in focus: mt. lebanon community foundation

The Mt. Lebanon Community Foundaton has helped fund many community nonprofit endeavors, including the Denis Theater Foundation’s quest to reopen the Washington Road movie theater, above. /Photo:Judy Macoskey

Instead of buying gifts for the holidays, many people are going a different route and making a charitable donation in someone’s name. If you’re not sure which charity would be the best fit for your donation, it’s best to do some online research.

David Root, CEO of the wealth management firm D.B. Root & Company, suggests three organizations that can shed some light on how charities are run.

“Charity Navigator, Guide Star and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance are all closely monitored and managed,” he says. “The first two tend to give more narratives about specific charities, and the Wise Giving Alliance is more about ranking information,” he says.

Such sites can provide important  information such as how “top heavy” an organization is, which refers to how much it  spends on salaries and overhead as opposed to actual donations to charity.

Does Root have a favorite charity? Funny you should ask. He is a member of the board of directors of the Mt. Lebanon Community Foundation.

The Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) that was established in 2009 to build a permanent fund that would be used to fund quality of life improvements that may not be covered under municipal, school district or other government budgets.

Former commissioner Dale Colby, who died in 2010, was a driving force in organizing the Foundation’s first board, setting a vision—the preservation of Mt. Lebanon as a vibrant community with character—and setting the goal to build a permanent fund that would support Mt. Lebanon and its unique character and empower donors to make meaningful contributions to sustain and enhance the quality of life in Mt. Lebanon. The Foundation has given gifts to Mt. Lebanon Public Library for books, the Mt. Lebanon Veterans’ Memorial and Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center for its senior lunch program.

There are several options for donors. One is to create a donor-advised fund, in which the donor can make recommendations to board members about where the money goes. Root says all of the board members have donor advised funds, which offer  some financial benefits. They can deduct cash contributions or donations of appreciated stock. Assets in the fund are not subject to federal estate taxes or state inheritance taxes, and grants can go to any qualified charity, whether they are connected with Mt. Lebanon or not.

Another option is to donate  to the Foundation’s Community Impact Fund, which allows the board to decide how the money should be used.  More than 99 percent of the money donated to the Impact Fund goes directly to charities. The Foundation has an executive director, but aside from that has very little overhead.

“We’re an efficient, lean and mean organization,” Root says, “and we are actively looking to expand our donor base, because the more we expand, the more costs come down. When it comes to charitable giving, we are the best bargain in town.”

Learn more about the Mt. Lebanon Community Foundation here.