Meeting with NCPRPDC and ECCF.

Photo by Joseph Bell

North Central Pennsylvania Regional
Planning and Development Commission [NCPRPDC] officials were joined Wednesday
morning by Paula Fritz Eddy, the executive director of the Elk County Community
Foundation [ECCF], for a lengthy discussion regarding rural community
development philanthropy.

Commission explores philanthropy

By Joseph Bell

RidgwayRecord Editor

North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development
Commission [NCPRPDC] officials were joined Wednesday morning by Paula Fritz
Eddy, the executive director of the Elk County Community Foundation [ECCF], for
a lengthy discussion regarding rural community development philanthropy.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking about, just
how North Central can position itself appropriately in this conversation,”
said Eric Bridges, executive director of North Central. “Back in April, I
had the opportunity to sit down with Paula [Fritz Eddy] and share some of my
insights and my background, and we made a connection and established a

“We felt it was time for the commission and the
foundation to initiate a dialogue so that we could begin talking about
developing a better appreciation for what potential collaboration and
partnership opportunities are out there.”

In 2010, the Community Foundation of North Central
Pennsylvania [CFNC] was established to enable discussion in neighboring
counties and communities that have not been served by a community foundation
within their area. The CFNC is a parent organization to ECCF and other
potential communities that would want to serve the philanthropic needs in their
county, borough, or even township. The board and staff of CFNC continue to look
for opportunities to serve areas that border Elk County as well.

Eddy provided background information to North Central board
members from outside the immediate area, including Cameron, Clearfield,
Jefferson, McKean, and Potter counties during her presentation.

“About four or five years ago, we began that discussion
of changing our name or having a parent corporation, and a year or so ago, we
did that,” Eddy said.

The goal, however, is still the same.

“Together, a community foundation is a platform for
building a community,” Eddy said. “Our No. 1 goal is to build
permanent name component funds, but we work with all sorts of donors–
donor-advised funds, we have specific-to-agency funds– just whatever works for
the donor, and for the agency and the group. The role of a community foundation
is a builder and caretaker of permanent funds and resources.

“We serve as providers to donors, grant makers, we’re
conveners, catalysts and collaborators with the community, and our staff is on
volunteer boards and groups throughout the county. A number of those are
tri-county,” Eddy said.

Another positive aspect of a nonprofit endowment fund is
that the fund itself remains a permanent source of income that provides
stability through economic ups and downs.

“It’s a place where you can have dollars that are going
to be specific to a particular project, resource, or use for emergency at times
when there aren’t enough resources,” Eddy said. “When organizations
are short of those funds in the future, the endowment assets help ensure that
the resources are always available.”

One endowment specific to a community is the Ridgway Charitable Fund.

“It was set up in an estate plan by an individual who
specified that she wanted five residents of the community to review competitive
grant applications for any nonprofit or religious group within Ridgway
Borough,” Eddy said. “We do that once a year and we grant somewhere
between $18,000 to $20,000 from that fund on an annual basis. It’s dollars that
normally would not be there for that community.”

The Ridgway Charitable Fund is just one small example; for
Eddy, the benefits of a community foundation are plentiful.

“By having us, there is no need to pay outside
investment advisors, legal counsel, or financial institutes,” Eddy said.
“We have an excellent investment committee– businessmen, bankers,
consultants, accountants– we have a really good group on that committee right

ECCF staff are able to handle sophisticated gifts as well,
including those regarding property and stock, and they are able to save on
legal and accounting fees as one 990 tax form is filed for all the affiliates
together under the Community Foundation of North Central Pennsylvania.

“We can do pretty much any grant and each agreement
that we write for funds can be tailored to what the donor wants,” Eddy
said. “That’s what it’s about, working with the donors and determining
what they want. A donor could be a municipality or a group of concerned
citizens for our community, it could be whatever we want.

“When the grants come in to our office, along with a
committee, we check the credibility of the charity, the capability of the
organizations, the feasibility and importance of the project, and so forth.
After the grants are made, we do a follow-up for each of them as well to see
how everything went.”

To date, ECCF is one of 38 community foundations in
Pennsylvania; there are reportedly over 700 throughout the United States. ECCF
currently manages 86 funds with roughly $6 million in assets.

“The foundation uses revenues to provide grants and
scholarships to nonprofits as well,” Eddy said. “Those scholarships,
as being an important thing to donors, a lot of people bring their scholarships
through us because we’re a PATH partner with PHEAA, meaning that if students
are eligible, they will get PATH matching dollars.

“I was notified this year that of the 86 students who
received scholarships from us last year, 41 or 42 of them will receive a
matching grant, totaling nearly $40,000.”

The Ridgway Area School District reportedly brings their
scholarships to ECCF and the Kane Area School District is currently in the
process of moving most of their scholarships to ECCF as well. St. Marys Area
School District did so a number of years ago.

“The biggest reason concerning why people decide to
give to a community foundation is because they’re local and the money is going
to stay local,” Eddy said. “Working at the American Cancer Society
for 14 years, I can’t say how many times someone would tell me that they wanted
their money to stay local.

“They really believed in what [ACS] did when we spoke
to people, they wanted a cure but we weren’t going to have research done at Elk
Regional. So I couldn’t say that their money would stay local but with [ECCF],
it will stay local.”

In building endowment funds to benefit communities for
literally forever, Eddy said the foundation’s future appears sound and safe.

“That’s one thing you say, that money will be forever,
and we use a formula to help make that happen,” Eddy said. “Our hope
is that with this new parent organization, we can help bring affiliates across
the area to be involved with us as well.”

For Bridges, the concept of a community foundation and rural
community development philanthropy go hand in hand with the point driven home
by the Nebraska Community Foundation [NCF], a “national model for its
innovative work in community development philanthropy and for its
groundbreaking work in using the intergenerational transfer of wealth to craft
community endowment-building goals.”

“The theme of this discussion is rural community
development philanthropy and to my perspective, the real, true opportunity that
is afforded us through the community foundation is the
endowment-building,” Bridges said. “Looking at the history of this
organization [ECCF], over $1.5 million of tax dollars without bureaucracy
intervention– they’re solicited locally, managed locally, controlled and
implemented locally, think about that. As a person in an organization that
depends heavily on the public taxpayer dollars, one of the things we always say
is, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just do what it is that we know we need to
do– just get rid of the regulations and the bureaucracy and we know what we’re
doing and where it needs to go.’

“I’ll offer that through the community foundations and
their model, and through the high level of charitable commitment in the
community, we have the ability to do that. The decisions on where those
community foundation dollars go are not made in Harrisburg or city hall in St.
Marys, or Washington, D.C.– they’re made by individuals in the community who
presumably know where those assets and resources need to go.”

Using NCF as a model on a much larger scale, Bridges said
Nebraska has enjoyed unparalleled success through their organization, powered
largely by estate donations throughout the state.

NCF reportedly serves 220 community, organizational and
donor-advised affiliated funds in 238 communities located in 79 Nebraska
counties. NCF and its affiliated funds have reinvested $138.6 million in
Nebraska since 1993.

“When I was involved in community development and
philanthropy, initially that was the area that people were participating in,
the fun part. ‘Wow, we get to give out these grants.’ It was about six months
to a year in that process where the conversation changed. It was more about the
transformative nature that endowment-building brings,” Bridges said.
“Beyond just the grants, we’re seeing that communities are being
transformed. Endowment-building provides those opportunities. We talked about
it all the time, transforming different things throughout the community.

“The beauty of the community foundation tool is that
it’s like having your own personal private foundation without all the headaches
and paperwork; if you have something that you care passionately about and what
to contribute resources to, you can do that, and it probably takes one or two
phone calls to [ECCF] to get that going. It’s easy to partner and connect but
thinking broadly, if we can get our arms around the rural community development
philanthropy, the possibilities are endless.”