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A Community Foundation For The ‘City Upon A Hill’

on September 22, 2017 - 2:00pm

Los Alamos Community Foundation

We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body.
John Winthrop, “City Upon a Hill”, 1630

A Community What?

Los Alamos residents donate to many worthwhile causes and many local organizations have been the recipients of this generosity. However, many of these organizations are too small or their members too stretched out to take on some activities that can help them in the long run, such as training for their board or staff, or capital fundraising to establish and manage a permanent fund (endowment) which can be invested and provide a steady income stream. In other words, when we are all trying to do our mission, who can take the time to step back and think long-term? An organization whose mission is to help all nonprofits that serve Los Alamos can help fill this need. Enter a community foundation!

A community foundation is a tax exempt, non-profit, publicly supported philanthropic organization with the long-term goal of building permanent funds for the public benefit of the residents in a geographic region. In addition, most community foundations provide services to local nonprofits to make them more effective or self-supporting, such as provide local training opportunities, bring motivational speakers or subject-matter experts, and organize conferences to promote dialogue and collaboration between local nonprofits. Some community foundations run programs themselves in areas that are not covered by other organizations, some own or manage a central gathering place or service center, and some even provide mediation services when some community groups have trouble hearing each other!

A Little History

Back when we first began thinking about the need and role for a community foundation here in Los Alamos, back in October 2013, we were uncertain what the first steps should be. We put together a steering committee representing the County, our local United Way, the LANL Foundation, LANL, and several interested residents intrigued by the concept of what we could do together. When we convened our first steering group meeting, we didn’t know how a community foundation would fit, whether it would compete with existing organizations, whether an existing organization could expand to fill this role, or even if we should be part of one of the community foundations already functioning in New Mexico. We had many early morning discussions about the needs in our community, and over the next three years, we came to the conclusion that what our community needed was a foundation that would help existing organizations better succeed financially and organizationally, and to make donating locally, especially for larger, one-time gifts such as bequests, more efficient and attractive. Hence our mission statement:

To facilitate and promote local philanthropy by Los Alamos residents and those with strong connections to Los Alamos County
To highlight unmet needs and donation opportunities within Los Alamos County
To meet those needs through financial and organizational support to existing and new organizations

Fun with Funds

What all community foundations have in common is that they provide basic financial services in the form of establishing and managing charitable funds. Here are a few examples managed by community foundations in our area:

  • An organization receives a bequest from a long-time supporter. The donor directions are for the funds to be invested for the long-term and the investment returns used by the nonprofit as a permanent and reliable income stream. An example of such a fund is the “Daniel Steele Bingham Fund for Desert Academy” managed by the Santa Fe Community Foundation.
  • Local residents decide to promote an area of merit in their community, such as the arts, environmental sustainability, or public health, and establish a fund that anyone can contribute to now or in the future, and whose funds will be invested. Each year local organizations make a grant request, and an advisory committee of knowledgeable local citizens determine which projects to support each year. An example is the “Arts & Culture Endowment Fund” managed by the Albuquerque Community Foundation.
  • An organization has sufficient operating reserve that it can consider investing excess funds in a way that provides a greater return than a checking account. It establishes a fund for its own use and the funds that it dedicates are invested in conjunction with many other funds for more efficient investment. An example is the “Boys and Girls Club of Las Cruces” managed by the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico.
  • Community needs change over time, and some donors would like the impact of their contributions to adjust with these changing needs. An unrestricted endowment fund provides the community the flexibility to determine the areas of greatest need and address these needs as they arise, providing a long-term income stream. An example is the “Community Leadership Fund” managed by the Taos Community Foundation. In this way, a community foundation works like a savings account for the community, while an organization like United Way that looks to immediate distribution of funds is like a community’s checking account.
  • There are many advantages when donors and organizations team up through a community foundation. Their investments are pooled for greater efficiency, the tax-deductible status of each donor contribution is assured, and the paper work required for establishing and managing funds has already been handled by a single organization that provides professional support.

What’s Going on Now?

We took the plunge in November of 2015, filing to form a nonprofit New Mexico corporation, and after a 50-plus page application process and more than 20 follow-up questions, we were given 501(c)3 status by the IRS in June 2016. Since then we have held our first two annual nonprofit conferences, inviting all local nonprofits to hear from experts about opportunities for collaboration, discussed our local unmet needs and ways that we can address them, and generally developed a larger network that we can call on to help each other. We have a robust training series, free to any local nonprofit, with expert speakers on topics from accounting to taxation for nonprofits to the use of Facebook and Instagram to get your message out and connect with the community. UNM-Los Alamos has graciously offered their lecture rooms for free, and the LANL Foundation has supported us financially to bring the training and conference series.

Our outreach has identified other opportunities to support our community. We have partnered with the projectY cowork Los Alamos collaborative workspace, to provide low cost meeting space for those organizations who do not have their own or have a special need for professional office space. Minesh Bacrania photography has also partnered with us to provide low cost photography services to help our nonprofits get the word out of the great work they are doing. Most recently, we held a volunteer fair at ChamberFest for nonprofit to attract new help, and just started a roundtable for executive directors of local nonprofits so they can network and learn from each other.

The most exciting recent news is the interest by local nonprofits for setting up their own endowments through the foundation. Los Alamos National Bank has a been a great supporter, not only providing office space and financial advice, but also low-cost investment services so that any new fund, whether to support an organization or established by a donor or family, will be invested professionally and efficiently.

I found the quote that began this article during those times when this project seemed too daunting to us and there seemed to be too many obstacles ahead. Now we see it as inspiration that indeed we are well on our way to a community foundation that is by Los Alamos and for Los Alamos, where we can establish our own legacy and pay forward to a community that has nurtured and supported us. Full speed ahead...

The Los Alamos Community Foundation is a proud co-sponsor of the 2017 Los Alamos Health Fair. We will be distributing information about local volunteer opportunities, so look for the “Volunteering is Good for Your Health!” booth.

More information about the Los Alamos Community Foundation can be found at our website,