Conversations with donors about estate gifts can be long and drawn out affairs, but executives at the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area found a way to make those discussions easier and netted $30 million in the process.
The campaign to raise these unrestricted endowment dollars began two years ago when the Community Foundation received buy-in from two major donors who each committed to providing a $10,000 match for up to 100 estate gifts.
“We set a minimum threshold of $50,000 or five percent of the total value of someone’s estate,” said Mike Goorhouse, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, which was selected as a co-finalist in the MiBiz Best-Managed Nonprofit Awards in the large organization category.
He and his wife were among the donors who committed to including the organization in their estate plan, which in turn triggered the matches from the two unidentified donors.
“The industry standard is that you typically know about one out of every three estate commitments,” he said. “We set out to get 100 new estate gift commitments and we achieved that in two years. On average, before this campaign, we usually had between seven and nine new estate gifts per year, but we turned that around and got 100 new estate gift commitments to an unrestricted fund.”
He calls these unrestricted funds “tomorrow money” that will enable the Community Foundation to better plan for the future.
While there is a widely-held view that donors don’t like to give to endowments that are unrestricted, preferring instead to give to address specific current needs, Goorhouse said the Community Foundation’s campaign results flew in the face of that thinking.
“It took some people aback and they were saying that you can’t raise unrestricted endowment dollars,” he said, adding that the organization need to motivate people to think about the urgent need to raise estate gift dollars.
“I was really wrestling in my own head with what I thought was going to be a struggle,” Goorhouse said. “I thought those conversations were going to take a long time because nobody plans on dying tomorrow. Then I thought about what we could do to get over those hurdles and what would motivate me as a donor.”
Having the match in place paved the way and served as a catalyst.
“We found a creative solution to what could have been a barrier and it worked,” Goorhouse said.
The success of the recently completed campaign is an example of what drives the Community Foundation’s leadership to be effective at meeting the organization’s mission while continually considering new ways to solve problems and advance the work.
“We are healthy skeptics in that we don’t just listen to what everyone else tells us to do and do it,” Goorhouse said. “We do a lot of our own thinking and analysis of what’s going on and that leads us to make decisions that are different. It really stems from that idea of not doing what everyone else is doing.”
However, the willingness to take the unconventional route requires more than a good idea. Goorhouse said a strong staff guided by strong leadership is one of the key determiners of the strength of any nonprofit organization. When making grants, he and his staff routinely take into consideration the strength of the leadership of the organization seeking funds and its financial strength.
This resulted in the creation of a leadership program housed at the Community Foundation that invests money in nonprofits going through a transition to retain current leaders who are very effective and to groom future leaders. Elizabeth Kidd, vice president of the Community Foundation, spent one year laying the groundwork for the leadership initiative through participation in an innovation seminar.
“One of our big focus areas is retaining and attracting top-notch leaders,” Goorhouse said. “We need to keep the best and bring in the best leaders to create a much stronger nonprofit sector in the Holland and Zeeland area.”
Having this type of leadership will enable a more collaborative approach to tackling some of the bigger issues facing communities served by the Community Foundation. Goorhouse said mental health, affordable housing and racism are among these issues.
“We spend our resources trying to fix these problems,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what can we do person by person, family by family, and neighborhood by neighborhood.
“The pain of the status quo is greater than the pain of new future. The pain of the status quo is hitting so many people so deeply. We are leaning in to be a part of the solution.”
Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area
Mission: To create lasting positive change. We work to build a permanent community endowment that supports high impact charitable projects, to help donors achieve their charitable goals, and to lead and partner in community-level initiatives.
Service Area: Holland/Zeeland
Executive director: Mike Goorhouse
Number of employees: 8
Annual revenues: $6-7 million
Management best practices:
- Establish a clear vision for the future and keep the organization focused on activities that achieve that vision.
- Create an internal culture and external vibe around your organization that attracts top talent.
- Don’t over-promise and under-deliver as an organization or as individuals within the organization.
Board of directors: Mark Harder (chair), Warner Norcross & Judd LLP; Bret Docter (chair elect), Property Quest LLC; Scott Spoelhof, Bayside Capital; Juanita Bocanegra (secretary), Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office; Jim Bishop (treasurer), West Michigan Community Bank; Leslie Brown, Metal Flow Corp.; Colleen Hill, Huntington National Bank; David Janssen, retired; Diane Kooiker, Herrick District Library; P. Haans Mulder, Cunningham Dalman PC; Jane Patterson, attorney; Jean Ramirez, Versa Development; Deborah Sterken, former nurse; Margaret Van Grouw, retired educator; Jim Wiersma, Family Investment and Resource Management LLC; Dominic Aquino, student