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Column: Heritage Fund remains force of positive change

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On behalf of our generous donors, fabulous staff and my dedicated and hard-working fellow board members, I would like to address and hopefully correct a recent misconception about the financial strength of Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County. I’m not being flippant, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, I want to assure everyone that rumors of Heritage Fund’s “demise are greatly exaggerated.”

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Heritage Fund has been a force and catalyst for positive change in our community for decades and will continue to play a leading role going forward.

The lead article in Sunday’s paper was about the new Centra Foundation. We are delighted to welcome a new funding partner to our community. We salute the leadership of Centra for taking this step to establish a corporate foundation to strategically share their resources with the community.

Regarding other foundations in our community, the article stated, “Meanwhile, the county’s biggest foundation, the Heritage Fund, invested $3.9 million in the community in 2011, according to its annual report. That was a four-year low and less than half of the $10.2 million it invested in 2008.”

The above reference to Heritage Fund grants gives an incomplete and misleading picture of our community foundation’s health. In other words, there is an important story behind the numbers that needs to be told.

To set the record straight, Heritage Fund did indeed make gifts of $10.2 million in 2008. However, this figure included two large, extraordinary grants — $2.6 million for the redevelopment of The Commons and $3.2 million for EcO15 (an educational initiative conceived by Heritage Fund and the Community Education Coalition, funded by the Lilly Endowment and covering a 10-county region).

Backing out those two extraordinary grants gives a more “apples-to-apples” comparison of $4.4 million in 2008 vs. $3.9 million in 2011. I’d also like to reinforce that we’re trying very hard to be vigilant about being good stewards of the precious assets that have been entrusted to us. In fact, the board has made the prudent and conservative decision to reduce the maximum distribution rate from 5 percent to 4 percent.

Community foundations are complicated organizations during the best of times. The 2008-11 timeframe was even more complex due to the Great Recession/financial market meltdown, the EcO15 grants and fundraising for redevelopment of The Commons. The board and staff of Heritage Fund deserve a great deal of credit for managing to positively affect our community during very difficult economic conditions.

The most important point to stress is that Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County is in solid shape. The past several years have been among the most active in Heritage Fund’s 36-year history, as we made a conscious effort to make game-changing investments in our community.

While future generations will reap the benefits of our success, we recognize the need to rebuild/replenish our endowment so we will be in a position to continue making these investments. Indeed, the Heritage Fund board has recommitted itself to a focused effort to grow the endowment over the next five to seven years. You’ll hear more about this in the weeks and months ahead.

Targeted fundraising efforts and special initiative programs are important to communities and are a way community foundations can and should help. However, the real long term value to a community lies in endowed funds, held and invested by a community foundation, that provide resources in perpetuity.

And thanks to decades of generous donations, your community foundation, Heritage Fund, is uniquely positioned to provide lasting value to the residents of Bartholomew County. We appreciate your support.

Mickey Kim is chairperson of the Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

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