By John Rivera
Responding to the needs of the philanthropist of more modest means, a group of lay people established the National Catholic Community Foundation, which lets donors set up funds and recommend how the money is disbursed.
It is the first community foundation geared to Roman Catholics that is national in scope.
The NCCF is a variation on the community foundation that normally operates for the benefit of a specific region. Community foundations offer an alternative to the expensive process of setting up and maintaining a private foundation, providing professional investment skills and grant-making information to a number of smaller donors, who are able to set up funds in their own names.
“It’s such a simple concept: A national, religious focus; a community of people vs. a community of geography; and the principles of a foundation which emphasizes philanthropy,” said Edward H. Robinson, executive director of NCCF.
The idea for the NCCF originated with Robinson and his brother, Dana P. Robinson, who serves as chairman of the NCCF trustee board. The Robinson brothers’ family operates the Wilmington, Del.-based Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities.
The NCCF is independent of any diocese, but organizers foresee no conflict with other Catholic philanthropic groups.
“The first reaction when somebody hears ‘community foundation’ is it triggers fear and anxiety,” Edward Robinson said. “When they take the time to understand the uniqueness of the NCCF, many of them become very supportive.”
A donor has four options. The most popular will likely be the donor-advised fund, in which the donor and the donor’s descendants can recommend which organizations receive grants. “Parents can set up accounts which enable their kids to get involved, because the kids can become the advisers on the distributions from those accounts,” said Dana Robinson.
Other options include a designated beneficiary fund, in which the donor specifies the charities to receive grants; a field-of-interest fund, which distributes money to specific areas, such as homelessness or education; and an undesignated fund, which gives discretion to the NCCF board of trustees on how to disburse the grants. A minimum of $10,000 is needed to open a donor-advised fund, and $50,000 for the other funds.
The recipients of NCCF grants do not have to be Catholic ministries, but their work must be in accord with Catholic teaching. A committee reviews the grants to ensure that they meet the criteria.
The Robinsons said part of their motivation in setting up the NCCF came from individual investors’ asking the Raskob Foundation to take over their financial portfolios for philanthropic purposes.
“They didn’t have enough money to set up their own foundations, and they wanted to remain engaged,” Dana Robinson said. “The Raskob Foundation declined. But it did point to a need.”
In addition, the brothers said they wanted to encourage philanthropy among their fellow Catholics – which they call the “ministry of finance” – because of their experience with the charities helped by their family’s foundation. “It is such an important experience, such a life-changing experience, that it encouraged us to figure out a way to make it available to others,” Dana Robinson said.
The Raskob Foundation provided start up funds for NCCF and other religious communities joined in, too.
“The church is about not just preaching the word, but living it and doing it. And NCCF gives people an opportunity to do that and to be sure that the activities that their money and resources go to are in keeping with what they believe,” said Sister Ellen Carr, a member of the governing council of the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore. “And so that’s why the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore said, ‘Let’s help this get rolling.’ “