community.”

That idea has led to the foundation’s Give 10 initiative, which is in place now (see cfncw.org) but will be officially launched and promoted in January.

Stipe has estimated that if every person (over the next 10 years) in Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties left 10 percent of their will or estate — no matter how small or large — to the Community Foundation, an extra $18 million would be available to support nonprofits in the region.

Other giving campaigns of the Community Foundation — Give NCW and Give Methow — have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost scores of programs that help thousands of people. In 2016, Give NCW raised more than $147,000 to help fund grants totaling $225,000 for 25 nonprofits in NCW. Give Methow raised $185,500 to help 30 nonprofits, with nearly $61,000 in additional grants supporting another 25 Methow Valley organizations.

To further support the region’s nonprofits, the foundation also hosts (in partnership with the Icicle Fund) the annual Nonprofit Practices Institute to provide training and professional development for board members, staff and volunteers. This year, more than 700 participants attended. The next summit will be held May 14 at Campbell’s Resort in Chelan. 

“What we’ve tried to do,” said Stipe, “is shape the Community Foundation to benefit everyone.”

Donors don’t have to be rich, she said. In fact, most folks who establish funds “are normal people like you and me, not Bill Gates.” Orchardists, teachers, business owners, health care workers — they’ve all set up funds to support nonprofits “that are close to their hearts,” she said.

And recipients include a wide range of nonprofits that help an even wider social-and-economic spectrum throughout NCW, said Stipe.

“It’s what we do,” she said. “We’re not only the place for philanthropists, but for helping — our community, our institutions and the people we care about as family and neighbors.”

This article originally appeared in Wenatchee Valley Business World, a publication of the Wenatchee World.