1914 World’s First Community Foundation (Cleveland)
As a lawyer and banker, Frederick Goff had seen charitable gifts go awry because there was no one to follow through after a generous gift. So he started talking to his fellow Clevelanders about the desirability of forming a joint “community chest” that could help generous residents make sure their donations really did good. Ultimately, he talked area leaders into forming a single permanent endowment, composed of various subfunds, to be managed in perpetuity. Local donors could leave their fortunes to this fund and know that the money would be used for “such charitable purposes as will best make for the mental, moral, and physical improvement of the inhabitants of Cleveland” for years down the road.
The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, was launched in 1914. Since then it has grown to $2.2 billion, and has distributed over $1 billion in grants around the region—including $98 million in 2014. More generally, their idea of a community foundation caught on famously, and today there are more than 730 similar local charitable pools containing tens of billions of dollars in assets and distributing several billion dollars in their home areas every single year. The idea has even spread to scores of other countries. It all started 100 years ago on the banks of Lake Erie.
- Cleveland Foundation, clevelandfoundation.org/about/quick-facts
- Waldemar Nielsen, Inside American Philanthropy (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996)