Community foundation for Catholics created National group geared to modest philanthropy

October 06, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Responding to the needs of the philanthropist of more modest means, a group of lay people has established the Maryland-based National Catholic Community Foundation, which will let donors set up funds and recommend how the money is disbursed.

It is the first community foundation geared to Roman Catholics that is national in scope.

The NCCF is a variation on the community foundation that normally operates for the benefit of a specific region. Community foundations offer an alternative to the expensive process of setting up and maintaining a private foundation, providing professional investment skills and grant-making information to a number of smaller donors, who are able to set up funds in their own names.

"It's such a simple concept: A national, religious focus; a community of people vs. a community of geography; and the principles of a foundation which emphasizes philanthropy," said Edward H. Robinson, executive director of the Millersville-based NCCF.

The idea for the NCCF originated with Robinson and his brother, Dana P. Robinson, who serves as chairman of the NCCF trustee board. The Robinson brothers' family operates the Wilmington, Del.-based Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, which has $110 million in assets.

The NCCF is independent of any diocese, but organizers foresee no conflict with other Catholic philanthropic groups.

"The first reaction when somebody hears 'community foundation' is it triggers fear and anxiety ," Edward Robinson said. "When they take the time to understand the uniqueness of the NCCF, many of them become very supportive."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore has its own philanthropy, the Catholic Family Foundation, that operates very much like a community foundation. It was established last year to facilitate gifts as part of the archdiocesan Heritage of Hope fund-raising campaign.

But Cardinal William H. Keeler said he sees the NCCF as a complement to local fund-raising efforts. "It is a good idea for people who don't have access to a diocese or some other established vehicle, for helping meet the church's needs," he said.

A donor has four options. The most popular will likely be the donor-advised fund, in which the donor and the donor's descendants can recommend which organizations receive grants. "Parents can set up accounts which enable their kids to get involved, because the kids can become the advisers on the distributions from those accounts," said Dana Robinson.

Other options include a designated beneficiary fund, in which the donor specifies the charities to receive grants; a field-of-interest fund, which distributes money to specific areas, such as homelessness or education; and an undesignated fund, which gives discretion to the NCCF board of trustees on how to disburse the grants. A minimum of $10,000 is needed to open a donor-advised fund, and $50,000 for the other funds.

The recipients of NCCF grants do not have to be Catholic ministries, but their work must be in accord with Catholic teaching. A committee, led by Keeler, will review the grants to ensure that they meet the criteria.

The Robinsons said part of their motivation in setting up the NCCF came from individual investors' asking the Raskob

Foundation to take over their financial portfolios for philanthropic purposes.

"They didn't have enough money to set up their own foundations, and they wanted to remain engaged," Dana Robinson said. "The Raskob Foundation declined. But it did point to a need."

In addition, the brothers said they wanted to encourage philanthropy among their fellow Catholics -- which they call the "ministry of finance" -- because of their experience with the charities helped by their family's foundation.

xTC "It is such an important experience, such a life-changing experience, that it encouraged us to figure out a way to make it available to others," Dana Robinson said.

The Raskob Foundation has given the NCCF a $1 million grant that will cover half its operating expenses over the next five years. The NCCF raised matching funds from 12 Catholic religious orders, including four that are based in Maryland: the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore, the Sisters of Mercy of Baltimore and the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ridgely.

"The church is about not just preaching the word, but living it and doing it. And this gives people an opportunity to do that and to be sure that the activities that their money and resources go to are in keeping with what they believe," said Sister Ellen Carr, a member of the governing council of the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore. "And so that's why the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore said, 'Let's help this get rolling.' "

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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