As founders complete terms, Cayuga Community Fund is poised for continued impact

The following article, written by Cayuga Community Fund Leadership Council member Jill Fandrich, appeared in the Auburn Citizen on March 31, 2014 to commemorate the Fund’s sixth-anniversary. 

Jill Fandrich | Special to The Citizen

The newest player on the field of local philanthropy is a mere six years old this spring, but the Cayuga Community Fund is already making a major impact on Auburn and Cayuga County.

Cayuga County has long been blessed with several incredibly generous private foundations, but the Cayuga Community Fund is different. A community foundation is made up of pooled moneys from many sources (donations and bequests, large and small) that is invested and used to benefit nonprofit organizations in a specific geographic area. Community foundations were the fastest growing form of philanthropy in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was not until 2008 that Cayuga County would begin efforts to establish a community foundation of its own.

Jerry Bisgrove planted the seed of the idea in 2007, around the same time the Stardust Foundation was becoming established in Auburn. A group of 25 community leaders met to vet the idea of establishing a community foundation in Cayuga County, and they decided there was enough interest to get started. To jump-start the effort, Stardust offered a $250,000 challenge grant, and the Allyn Foundation gave $57,000 for operational support. The Cayuga Community Fund was created as an affiliate fund of the long-established CNY Community Foundation, benefiting greatly from its organizational expertise. Peggy Ogden, CNYCF’s recently retired executive director, provided expert leadership and consultation to get the Cayuga Community Fund off the ground. A leadership council was established which included six founding members who are completing two complete terms this month: Steve Zabriskie, Dan Cuddy, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, Jack Hardy, Ken Entenmann and myself.

Steve Zabriskie says this about the fund’s beginning, “I’m glad there were people with the vision to think Cayuga might support such a fund. I’m grateful there were folks on the ground here who agreed with them and I’m glad to have been one of the organizers. And I’m glad the community proved us correct.”

The birth of the Cayuga Community Fund in 2008 coincided with the nation’s economic collapse, but surprisingly the fund met and exceeded its initial challenge goal. Due to this initial success, the Stardust Foundation issued a second challenge grant of $100,000 and the CNY Community Foundation added its challenge grant of $100,000. An additional grant of $60,000 was secured from the Allyn Foundation to support operations. The local efforts continued to meet the challenges, and the fund continued to grow.

While garnering the first half a million dollars in philanthropic assets was a crucial first step, it provided the means to begin an equally important community grant-making program. In 2010, the Cayuga Community Fund began to distribute grants to local not-for-profits. The majority of grants were quite modest, only a few thousand dollars each, but it was an important step in establishing the identity and the credibility of this fledgling community fund. By 2013, the fund has distributed nearly $150,000 in grants, and the 2014 spring grant round is currently in full swing.

Another major leap forward for the fund was when the Cayuga Health Association chose to invest its assets in the Cayuga Community Fund when the Cayuga Health Association ceased operations in 2011 after more than a century of supporting health and nutrition needs in Cayuga County. This “field of interest fund” continues the organization’s mission in perpetuity. A similar “field of interest fund” is the Dr. Henry Romano Fund, which helps children with physical, mental and developmental disabilities in memory of Auburn’s beloved pediatrician. These component funds demonstrate the flexibility of a community fund to support not only general grants, but also specific fields of interest, all depending on the wishes of the donors.

The leadership council personally investigates each grant application and decides the grants as a group. Grants support vital programs in a wide variety of areas — education, health, social services, the arts, civic and environmental concerns, as well as the preservation of historic resources in Cayuga County.

The leadership council is made up of individuals who are involved and invested in the community, but each grant round still amazes the council, seeing all the incredible work being done by the community’s nonprofits and their staff and volunteers. The council is also in a unique position to see opportunities for partnerships and cooperation. Steve Zabriskie said, “The members of the Leadership Council are so involved and aware in the community that it is possible to put one great proposal together with another, which might be only partially related, and achieve a remarkable overall result. The CCF has the ability to facilitate real synergies, where one plus one really does equal three.”

In six short years, the Cayuga Community Fund has come a long way. But its future is infinite. On behalf of the six of us who were on the leadership council as founding members, we thank the community for its support, its vision and its generosity. And we thank the current leadership council for continuing the effort.

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