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Judy Clabes: Give because you’re part of the community and you care about good works

Growing up in Henderson, a Western Kentucky Ohio River city, is among the things I give thanks for every day. The luck of getting my start in a place where strong families, good neighbors, engaged churches, fine schools and solid values meant a young girl was well prepared to make her way in the world. Along that journey, there have been many reasons to be proud of my hometown roots.

But never was I prouder than the recent evening I was privileged to witness the celebration of the successful launch of the Henderson Community Foundation. In the lovely setting of the new Fine Arts Center on the growing Henderson Community and Technical College campus, there unfolded the finest example of community leadership, vision and engagement that could be imagined.

Establishment of community foundations – and endowed funds targeted for every county in our Commonwealth – is a strategic objective of the Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative, a nonprofit I founded to advocate for private philanthropic investment in Kentucky. KPI commissioned and published a groundbreaking study on the Transfer of Wealth in Kentucky – an astounding $700 billion over 50 years – and provided leadership to establish the Endow Kentucky tax credit. This amazing progressive legislation provides incentives for people of wealth to contribute to endowed funds in community foundations. These two things – and a “Give-back Kentucky” campaign – have encouraged many new funds around the state.

Community foundations are just that. They are designed to provide communities with the mechanism for building resources – in perpetuity – so that the funds generated provide a solid financial foundation to support quality of life in the community. The beauty of this approach is that it allows everyone to participate. You do not have to be wealthy, though a community needs its wealth-builders to be involved. The beauty of community foundations is that even the smallest donations, in a collective effort, add up to significance.

To make community foundations successful – and certainly to start them from scratch – requires a sparkplug. Often an individual or a group of individuals who take on the effort – and give it their undivided devotion. In Henderson that sparkplug was Farm Bureau insurance agent Chase Fulcher, a self-made, hard-working, rags-to-riches success story himself.

Chase just couldn’t walk away; raising funds to give the foundation a good start became his “most important life’s work.” He seized it with evangelistic fervor. And before that magical night was over, he had announced commitments of more than $1.6 million to the new Henderson Community Foundation. Donors included a Who’s-Who of Henderson, founding families and prosperous individuals, many of whom grew up in the nurturing bosom of the county and made quiet, hard-working successes of themselves. Their commitments started at $25,000; many were much more than that. All of them knew it was just the beginning.

Chase Fulcher will be quick to say he didn’t do it alone, but that’s almost an overstatement. He very nearly did, though the idea was born with a young leadership group who put the structure in place, a group led by Jennifer Preston and others, and enabled by an “older” leadership group that included Scott Davis, Dale Sights, Ronnie Jenkins, Herb McKee and others. The whole community should join in celebrating these good citizens who set out to make a big difference.

The difference will be big and permanent – a legacy of perpetual funds to underwrite all kinds of good works – scholarships, community development, schools, job training, beautification, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, creating new opportunities for youth. The possibilities are limitless.

Now, for Henderson and other new foundations in the pipeline, the question is: How can everyday citizens help make a difference? Buy-in by the community as a whole is crucial. Building the foundation’s general discretionary fund through collective giving makes it a stronger, more engaged entity – and a proactive leader who can define a public-good agenda.

However the entire community is engaged, it’s important to engage everyone – that every person understand that they can and should be part of this terrific endeavor, that everyone feel part of it and feel welcome, that everyone “buys in” to the importance and impact of this great resource.

My hometown is lucky to have had a sparkplug like Chase Fulcher and to be on its way to having a viable, permanent endowed fund focused on the greater good of the community. Other communities around the state are in development stages for new funds – and cumulatively this is really good news for Kentucky.

Lexington is fortunate to have the Blue Grass Community Foundation, well established and offering services to a wide range of counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky. But it could do more – and better – with greater buy-in from a broader range of donors in our community – and greater support from this community’s considerable wealth-builders. It is a community treasure in itself – and should be greatly treasured. Individual donors, as a collective, could significantly build its discretionary endowment. No donation is too small; pennies add up. Wealth-builders could significantly grow its whole range of endowed funds, targeted for specific community needs.

Right now, the Blue Grass Community Foundation is conducting its annual Good Giving campaign, aimed at building endowments for 68 local nonprofits who provide essential services to our community, all through private support. The campaign runs through Dec. 31 and donations are designated to specific organizations. The goal is $400k and is currently approaching $200k. Go online to goodgivingguide.net to make your contribution to the nonprofit of your choice. Yes, there are prizes and incentives and that’s always fun, but that should not be the reason you give. You should give because you are part of the community, you care about doing good work and supporting others who do good work – and you want to be part of the solutions.

And once you have done that and enjoy the feeling of empowerment that goes with it, think about what you’ll do when this particular campaign is over. Think about making regular contributions to the discretionary fund of the Blue Grass Community Foundation – so that it too can be empowered to do the good work it can do – in perpetuity – for the good of the community.

We should all be able to celebrate with pride when private citizens have come together to secure a brighter future for our homeplaces.

Judy Clabes is editor and publisher of KyForward.com, an online newspaper based in Lexington. She formerly served as editor of The Kentucky Post and president of the Scripps Howard Foundation and is founder of the Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative. Contact her at judy@kyforward.com.

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