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Foundation linking donors to nonprofits celebrates 31 years

Foundation linking donors to nonprofits celebrates 31 years

Holly Hobbs | Fairfax Times

March 17, 2010

As an advocate, gatekeeper and a giver, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is celebrating its 31st year helping to connect donors and local charities.

The McLean-based foundation started as a way to build philanthropy efforts in Northern Virginia, foundation President Eileen M. Ellsworth said. Since it began, it has donated millions of dollars to area charities and nonprofits. Grants from the foundation are awarded to the best, most effective organizations meeting critical community needs, she said.

“We help broker a connection between donors and the nonprofits they can help,” Ellsworth said. “Philanthropy with us is not passive. We actively try to get our donors involved.”

Recently, the foundation awarded about $222,000 to nearly three dozen organizations. More than 120 groups applied for the money, and 35 were selected by the foundation’s community-based Grants Committee.

“For every dollar that you put in, about 98.57 cents go to the charity,” Ellsworth said. The foundation charges a 1.25 percent fee, she said, to cover its costs, which include researching area nonprofits.

Ellsworth said funding was given to organizations that best fit the foundation’s four goals — aiding poverty relief efforts, child and youth development, health and aging and education.

Hopecam, a nonprofit based in Reston, received $11,000 from the foundation this year.

“It really gave us validation,” said Jennifer Bond, director of Hopecam, which uses laptops, the Internet and Web cameras to connect home-bound children undergoing treatment for cancer with their friends at school.

“The grant from the Community Foundation came at such a key time because we had kids on a waiting list. And it took about a dozen off the list,” Bond said.

Other programs receiving grants from the foundation include the Arlington Food Assistance Program, which used its $7,500 to buy milk.

“They bought milk for the 1,200 families they provide milk for each week,” Ellsworth said. “It doesn’t get more basic than that.”

The foundation serves as an outlet for those who want to give but are not sure how best to do that.

“We tell donors: If you know you only want to support the Red Cross, [for example], then you should donate directly to the Red Cross,” she said. But if a donor wants to support broader community needs, such as child poverty, the foundation can find the donor a good fit for his or her money, Ellsworth said.

This year, the foundation is conducting a study on areas of need in the region. The study is a combined effort of the foundation and the Northern Virginia Health Systems Agency and Voices for Virginia’s Children, both Northern Virginia-based nonprofits.

“This is the first community needs report done for the region,” Ellsworth said.

Although the current fiscal year has a little more than three months left, the foundation expects to donate between $4 million and $5 million to area nonprofits and charities. Donations, Ellsworth said, are down from previous years — a trend familiar to area nonprofits.

“Every nonprofit that’s surviving in this economy is having to work harder,” she said. “The nonprofits all have a similar story to tell. Their corporate donations are down, but individual donors have really stepped up.”

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