Community Foundation of New Jersey

A Look Back, Part 10: New Leadership, New Focus Areas

Hans Dekker joined CFNJ as the new president in 2003. During his tenure, the Community Foundation has continued to expand its number of fundholders, its asset base, and its programmatic areas. It has also tripled its assets (from approximately $90 million to well over $300 million), despite an occasionally challenging market. The number of funds stands at more than 1,100 today.

 

Recognizing Volunteers

Newark’s Rise Academy is honored at the 2015 New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

From the EMT to the T-ball coach, New Jersey is full of volunteers who spend countless hours helping to improve their communities. The State of New Jersey puts the number somewhere around 1.5 million, with these volunteers giving more than 170 million hours of their time each year.

While most volunteers do their work without care for honors or recognition, there actually is an award for those who truly go above and beyond in serving the public good.

The New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service “honor(s) individual or group volunteer efforts that achieve measurable community impact and represent outstanding acts of public service without the expectation of recognition or compensation.”

The Community Foundation of New Jersey has proudly worked with its partners in the Governor’s Office on Volunteerism and The Star-Ledger since 2007 to administer the program.

Well over 500 New Jerseyans have been nominated for the awards each year, in categories ranging from emergency services and health care to education, the environment, or the arts. With more than 20 categories in all, the program has honored men and women serving both at home and abroad, responding courageously in the wake of natural disasters, and empowering the next generation of citizens and volunteers.

In keeping with Thomas Jefferson’s vision for a nation of “informed and involved” citizens, the program effectively inspires and activates public service in communities across the country. Just as importantly, it shines a light on the myriad ways in which New Jerseyans are lending a hand and making an impact.

 

Making college dreams a reality

Ishmael Solomon (right) received a scholarship from the Elsie E. and Joseph W. Beck Memorial Scholarship Fund that allowed him to attend Saint Vincent College. Ishmael overcame serious health and financial hurdles to graduate with a degree in Sociology in May 2015.

Among the various fund types offered by the Community Foundation, scholarship funds have been among the most popular. These funds help young people achieve their dreams of higher education and provide an opportunity for fundholders to shape the future of their communities.

The Foundation manages more than 100 unique scholarship funds, ranging from those that focus on journalism, sailing, or the arts to those that focus on specific schools or geographic areas.

“We work with fundholders to customize a set of criteria for their scholarships so that they may support the types of students or study areas that align with their own interests,” says Faith Krueger, CFNJ’s COO and coordinator of its scholarship program. “That’s the springboard from which a family can go out and think creatively about their scholarship fund.”

Scholarship funds managed by the Community Foundation today grant out more than $1 million each year.

 

Recognizing Nonprofit Leaders

Given the important role that nonprofit leaders play, the Community Foundation recognized two to three of these individuals per year for their exemplary service to New Jersey’s nonprofit sector.

Through the Exemplary Performance in Nonprofit Management Awards, CFNJ distributed eight separate $10,000 awards to nonprofit leaders for their own professional enrichment and/or education.

CFNJ fundholders were invited to nominate leaders, who were then reviewed (anonymously) by a selection jury composed of trustees, fundholders, and community volunteers.

Supporting Kids in Foster Care

Moving from one place to another while in the foster care system can be a traumatic experience in and of itself. With the standard, court-supplied “luggage” in tow – large, black garbage bags – many children are overwhelmed by feelings of neglect.

So the Community Foundation of New Jersey and its fundholders considered ways to help.

Replacing the large, black garbage bags with suitable duffel bags could make the trip from one place to another just a bit more bearable – so fundholders came together and raised $30,000 to make it happen. Through a generous grant to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), the fundholders ensured that the 6,000 New Jersey children moving through the foster care system would travel with new duffel bags.

Designed especially for CASA, the bags zipper into flat, small squares so that case workers can conveniently store, transport, and hand them out. The bags were received well by the children, who reported fewer feelings of stigmatization and found just a bit more dignity in this world.

 

Spotlight on Safety

Following the tragic 2007 murder of three college-bound friends in a Newark schoolyard, the Community Foundation acted fast to bring an innovative solution to the grieving city.

Working with the City of Newark, the Newark Police Department, and other nonprofits, the Community Foundation deployed a “Community Eye” technology platform to monitor gun-related activity in city neighborhoods.

The system’s network of audio technology alerts police to gunshots in real time, allowing for faster responses. The system pinpoints the near-exact location of a gunshot, the number of shooters, the number of shots fired, and whether the shooter(s) were moving or stationary. The system is supported by a network of remote-control public surveillance cameras. This detailed information and instant alerting allows the Newark Police Department to more effectively combat gun-related crimes.

 

A Steady Commitment to Giving

The economic collapse in 2008 was felt across New Jersey (and the world), especially among nonprofit organizations that could no longer count on the financial support of donors who saw their net worth drop.

Enter donor advised funds, designed in a way to weather most economic disturbances and fill the void when so many others stop giving. Because dollars in a donor advised fund have already triggered the requisite tax deductions and are expressly for charitable purposes, fundholders at CFNJ actually saw their giving go up in 2008 as compared to 2007, bucking the worldwide trends.

The more than $28 million CFNJ fundholders granted to charities in 2008 was surely not enough to make these organizations whole, but it provided a lifeline that might not otherwise have existed. We are proud of our fundholders and partner philanthropists who maintained their philanthropic commitments in a difficult economic environment.

 

Focus on Affordability

With its professional advisors, the Community Foundation has engaged on key issues of shared interest, namely affordability in New Jersey.

In early 2010, the Community Foundation partnered with the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce to sponsor a study by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy to track wealth migration into and out of New Jersey.

The study found that in the years between 2004 and 2008, New Jersey lost almost $1 billion in charitable giving capacity as a result of a significant decline in the amount of wealth moving into the state and an increase in the amount of wealth leaving.

“From the myriad of professional advisors we work with, you hear a similar refrain: we are losing many of our wealthiest donors and clients to places like Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Pennsylvania,” said Hans Dekker. “When asked to diagnose the cause for this out-migration, most point to a series of tax policies that make it very expensive to live and be charitable in New Jersey.”

The Community Foundation sponsored the study to examine wealth rather than just income, because wealthy households are responsible for the majority of charitable giving in New Jersey. In addition to their charitable giving, these households play a valuable role as members of our civic and nonprofit community by serving as volunteers, trustees, and as role models for charitable giving for younger generations.

“New Jersey should aspire to be the most charitable state in the nation,” says Dekker, in an oft-repeated point to legislators and nonprofits alike. “So much of what makes our state such a wonderful place to live depends on charitable organizations that support the arts, culture, health interventions, and other social services.”

The Community Foundation has long positioned itself that any serious discussion on this problem and its solution must include a careful look at those elements of New Jersey’s tax structure that impact charitable giving. This includes the lack of a state tax deduction for charitable giving, an estate tax exemption that begins taxing a family’s life savings at $675,000, and income tax rates including the “millionaire’s tax.”

 

Expanding Policy-Focused Journalism

Dissatisfied with the lack of relevant and timely information on the statewide and local issues that affect all New Jerseyans, the Community Foundation partnered with former reporters from The Star-Ledger in 2010 to fill the void. Together they created NJ Spotlight, an interactive website featuring high-quality, in-depth journalism that provides an understanding of the vital issues affecting our state today in education, the environment, health, and public finance.

Thanks to additional funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Knight Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and others, the website has since expanded its coverage areas, introduced roundtables and webinars, and received multiple awards for its quality journalism on issues ranging from property taxes to Hurricane Sandy-related grantmaking.

 

Legal, Wealth & Tax Advisory Committee

Attorneys, financial advisors, and tax advisors have for decades been critical partners to the Community Foundation and its fundholders. These partners now constitute a Legal, Wealth, and Tax Advisory Committee through which they continue to provide sage advice and counsel on complex philanthropic issues.

Attorneys and wealth advisors are also an important part of the referral process, explaining to clients how the Community Foundation simplifies the process of giving while amplifying a fundholder’s philanthropic impact.

Thank you to all those attorneys and advisors who have helped or are helping the Community Foundation better serve its fundholders. (For current list, click here.)

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