Dexter Fisher has an unusual wish for his 50th birthday.
Instead of presents, he wants his friends and family to help improve education in Athens-Clarke County.
Fisher’s wife, Vivian, passed away last August after being diagnosed with an infection in the lining of her heart. Dexter set up a fund in honor of his mother, Mamie Fisher, and his wife, with the proceeds benefiting the newly-formed Athens Area Community Foundation (AACF).
The foundation opened its first grant application period in January and distributed the grants earlier this month. While the Fisher family fund will be a donor-advised fund and have a say in where they want the grants to go, the first round of grants comes from unrestricted discretionary funds that the AACF already raised.
The AACF currently is an affiliate of the North Georgia Community Foundation, but will become a separate entity when it receives its 501(c)(3) status. When that happens, it will be the fourteenth community foundation in the state, according to the Foundation Center and Nonprofit Studies Program at the School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.
The first community foundation was established in Cleveland in the early 20th century, according to the Council on Foundations. Many community foundations were created as part of a trend that developed across the nation in the 1990s.
The goal of the organizations is to harvest funding and provide grants for local nonprofits, said Delene Porter, president and CEO of the AACF.
For families who have discretionary assets—large sums of money from things like an estate sale or family business being sold—the foundation “is a vehicle that makes it easy for them to leave [money] to the community,” said Porter.
The creation of a community foundation was one of the 11 OneAthens initiatives designed to identify and relieve underlying causes of poverty in Athens.
“The first ten initiatives are very directly addressing poverty,” Porter said. “The eleventh, to create a community foundation, is the least understood, but I think in the long term, it’s the one that’s going to make the most impact.”
If the other Georgia community foundations give any indicator, nonprofit organizations in Athens will reap great benefits from the AACF. According to the Foundation Center, most foundations in Georgia distribute between $2 million and $7 million in annual grants.
And while Porter says some may be wary that the community foundation will compete with nonprofits instead of helping them, organizations in Athens already have responded enthusiastically.
The AACF received applications from 43 nonprofits in its first round of grant distributions. They totaled more than $180,000. Because the foundation is just starting up, it had a limited fund of $25,000 to distribute. Eleven grants were awarded, ranging from $915 to $3,000.
“For our first grant cycle, this level of demand is excellent,” said AACF chairman Steve Jones in a press release. “We wish we had more money to award, but we believe this demonstrates very strongly the need, and the opportunity, for a community foundation.”