Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment

In this time of shrinking budgets and economic woes, it has become more and more difficult to maintain the little extras that make a community special. Nonprofit organizations are scrambling to stay alive in an era where there are more groups vying for fewer grants. Case in point—a few years ago, 10 arts organizations in California’s Napa County shut down because of lack of funding. Instead of bemoaning the loss, the Napa Valley Community Foundation responded by launching a “Funds of the Arts” campaign in which donors from across the valley contributed. The result: the foundation raised enough money to present more than $317,000 in grants to bolster the Arts Council of Napa Valley.

Community foundations are rescuing historical societies, libraries, hospitals, child advocacy programs, and other worthy causes all across the country, including Alexandria, Virginia; Hudson, Ohio; and Oak Park, Illinois. Thanks to the Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment, Mt. Lebanon boasts a foundation as well.

Community foundations and endowments have been boosting small, local nonprofit organizations and enhancing the character of the communities they represent since 1914 when Frederick Goff, a Cleveland attorney, started the first community endowment. Goff’s endowment created a philanthropic vehicle that would support a donor’s charitable intentions in perpetuity and allowed people of modest means to engage in large-scale philanthropy by pooling their contributions.

An endowment is a simple concept: A donor gives money, which the endowment invests. Every year, the foundation takes the annual earnings and awards them as grants to organizations in the community. Donors can even designate specific areas they would like to support: education, the arts, nature, history, libraries and sports.

“This is more permanent than giving an annual gift,” says Bonnie Bagay, Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment’s development chair. “This goes on forever.”

The seeds of a Mt. Lebanon endowment began in 2002, when Mt. Lebanon commissioners first suggested the idea. Former commissioner Dale Colby, who died in 2010, was a driving force in organizing the Mt. Lebanon Endowment’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. In 2009 the organization received its 501c3 status.

Today the endowment has 21 board members and an executive director, Audrey Bode. Two families have made substantial donations that allowed the endowment to present gifts to Mt. Lebanon Public Library for books, the Mt. Lebanon Veterans Memorial and Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center for its senior lunch program.

This year, Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment will be kicking off its Founding Families campaign, in which it hopes to attract businesses, individuals and families to establish the foundation’s first funds.

“This is a great opportunity to get in at the ground level of something that will be a major benefit to the community,” Bode says, adding that the names of the founding families will be included in the endowment’s annual reports, website and other literature. Bode compares these individuals to Mt. Lebanon’s earliest settlers, whose names have been immortalized as street names.

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