Curt Detjen is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Fox Cities, a 26-year-old organization that now grants about $12 million a year to various organizations and causes within the region. Insight Associate Editor Nikki Kallio talked with Detjen about the foundation’s role as one of the premier charitable organizations not only in the Fox Valley but in the nation.
Everything we do is about the donors and about quality of life, especially within our Fox Valley region. The organization has enjoyed just a wonderful and sustained track record of growth that reflects the charitable and giving nature of the people who live in this part of the country. Today the foundation is in the top 60 of all community foundations nationally, in the same level of ranking as the community like Dallas and New Orleans.
Many communities like to talk about the fact that they have people who are philanthropic and want to give back, but this part of the country I think is superlative in that respect. There’s a culture and an expectation of people who live in this area to be involved in their communities – corporations, businesses, organizations of all types expect their leadership to be involved in community affairs. People really do get involved here. They take leadership and initiative, and they look to give back in a way that’s very unique and very different than other areas of the country. That’s the reason the foundation has grown so phenomenally well over the years, because it is an organization that’s just about providing an excellent level of service to our donors. They trust us, they know us, we’re involved in a community just like they are, and it happens organically that way.
Scholarships are one of our most popular charitable outlets. In the last year, more than $800,000 worth of scholarships were given out.
Endowments are a fascinating concept. It’s the ability to make gifts with the intention that only a portion of that asset is going to be used for the charitable purpose every year. In our case, it tends to be 5 percent given away every year. The rest of that gift asset remains invested and grows over the course of time so that 20 years, 50 years, 100 years from now, that gift is going to continue to give.
Ten years ago the foundation had assets of $90 million. At the close of our recent fiscal year, it was closer to $204 million. And that was a decade of wild swings in the stock market and changes in the local regional and national economy. But during that time the foundation just continued to thrive, to grow, and that was all based on service. The cumulative grants 10 years ago from the foundation totaled $45 million and have grown to a cumulative of more than $162 million. In recent years, that’s been about $12 million per year that’s been granted.
A very important aspect of philanthropy has always been the planned giving. During the economic downturn, we worked with literally dozens of donors who had charitable interests, but it wasn’t yet time for them to make their gift. We worked with them to make all the arrangements for a future gift that we expected through their estates.
One of our other responsibilities is to use the discretionary monies in the most important areas of the community’s life. That totals about $1 million per year, and is discretionary to the Community Foundation to make the biggest difference it can make. We have chosen to continue our focus on strengthening the capacity of nonprofits in the area. We’ve increased our commitment to arts and culture, and to environmental sustainability. We also want to play a growing role in addressing the root causes of poverty and basic needs in the community.
The foundation has in the last 10 years opened up so many opportunities for donors. Historically, people wrote checks, or donated appreciated stock to a charitable fund. We now have the capability to help the donor to make a gift of real estate, or privately held stock, even collectibles. That’s something that most nonprofits don’t have. It’s a way just to provide better service and more opportunities because it’s very important for the quality of life in our region. We make it very simple.