N.Va. Community Foundation links donors to groups in need

By Holly Hobbs
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, March 18, 2010

As an advocate, gatekeeper and a giver, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is celebrating its 31st year helping to connect donors and charities.

The McLean-based foundation started as a way to build philanthropy efforts in Northern Virginia, President Eileen M. Ellsworth said. Since then, it has donated millions to area charities and nonprofit groups. Grants from the foundation are awarded to the best, most effective organizations meeting critical community needs, she said.

"We help broker a connection between donors and the nonprofits they can help," Ellsworth said. "Philanthropy with us is not passive. We actively try to get our donors involved."

Recently, the foundation awarded about $222,000. More than 120 groups applied for the money, and 35 were selected by the foundation's community-based grants committee.

"For every dollar that you put in, about 98.57 cents go to the charity," Ellsworth said. The foundation charges a 1.25 percent fee, she said, to cover its costs, which include researching area nonprofits.

Ellsworth said funding was given to organizations that best fit the foundation's four goals: poverty relief, child and youth development, health and aging and education.

Hopecam, a nonprofit based in Reston, received $11,000 this year.

"It really gave us validation," said Jennifer Bond, director of Hopecam, which uses laptops, the Internet and Web cameras to connect homebound children undergoing treatment for cancer with their friends at school.

"The grant from the Community Foundation came at such a key time because we had kids on a waiting list. And it took about a dozen off the list," Bond said.

Other programs receiving grants include the Arlington Food Assistance Program, which used its $7,500 to buy milk.

"They bought milk for the 1,200 families they provide milk for each week," Ellsworth said. "It doesn't get more basic than that."

The foundation serves as an outlet for those who want to give but are not sure how best to do so.

"We tell donors: If you know you only want to support the Red Cross, [for example], then you should donate directly to the Red Cross," she said. But if a donor wants to support broader community needs, such as child poverty, the foundation can find a good fit for the donation, Ellsworth said.

This year, the foundation is conducting a needs study in the region with the Northern Virginia Health Systems Agency and Voices for Virginia's Children.

"This is the first community needs report done for the region," Ellsworth said.

Although there are just three months left in the fiscal year, the foundation expects to donate $4 million to $5 million to nonprofits and charities. Donations, Ellsworth said, are down from previous years -- a trend familiar to area groups.

"Every nonprofit that's surviving in this economy is having to work harder," she said. "The nonprofits all have a similar story to tell. Their corporate donations are down, but individual donors have really stepped up."

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