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Support Local Through a Community Foundation!

Marla J. Williams

This week is Community Foundations week, and we met up with Marla J. Williams, president and CEO of Community First Foundation, to tell us about the value of these organizations.


Marla, this week the country is celebrating community foundations. Can you tell us what a community foundation is?
A foundation like Community First Foundation is the vehicle through which a community can come together to create and pool charitable resources and address needs in a specific geographic area.

What region does Community First Foundation serve?
We make grants to 501(c)(3) organizations in the 7-county Metro Denver area.

What is its mission?
To improve quality of life by increasing community generosity and involvement.

How many grants did the Foundation award last year?
Last year we granted $13.4 million to nonprofits in the Denver area. Recently we’ve granted to organizations such as the Denver Office of Drug Strategy to reduce substance abuse, the Jefferson County Department of Health to fund cervical cancer screening tests for low income women, and Denver Open Media to provide “new media” training to help nonprofits promote their services.

I know Community First Foundation serves hundreds of nonprofits; how does it support donors?
In addition to making it easy for people to learn about hundreds of local nonprofits through, we also help people be charitable through planned giving and funds called Donor Advised Funds. Through Donor Advised Funds, donors can get a tax deduction in the year they make a gift but advise us about the timing and amount of donation to nonprofits over many years. Individuals, families and groups may set up this type of fund to memorialize a loved one, create a legacy of giving, and to receive the guidance and support of a foundation that has its finger on the pulse of the community.

Why would I use a community foundation rather than just support a nonprofit directly?
It’s not either/or. It’s both. If there is a nonprofit that you trust and whose work you understand and value, you can support that organization directly (consider a gift on!). By giving to a community foundation, you can also be part of a larger strategy that draws upon the expertise of the foundation’s board and staff.

Why would I set up a charitable fund at a foundation rather than a bank?
Community foundations are leaders in grant-making and specialize in knowing the needs of the community, knowing the nonprofits that serve those needs, and connecting individuals with these nonprofits. Our sole purpose of being is to serve communities. We also have an obligation to honor donor intent and to manage charitable funds prudently.

What impact has the foundation made in the Denver area?
Through our nonprofit preservation initiative we have helped more than 70 nonprofits improve their financial futures by establishing endowments., our online giving resource, and Colorado Gives Day have been quite revolutionary for this region. People have donated more than $16.2 million from 2007 through mid-November. The site is making giving easy and accessible for Coloradans. Nonprofits love that we have a vehicle for them to accept online gifts with no membership fees and minimal processing fees. It aligns with our mission to serve the community in this way.


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