Ten years ago, a small group of local people decided to start a community foundation.
Their goal was to create a permanent source of funding for civic and charitable groups, ongoing programs and new projects in Waupaca and throughout the county.
Since 2003, the organization has seen the amount it gives away annually in grants grow from about $5,000 in 2004 to more than $300,000 in 2012. Its assets now total more than $3.5 million.
A retired college administrator and relative newcomer to the area spearheaded efforts to launch the Waupaca Area Community Foundation.
“Before I came to Waupaca, I had been vice chair of the community foundation in Hamilton, Ohio,” recalled Jack Rhodes. “I was looking for something that needed doing, and I discovered that there was no community foundation in Waupaca.”
Rhodes said he began contacting others who might share his desire to start a community foundation.
“I met with the city administrator, Henry Veleker,” Rhodes said. “He told me Dr. Roy Holly was interested in a community foundation and I met with him.”
Holly had explored the process of starting a foundation. He and Rhodes joined forces and scheduled what would become the foundation’s first meeting in December 2003.
About 20 people attended the first meeting. Among them were Christine Faulks, who has served as the secretary of the Board of Directors; Jay Krcmar, who is the board’s treasurer; and Tim Neuville, who is the board’s vice chairman. Rhodes is chairman.
“When I first joined, I didn’t have any real expectations,” Neuville said. “We raised about $3,500, and a few of the board members threw in another $500 each.”
After the foundation was chartered, with help from attorney Tom Hart, Rhodes and Holly began meeting with local organizations, explaining how a foundation works and seeking funds.
Foundations raise money not just for short-term donations, but for long-term investments so a reliable source of funding is available in the community.
“The problem Roy Holly and I had was finding someone who would contribute the first dollar,” Rhodes said. “I had made the pitch to several individuals, and many said they’d be happy to contribute once the foundation gets going.”
Connie Abert, an educator with the University of Wisconsin Extension office in Waupaca County, suggested Rhodes speak with Healthy Youth, Healthy Communities.
“The foundation’s first contribution to the general fund came from a student group,” Rhodes said. “They had about $4,000 in savings, and they said they would give us that money, no strings attached. One of the kids said, ‘We get it.'”
Waupaca’s foundation is unique in that its bylaws require that at least two members of the Board of Directors be students. This year, the student board members are Courtney Bloom and Sawyer Olson.
Rhodes explained that the Waupaca Area Community Foundation has two primary components: designated funds and general funds.
About 95 percent of the foundation’s assets are in endowment or special funds, most of which are designated for specific programs or needs.
For example, the Donald G. Brunner Fund provides annual scholarships, while the ToTo Endowment Fund focuses its giving to the Humane Society.
There are special funds for the hospital, the historical society, parks, scholarships, Winchester Academy, the Pregnancy Information Center and Fox Valley Technical College, among many others.
The foundation also oversees a general fund.
Each year, board members award funds to civic and charitable groups which apply for grants for specific projects.
In 2012, the foundation gave away $110,700 to more than 20 organizations.
To qualify for a grant, an organization must have a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
“Sometimes, we receive applications from groups that are not registered as non-profits, or people ask us if we can make grants to individuals with emergency needs, but we can’t do that,” Rhodes said. “The community foundation has to operate according to stringent state and federal rules and regulations.”
Money for the foundation’s general fund grants comes primarily from an annual spring gala.
“We had our first gala five years ago,” said Neuville, who chairs the fundraising committee.
He noted that 42 people attended the first gala. Their donations allowed the foundation to give away $40,000 in grants.
Attendance at the gala has grown each year. This year, more than 100 people attended the gala, which raised more than $110,000.
A donor covers the gala’s cost each year so all of the donations either go to grants that year or in subsequent years if the foundation does not receive enough qualified applications.
Other members of the fundraising committee include Archie Overby, Chris Anthony, Christine Faulks, Chris Mischler, Juergen Zirnstein, Ray Hutchinson, Sharon Peterson, Jan Bax and Jack Rhodes.
“Angie Wanty does a lot of the organizational work for the committee,” Neuville said.
The deadline for 2013 grant applications to the Waupaca Area Community Foundation is Monday, July 1.
Rhodes encouraged all qualified area organizations to apply for the annual grants.
Decisions will be announced in August, and the grants will be distributed at a banquet in early October.
For the first four years, the Waupaca Area Community Foundation worked closely with the Appleton-based Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region.
The larger, more established organization provided expertise on financial matters, taxes and administrative support.
In 2007, the Waupaca foundation became an affiliate of the Fox Valley foundation. It became part of a larger investment structure.
“Our money is held separately in the Waupaca Area Community Foundation’s family of funds,” Rhodes said, comparing the larger foundation to a bank and the local foundation to an account holder at that bank. “Our local board decides where that money goes.”
Beginning July 1, Rhodes will begin a one-year term as chairman of the board of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.
When asked about the future of the WACF, Rhodes is optimistic, “Our community foundation should be a permanent part now of Waupaca’s future. I hope it will be helping to create good things in the Waupaca area for decades to come.”