GiveWell has a huge impact on Polk charities
Thomas R. Oldt
For an entity that is little known, the GiveWell Community Foundation exerts a disproportionate influence on the nonprofit world of Polk County. With assets of over $ 250 million and annual grants in the order of $ 50 million, the foundation supports 501 (c) (3) organizations through year-round donations from the Money from donors, large and small, amounts that have historically increased over time as a result of the investment earns.
During the fiscal year ended June 30, the foundation awarded over 1,000 grants to 455 different organizations.
John A. Attaway Jr., President and CEO of the foundation, comes from the for-profit world, having spent nearly 22 years as General Counsel of Publix Super Markets. But he’s also a familiar figure in the nonprofit world as a former board member and chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.
Lakeland’s lawyer, 63, grew up in Winter Haven, graduated from Duke University, married his girlfriend in high school, earned law degrees from Stetson University and the University of Florida, and has extensive experience volunteering with a wide variety of charitable organizations.
Q. Most people know United Way, but only a few know what the GiveWell Community Foundation is all about. How is GiveWell different? Are the two organizations in competition?
A. Many people, when talking about United Way and GiveWell, think of United Way as a kind of charitable checking account for the community and GiveWell as a charitable savings account. United Way engages in an annual fundraising effort that allows money to flow in and return pretty much directly to the charities they support. GiveWell is a little different. People donate money to community foundations in order to give it to nonprofits fairly quickly, for immediate impact, but also to save it in the long run to have an impact over time. In that sense, it’s like a savings account.
Q. What are the nuts and bolts the way it works?
A. People set up funds at GiveWell – the biggest funds we have are donor advised funds – and these are structured to donate money to charity over time. The way this benefits donors – in addition to supporting their philanthropic goals – is that they get an immediate tax deduction and can advise GiveWell on where their contributions go over time. We invest that money and often it exceeds their original donation, so that they are able to give more than they originally gave.
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Q. Under the rules governing the foundation, funds must go to qualified charities, not individuals. For donor-advised funds, does the donor determine which specific charities will benefit?
A. Donor-advised funds have been around for about 80 years and tend to be the most common type of fund that community foundations maintain. Of our 354 funds, 154 are advised by donors. They are fairly straightforward to set up – essentially an agreement between the donor and the foundation. When the donation is made, the donor receives the tax deduction and GiveWell then owns the asset. In order to obtain the tax deduction, the owner separates the legal ownership of the asset but has the right to advise on the destination of the money.
We have a grant manager who receives grant applications from our donors, processes grants and issues checks to charities. The main criterion is that the organization receiving the money is a 501 (c) (3) organization. We do all the back-end work, research the charity, make sure they’re legitimate, have a letter of determination issued by the IRS, and then issue the check to the charity. charity – in short, we take care of all the back-end. Work desk.
Q. Are there any charities that are banned?
A. One thing that we have started to look at recently are organizations that could be valid 501 (c) (3) public charities in the eyes of the IRS, but which in practice could function as hate organizations. . This is an issue that hasn’t come up so often before, but it does start to arise from time to time. We therefore keep an eye out for entities that might in fact be considered hate organizations, checking multiple sources to determine the status of their activities.
Q. But at the end of the day, how and where the money goes is a foundational decision?
A. We want our donors to be able to freely indicate where their money is going. But in the end, GiveWell’s decision and GiveWell’s reputation are at stake.
Q. In the 25 years since its creation, the foundation has built a very healthy financial situation. Considering all the money the foundation gives out each year, how did it go from zero assets to $ 257 million and more?
A. With careful investments, our assets have grown over time, and the gifts that arrive each year are often close to, equal or sometimes greater than the grants that come out each year. So that way we can build the endowment funds and other funds that we maintain. This ensures both the long term health of the foundation and our ability to get through tough times.
Q. There may be a misconception that the foundation is primarily a vehicle for the rich, but in fact isn’t it true that you don’t need to have a ton of money to participate in the GiveWell’s philanthropic work?
A. This is what is good with community foundations. It is a way for people who do not have high net worth to set up a fund that acts like a private foundation and allows those people to engage in philanthropy without incurring all of the costs involved in setting up and running the fund. maintaining a separate foundation.
While we have a few fund holders who would be considered high net worth, most of our funds come from people and organizations that do not fall into this category. The minimum amount to create a donor advised fund is $ 10,000. We ask that you start with this amount and that there is at least one activity in the fund every three years. While we see ourselves as a kind of philanthropic savings account, we want the money to flow to charities on a timely basis.
Q. For people who have less than a lump sum of $ 10,000, what is a way for them to participate in the donations?
A. One thing I’d like to do is grow more unallocated money – outside of donor-advised funds – as a way to encourage young people who don’t have $ 10,000 to have a taste of philanthropy with just $ 1. $ 000 or $ 2000, allowing our grants committee to decide where it’s going. It is an opportunity for both GiveWell and its beneficiaries and for the youngest to learn about giving as well as the work of GiveWell itself.
For example, we currently use unrestricted funds to fund our annual cycle of Empower Polk grants, which this year awarded 35 grants for technology improvements, strategic planning, and other efforts that help make organizations nonprofit. more durable. Anyone can contribute to Empower Polk, not just fund owners.
Q. GiveWell has had many successes over the years. What current initiatives stand out in particular?
A. One thing we are proud of is the creation of a joint fund with United Way of Central Florida for community aid. It was intended to raise funds to help support nonprofits that were in dire straits due to COVID, or that needed additional funds to address high priority areas like food insecurity and housing. It was a little out of our comfort zone, but for me it’s the biggest wellness story because we were able to raise between $ 650,000 and $ 700,000.
And it feels good for two reasons. First, it created a feeling of partnership with Centraide. Historically, United Way and GiveWell kind of did their own thing – they knew they existed, tolerated each other – but probably didn’t work much together. This allowed us to work closely together. The other thing is, we were able to quickly donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to some really needy nonprofits that provide food, shelter, senior care, and child care. children, as well as some education-related organizations offering private lessons.
This partnership with United Way continues and we are currently working together on a needs assessment for Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties to better target where our donor dollars are going. We are convinced that this will be a very impactful initiative.
Q. How has COVID affected both the donations that GiveWell has received and the money that is given?
A. Our donations set a record last year, as did our grants. People have been very generous because of COVID – and because of that we have been able to help many organizations, and through them we have been able to help many people in need.
Thomas R. Oldt can be contacted at [email protected]