As the 21st century began, donors were looking for ways to be more involved in their philanthropy. 

In response, Centre Foundation began to explore and implement new initiatives that allowed donors to be active participants in the foundation’s granting. 

This led to the formation of the Giving Circle, which was established in 2006 as the Anniversary Circle in honor of the foundation’s 25th anniversary. Dolores Taricani was board chair at the time and credits former executive director Bob Potter with the idea of bringing community members together by pooling small donations that would add up to a $10,000 grant for an organization chosen by those donors.

“It was small when we started, but there were many families who decided to be part of it,” Taricani said. “Bob was very creative and brought a lot of great ideas to the foundation, including this one.”

Previous Giving Circle grant recipients include Centre Safe, which used the funds to build an outdoor play area, as well as ACRES Project, Interfaith Human Services, and numerous other organizations. As the program’s membership has grown, it is now able to offer nearly $20,000 in grants to multiple organizations each year.

Ellis and Lynn Abramson are long-time Giving Circle members. Lynn said she appreciates the opportunity to learn about new organizations that are making an impact in the community and connect with those organizations at Giving Circle events.

“The events are a really rewarding experience because it lets us connect with the organizations and with other members of the community who are involved in judging the Giving Circle proposals,” she said.

Creating Engaging Endowments

At the onset of the 21st century, a unique type of fund, the donor-advised fund, emerged as a popular way for community members to have a more direct say in how their endowment resources were being allocated.

Simply put, a donor-advised fund is like a charitable investment account created to support nonprofit organizations that are important to the donor. According to the Council on Foundations, donor-advised funds increased in number and importance in the U.S. in the early 2000s. They grew in popularity because they provide strong tax incentives, as well as the opportunity to make an immediate impact in a focused way.

When John and Joan Chernega decided to retire and sell their business, EMF Systems, they saw it as a great opportunity to give back. By creating a donor-advised fund, they shared the value from the business with the community they loved. The Chernegas were able to take advantage of an immediate tax benefit and years later, they continue to be engaged with Centre Foundation and their fund.

The Chernega Family Fund supports programs that they value, primarily health and human services organizations, such as Housing Transitions and State College Area Meals on Wheels. As with all donor advisors, the Chernegas annually recommend which nonprofits should benefit from the fund’s distributions.

“Health was always close to our hearts,” Joan Chernega said. “There are always people contributing to fun stuff like the arts. We were interested in those things but wanted to make this specifically for human services.”

Honoring Community Ties

In 2007, Anne and Paul Bender created a fund in honor of their parents, Fred and Elizabeth Bender, William Lytle, and Edna Jeffrey Treager. They felt that the fund was an appropriate way to recognize the tenacity and dedication of their parents who, despite adversity, worked hard to provide for their families.

Their daughter, Meg Bender, serves as the fund’s donor advisor today. Though she now lives in the Washington, D.C. area, Meg said she enjoys the opportunity to stay connected to her hometown through her involvement with the fund and Centre Foundation.

“My parents really wanted the money to stay in the Centre Region and stay in the community to provide support to those in need,” Bender said. “They enjoyed the discretion and ability to select individual recipients on a year-by-year basis, and that’s something I’m able to carry on in their honor.”

Riggs and Gloria Griffith established a donor-advised fund the year after the Benders in 2008. Riggs is a former member of the foundation’s board and continues to serve as a member of the Investment Committee. He saw the fund as a way to make a gift that he could follow through the years and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

“We had planned to establish a fund at Centre Foundation at our deaths, but when the minimum to establish a fund was decreased from $25,000 to $10,000, we thought, ‘Why wait?’ Griffith said. “As a member of the foundation’s board of directors, I thought it important to set an example of how folks of comfortable but modest means could give something back to the community in which we live by being able to take up to five years to complete this initial phase of our gift.”

Looking Forward: Thriving in the Digital Age 

The emergence of donor-advised funds and the creation of the Giving Circle allowed the foundation to reach more donors and to create greater impact across Centre County. That theme of expanding the foundation’s reach would only continue to grow as the organization entered the 2010s. Read the full magazine here!

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