Advocating for you
It was with renewed excitement that Sherry Ristau left a meeting last month with lawmakers, volunteers and fellow Iowa Community Foundation Presidents and colleagues. Organized annually in the state capital in Des Moines to talk about the importance of two state of Iowa programs that benefit donors to community foundations, the annual gathering is an important way to communicate with leaders and legislators.
It was the third year Ristau, who serves as President and CEO of the Community Foundation, joined the informal gathering, which in recent years has included a push to maintain and increase support for the County Endowment Fund Program and the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program. Ristau met with two legislators from Davenport to reiterate the need for an increase in tax credits for Endow Iowa. Proponents are requesting legislation that would increase the annual limit of Endow Iowa available from $6 million to $8 million.
The proposed increase has been on the table for several years, she added, and the need for the increase becomes greater each year. "It feels like the tax credit is nearly gone as we start each new year because so many people are generous in our state, and so many people are able to participate in Endow Iowa," she said. "Of the $6 million in 2017 for the whole state, more than $4 million has already been used as of this month."
At the Community Foundation, that means that staff continue to work to communicate clearly with donors that if they wait until later in the year to give, they will more than likely have to wait until the following year to receive the credit. More than 1,600 donations were on the 2016 waiting list—donations that will qualify for 2017 credits.
The tax credit program has been a powerful motivator for giving, and has increased philanthropy across the state. "It's an awesome incentive for donors to give to an endowment like our Community Impact Fund, donored-advised funds and designated funds, which allows our community to have an endowments that can address community issues and opportunities we may have tomorrow—or 50 years from now," she said.
The program has increased investments in endowment—$96.3 million in new gifts were given in 2016 across Iowa to community foundations statewide who also distributed nearly $60 million to communities. "It's such an incredible opportunity for people to learn about the power of endowed funds," she said. "There is an incredible wealth transfer going on and we're helping create permanent legacies across the state of Iowa."
The program allows wealth to stay in the state and continues to be a permanent asset, she added. The meeting with legislators was also a fitting time to thank them for their support, and remind them of the importance of the transformational work happening in the region thanks to the generosity of philanthropists--our donors.
Last year, the Community Foundation received its second reaccreditation with the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations. The Community Foundation was one of the first in the U.S. to receive national accreditation in 2005, followed by reaccreditation in 2011. Accreditation makes donors eligible for the Endow Iowa Tax Credit, and demonstrates the integrity and accountability of the Community Foundation. "It assures our community that community foundations are the vehicles in which we want endowments to provide for the benefit of our region," she said.
The response from state leaders was very positive, Ristau noted, though the state is currently in a budget deficit and it is not clear if the program will receive an increase. "We recognize we might not get the increase this year, but we must continue to remind them of the huge return on investment and make sure this program continues," she said. "We're raising awareness of what a great tool they have put in place for local communities to flourish.