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Community Foundation takes giving to a higher level


According to a study, an estimated $21 trillion in assets will pass from one generation to another in the United States in the next one to two decades.

“So it’s a great time for philanthropy,” said Johni Hays, executive director of the Planned Giving Institute of the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation. “It’s a great time to talk to people about charitable planning. Because what we don’t want to have happen is to see a lot of that money going to the IRS, when it could be going to charitable causes.”

The Greater Des Moines Community Foundation was established in 1969 as a charitable public foundation “for the purpose of of improving the quality of life in Greater Des Moines by initiating programs, coordinating resources, and supporting organizations that enhance education, community betterment, arts and culture, health and human services.”

Last year, the foundation distributed nearly $6 million in grants throughout the metro area from its various funds. Through the Community Innovation Grant program, designed to stimulate creative programs and projects, 30 community projects received $250,000 in funding last year.

In that same time, the foundation received an additional $16 million in contributions, more than offsetting $3.5 million in investment losses. Total assets have grown from $49 million last year to about $60 million currently, primarily through increased contributions.

“I think what’s happening is the whole idea of supporting the community through a community foundation is starting to catch on,” said Johnny Danos, president of the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation. “I think it will grow even more significantly in the next few years. We hope to increase that to $100 million in the next several years.”

The foundation has four primary functions:

– Promote philanthropy in the community;

– Help build endowments for other non-profit organizations;

– Expedite civic projects; and

– Facilitate collaboration with local non-profit agencies.      Some of the civic projects the foundation has assisted in funding within the past few years are the Gray’s Lake Park and bridge project and the streetscape beautification projects for Fleur Drive and Grand Avenue. The foundation also is working with the Principal Financial Group Inc. on the planned Riverwalk project.

For those types of projects, “I think people feel more comfortable giving to a charity than to the city of Des Moines,” Hays said.

Hays was hired by the foundation last year to head the Planned Giving Institute, which has the mission of assisting all non-profit organizations in the community with their planned giving programs. The services to the non-profits are at no charge and confidential.

“And I can help professional advisers if they need technical help or support,” she said. “So we’re kind of a resource in the community to help people make gifts.”

According to recent studies, 85 percent of Iowa residents contribute to non-profit charities annually, but only an estimated 6 percent provide charitable bequests through their wills or trusts, which points to a need for greater education about the importance of planned giving.

“One of the messages we put out is, who’s going to write that check for the non-profit when they’re gone?” Hays said.

Last year, the foundation purchased the Finkbine Mansion at 1915 Grand Ave., with the goal of making the entire building a philanthropic resource center, Hays said. The restored mansion also houses the Planned Giving Institute, the Number 1 Question and several other philanthropic organizations.

On Nov. 12, the foundation will sponsor a seminar on planned giving techniques at the University Holiday Inn, from 8:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. For more information, contact Hays at 883-9505.


Iowa’s smaller communities may be able to qualify for state matching funds to spur more philanthropic activity. But the amount of funding that will be available will depend largely on how much sales tax revenues increase in the next few years.

The Endow Iowa program, enacted earlier this year by the Legislature, provides for a seed-grant program in which communities can receive up to $25,000 in state matching funds to set up an endowment fund to finance community projects. It also creates a tax-credit program for donors who invest in qualified community endowment funds.

The purpose of endowments is to create permanent funding vehicles that use the earnings from investments to fund community projects, leaving the principal intact.

Because grant funding will come from the Values Fund during fiscal years 2005-2007, “there is the possibility of those allocations being affected if sales taxes aren’t high enough,” said Michael Johansen, the Iowa Department of Economic Development’s business finance project manager. Funding from the Values Fund in those fiscal years is based on the amount that sales tax receipts exceed 2 percent from the previous fiscal year.

Under the program, groups from small communities may receive administrative assistance from larger cities’ community foundations. About 13 community foundations currently meet the national standards required by the legislation.

In Central Iowa, the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation is currently working on grant applications with a group representing the towns of Conrad and Beaman, as well separately with Perry and Urbandale.      The IDED is now finalizing the administrative rules for the program. Once the rules are approved, a request for proposals will be issued for a lead philanthropic agency to administer the grants program.

The tax credit program will be administered directly by the IDED.


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