By Alexander Germanis
As the winter winds begin to cut to the bone and the darkness of night settles around us all too quickly, people’s thoughts often become occupied with how they can warm the lives of others—how they might bring a little light into someone else’s world. Minds turn to the many people and charitable organizations within the community who could use a helping hand.
Incorporated in 1986, what was known then as the Peoria Area Community Foundation set out to connect these people who care with the causes that mattered to them. Now called the Community Foundation of Central Illinois (CFCI), and with a base built on the trust of the people in the community, CFCI is determined to extend a helping hand to all those in the Greater Peoria area who need it.
The Community’s Savings Account
As with the smallest college fund started for a newborn, CFCI saw humble beginnings, but beginnings nevertheless bent toward a lofty goal. “The core mission of the Community Foundation is to better our community by connecting people who care with causes that matter,” states CFCI CEO Mark Roberts. “We serve as a gateway to strategic philanthropy for individuals, families, nonprofit organizations, and corporations in our area, allowing people to support their particular areas of interest or concern.”
To become that gateway, CFCI needed visionary guidance and hard work from community leaders like Ed Siebert, Lew Burger, Bill Rutherford, Lynn Landes, and many others. Two years after its incorporation, the Foundation became truly viable when Donna Haerr became its first executive director.
“Housed in a small, donated office in the Jefferson Bank Building, Donna set to work growing the Foundation, which had exactly $2540.39 cash on hand at that time,” Mark recounts. Early on, the Foundation received financial support from Caterpillar, the Bielfeldt Foundation, and others. In 1995, George Kreiss succeeded Donna, followed by Jim Sullivan in 1999. Three years later, the Foundation became known as the Community Foundation of Central Illinois.
Although the Foundation’s name had changed, its mission and method remained unaltered. “We accomplish the mission by creating permanent endowment funds and planned gifts to provide an ongoing source of funding for our community,” Mark explains. “In a nutshell, we are a ‘charitable savings account for the community.’”
An inhabitant of any city knows how much that city can change in 30 years or more. Populations grow, densities shift, and technology evolves.
Of course, CFCI has grown and evolved as much as the city it serves. “Our total assets now approach nearly $72 million, held in over 400 funds,” Mark reveals, “and we have experienced rapid growth over the past several years as community members increasingly turn to us to help facilitate their charitable giving.”
Many have even turned to CFCI to aide in their estate planning, knowing the foundation will be able to preserve any legacy they wish to leave behind for the community and organizations they loved.
Turning to similar foundations has become a more common occurrence across the United States, with more than 900 community foundations forming as a direct result of decreased corporate and public support.
“As the issues facing our community are growing ever more complex, having a nimble, neutral organization like CFCI that can deploy charitable resources to help address emerging needs in our community is incredibly important,” Mark insists. “CFCI is needed today more than ever.”
Connecting the Caring
Although CFCI has always operated on the premise of “connecting people who care with causes that matter,” it has added to its mission by serving as a convener of key community discussions, a messenger of important community issues, and an aggregator of community assets.
The community is at the heart of everything CFCI does, including how certain projects are chosen for funding. A committee of volunteers from the community reviews each grant application, judges the merits of each, and ranks them. This same group of community members then allocates the funding amongst those chosen projects until all funds are exhausted.
“That is the role the Foundation staff plays in being educated about the state of non-profits in our community,” Mark adds, “and that the volunteer board and committees play by judging funding requests and making good decisions about how to allocate funds to support community initiatives. That is really the beauty of the way community foundations are organized.”
None of this work CFCI does would be possible without the bedrock upon which the Foundation is based: trust. “Trust in our organization is paramount,” Mark confirms. “And we earn that trust every day. I think the three most important factors are the safe and secure oversight of donated funds, the preservation of the original charitable intent of the donor, and that CFCI have a solid understanding of how contributions should be used most effectively to benefit the community today and into the future.”
More Ways Than One
Just as there seems to be an unending number of people who need help, there are innumerable ways, through CFCI, in which people can give that help. By setting up various funding methods, CFCI has provided ways in which one may aid anyone or any organization dear to one’s heart.
Field of Interest Funds are funds directed to whatever passion the donor chooses. CFCI selects the nonprofit that best meets those passions.
For those who wish to be a little more hands on, Designated Funds and Donor Advised Funds require the donor’s input in choosing the specific organizations and encourage direct donor involvement.
Scholarship Funds can also involve the donor. Donors can select a group of students either at a particular school or in a specific curriculum, with the goal of furthering their education.
Organizational Endowment Funds can be utilized by nonprofit groups to establish a permanent fund administered by CFCI in order to free up all those within the nonprofit to focus on their mission.
For those who simply want to help but may not know the best way, Unrestricted Funds are an option. “Unrestricted Funds are incredibly helpful to CFCI, as it allows us maximum flexibility in making grants where and when the community needs them the most,” Mark explains. “We definitely would love for more donors to consider establishing an Unrestricted Fund at CFCI.
Finally, the initiative at CFCI known as the Ending Hunger Together Fund (EHT) was created to address food insecurity by combining civic education, community development, and access to healthy food. “We are proud to support two fantastic programs that are working to address these issues,” Mark says. “Both the HEAL initiative and Peoria Grown Market 309 have had an impact on raising awareness about food insecurity and increasing accessibility to resources for those who need them most.”
One for All
In a community like Peoria, no one is an island. What affects one segment of the community will eventually have repercussions for others. Although we tend to think of this effect as how negative events can shape our world, compassion, selflessness, and generosity have this power, too. A positive influence will cause ripples and even waves that can flood even the darkest corners of our world with light.
But even the smallest wave needs an external force to bring it into being. A positive act requires someone to actually act. Through the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, those actions can cause great waves indeed.
“Our community will benefit today from the work that those before us have done in growing this organization,” Mark expresses. “The community will benefit from the work that we are doing today over the next 20, 50, 100 years and beyond. Collectively, we are all leaving a legacy.”
“The Community Foundation belongs to all of us,” Mark continues. “Everyone that lives in Central Illinois is a stakeholder, and we all have a voice in working to make our community a better place. I encourage people to get involved: volunteer for one of our committees, talk about the Community Foundation to your friends and family, or become a donor. Working together, our potential for success is absolutely limitless.”
The Community Foundation of Central Illinois is located at 3625 North Sheridan Road in Peoria, Illinois. If you are interested in learning more about the many ways you can help your community, please call CFCI at (309) 674-8730 or visit them on the web at www.communityfoundationci.org.