Newly-formed Whidbey Community Foundation supports the nonprofit sector

Michael Stadler photo — The Whidbey Community Foundation board features prominent philanthropists and current and former elected officials. Bottom, left to right: Board president Steve Shapiro, former Coupeville mayor Nancy Conard, former Coupeville finance director Robin Hertlein and Oak Harbor mayor Bob Severns. North Whidbey philanthropist George Saul is picture top. County commissioner Helen Price Johnson also serves on the board.

Michael Stadler photo — The Whidbey Community Foundation board features prominent philanthropists and current and former elected officials. Bottom, left to right: Board president Steve Shapiro, former Coupeville mayor Nancy Conard, former Coupeville finance director Robin Hertlein and Oak Harbor mayor Bob Severns. North Whidbey philanthropist George Saul is picture top. County commissioner Helen Price Johnson also serves on the board.

Some say there are so many nonprofit organizations on Whidbey Island that one could throw a rock in any direction and hit one.

For all the island’s philanthropy, however, Whidbey has never had its own community foundation to boot.

That isn’t the case anymore.

The newly formed Whidbey Community Foundation (WCF) recently unveiled its website and plans to aid the island’s nonprofit sector just in time for the holidays. The foundation’s goal, generally speaking, is to “increase the total philanthropy coming onto the island” by serving as an organization with extensive knowledge of the island’s nonprofits. Heritage Bank and “several” of its board members donated money to help get the foundation started.

“We have learned that the Gates Foundation and other large foundations no longer make grants directly to small nonprofits,” foundation board chairman Steve Shapiro said. “They prefer to donate to a community foundation which has a better understanding of the abilities of local nonprofits to make appropriate and responsible use of the funds.”

The Whidbey Community Foundation will serve as an entity that can help donors direct donations toward the causes and types of organizations they care about. The foundation essentially facilitates the nonprofit sector by offering guidance, investment management and by providing a directory that lists all Whidbey-based nonprofits alphabetically. The directory is searchable by category and already contains about 400 updated entries.

Multiple funds have been set up by the foundation, which pools donations for specific causes. The foundation currently has seven funds, including animal welfare, arts and culture, education, environment and education, health and wellness, human services and “general Whidbey support.” Donors can establish their own fund, if they’d like.

“We want to make it clear we’re not trying to take a piece of the pie from the pool of donors on Whidbey,” Shapiro said. “Instead, we’re connecting donors with other nonprofits and connecting nonprofits with each other.”

Until now, Whidbey Island was one of the few Puget Sound communities that didn’t have its own foundation, Shapiro said.

A portion of what the foundation aims to do is help people identify nonprofits on the island that they’d be well-suited to volunteer for, whether in leadership roles or hands-on volunteerism.

The Whidbey Community Foundation can also help establish donor-advised funds for larger donors by offering professional investment management. It allows donors to make a large charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax benefit and recommend how and where to disperse the funds over time. For those who are looking into philanthropic endeavors, going through a community foundation is a way to make sure their donations go as far as possible to fiscally-responsible organizations, Shapiro said.

It’s also a tool for donors to get advice on where else to donate. In a way, a community foundation equalizes the playing field in the nonprofit sector by raising awareness of smaller nonprofits and by giving those smaller organizations education and direction, according to South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer. Palmer served on the board of a community foundation in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

He added the foundation shouldn’t be seen as competition, rather a “venue for donors to invest in.”

“It’s kind of an added value to the local nonprofits, because it helps coordinate and equalize the base, if you will, of the nonprofits,” Palmer said. “This is very exciting to me that this is happening here because it’s a step that I think needs to happen.”

The foundation elected a credible board of movers and shakers whom are familiar with Whidbey’s nonprofit scene and volunteered to be a part of the foundation. The board consists of current and former elected officials, grant writers and nonprofit executives. Commissioner Helen Price Johnson holds a seat on the board, as well as Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns and former Coupeville mayor Nancy Conard. Former Coupeville finance director Robin Hertlein, North Whidbey philanthropist George Saul and Shapiro round out the board members.

The Whidbey Community Foundation is hitting the ground running for the holidays. The foundation has already partnered with Clinton sculptor Georgia Gerber and husband Randy Hudson for their Christmas fundraising project of 18 years, the Christmas Sculpture Project. With the collaboration, donors are able to get the most of their money to “a number of organizations,” because of the community foundation’s nonprofit status, which Gerber and Hudson didn’t have.

Those who participate in the Christmas Sculpture Project pay $200 for one of Gerber’s sculptures in a small pewter cast. Recurring donors build a collection of Gerber sculptures. Funds from the donations are then funneled into organizations such as Good Cheer. Visit the foundation’s site at https://www.whidbeyfoundation.org/ to find out more about the sculpture project.

“The most important thing is with the community foundation, we’re able to make it clearly a charitable endeavor so it maximizes how much of the $200 donation actually goes to the organizations,” Hudson said.

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