By Rick Armon
FAIRLAWN: The Fairlawn Community Foundation has big projects it wants to tackle.
What it doesn’t have is a big enough bank account.
Mayor Bill Roth is challenging the nonprofit, which he helped start, to raise its public profile in the city so it can expand its philanthropic reach.
“Fairlawn is a great place to live, and we see the foundation as enhancing the quality of life,” Roth said.
The group was founded in 2010 at the end of the Great Recession to pay for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display and parade, and shift that financial burden off city taxpayers.
While it has expanded over the years to fund some other requests, the group never had the money available to make the impact that it wants, and it is tired of the rut of constant fundraising just to get by.
“We’d like to put in a better financial base to work off of so we’re not every year trying to get the money to fund our annual event,” foundation President Gary Himmel said. “It’s just not sustainable.”
The foundation, overseen by an all-volunteer board, spent $30,200 in its 2015 fiscal year — but took in only $20,014 in donations, according to paperwork filed with the IRS. It’s also seen annual donations dip almost every year since the high of $55,063 in 2011.
“We would like to grow the foundation for the good of the community,” Himmel said. “We’re making the community better for everyone. Businesses. Individuals. Families. Selfishly, it’s going to improve the value of property in the community because this is what makes communities attractive.”
He noted that the group would like to become more active in supporting projects like walking paths, bike trails and other recreational opportunities in the city. Of course, that can’t be done without more income.
The foundation hopes that either local businesses or residents step up to make sizable donations.
The New York City-based Foundation Center estimates there were 67 community foundations in Ohio in 2014, with assets of $7 billion and total giving surpassing $437 million.
Some are enormous, such as the Cleveland Foundation with assets of $1.8 billion. Others are small like Fairlawn’s.
The Akron Community Foundation and Barberton Community Foundation had assets of $182 million and $75 million, respectively, according to nonprofit group GuideStar.
Fairlawn leaders are looking at the Hudson Community Foundation as a model for what it could become one day.
The Hudson nonprofit, which just hired its first full-time paid director, was founded in 2000. It now has assets of $18 million and gave out $1.8 million last year through grants and donor directed funds.
President Lori McCleese said the group has been able to grow through the years by becoming an expert on philanthropy and charitable giving in the community. It also helped that the board has been embraced by the business community, she said.
The group focuses on arts and culture, youth education, social services and historical and environmental preservation.
The nonprofit has funded projects ranging from a visitor’s center at Case Barlow Farm to a summer reading program through the Hudson Library and Historical Society to the Music from the Western Reserve.
McCleese recommended that Fairlawn leaders be visible in the community to grow its foundation.
“What we’re trying to do is establish ourselves as a leader and convener in the community and make sure we have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on,” she said.
She urged Fairlawn to do the same.
Source: Akron Beacon Journal