Sunday, January 21, 2007

Religious-based philanthropy has grown as motivated donors discover donor-directed funds.

In the 1990s, many Minnesotans discovered they didn't have to be rich to give away money through a community foundation that focused on their hometown. More recently, they've discovered they can do the same through a foundation that focuses on their faith.

The Lutheran and Catholic community foundations, which didn't exist in Minnesota 15 years ago, have attracted thousands of donors, about $380 million in combined assets and, in 2005, combined grants of $13.7 million.

Nationally, donor-directed funds at 88 grantmaking organizations grew to $15.5 billion in 2005, up 22 percent in one year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported. Those funds distributed $3.3 billion to charity.

Much of the growth in Minnesota and across the nation has been spurred by an intergenerational transfer of wealth, an increase in planned giving and more knowledge by donors, said Eli Skora, executive director of the United Jewish Fund and Council in St. Paul. Gains in the stock market also have been a factor.

Donors say they give to the funds because they're a simple, flexible, efficient way of giving. The donors don't have to worry about administration or investment strategies and they can get good advice on religious causes.

"It's easy to identify the geographic boundaries of community foundations," said Bill King, president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, adding that the shared values of religion offer "great potential for ... increased giving."

On the list of Minnesota's top community foundations, the Lutheran and Catholic groups rank just behind the much larger and older St. Paul and Minneapolis foundations. The Minnesota Council on Foundations ranks the state's largest foundations each year and the Star Tribune publishes the top 25 (see page D2). The Lutheran Community Foundation ranked No. 24 in 2005, the most recent year for which financial information is available, up from No. 33 in 2004.

There are other religious-oriented foundations. The Jewish Community Foundation, which is an arm of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation rather than a separate foundation, gave away $6.9 million last year.

Catholic Community Foundation
Headquarters: St. Paul
Assets: $180 million (Dec. 31 estimate)
Donors: More than 750 funds and 2,200 donors; $50 million in grants given since the foundation began.
Contact: 651-389-0300

Life was good enough for Steve and Lynn Wolf to retire in their early 50s a decade ago, and now "who we are is parents and grandparents," Steve Wolf said. They also are committed charitable givers and seekers of deeper spirituality. They were "a couple of kids who came off the farms in Iowa -- and those were small farms," he said. They became sweethearts at a Catholic high school, married young and raised three daughters.

He had a good information-technology career in the Twin Cities with Target Corp. and then had his own firm. She was an administrative assistant, a custom seamstress and a coach for their daughters' activities. "We're very Catholic," he said, and she added, "That's why we chose the Catholic Community Foundation." They've given heavily to their church, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Minnetonka, to Catholic causes as far away as Uganda and to social services such as food shelves and Sharing and Caring Hands.

The foundation is one of 30 or 40 that have sprung up since 1955 among dioceses around the country, but this one, serving the 12-county Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is the nation's largest. Besides making contributions easy for donors such as the Wolfs, the foundation helps connect them with a lot of other people, Steve Wolf said, "something beyond our parish ... part of the universal church."

The foundation, which is independent but closely tied to the archdiocese, distributes about $6 million a year, mostly to parishes, schools, seminaries and social services. [....snip] StarTribune

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