LAKE PLACID - The Adirondack Foundation's name is so new that the sign on its office building was still labeled "Adirondack Community Trust" when this reporter conducted an interview with Executive Director Cali Brooks on Nov. 11.
And while the name recently changed, the philanthropic organization's mission has remained constant since it was founded in 1997 from the Lake Placid Education Foundation: to connect givers with their causes.
"We work with generous people to give back to the community in meaningful and impactful ways," Brooks said from her office, overlooking the snow-dusted High Peaks at Heaven Hill Farm. "We can help very wealthy people, and we can help you and me give back to the causes we most care about."
Cali Brooks, executive director of the Adirondack Foundation in Lake Placid (photo by Andy Flynn)
On Thursday, Nov. 21, Brooks and the rest of the Adirondack Foundation team launched their latest effort - a Kickstarter-like crowd-funding website called Adirondack Gives - during a nonprofit summit at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
"So any organization - a nonprofit, school district or good cause - can put up a project on this website, and everybody can donate $5, $25, $150," Brooks said. "We want to make philanthropy accessible and open to everybody who cares about the Adirondacks."
The Adirondack Nonprofit Network and the Common Ground Alliance sponsored the event, called "The Power and Promise of Our Nonprofits" conference, and organizers will unveil a study that analyzes the economic impact of 36 regional nonprofit organizations. These groups pay more than $84 million annually in salaries and employ nearly 1,600 workers, according to the study.
The Adirondack Foundation's role as a philanthropic organization is coupled with regionwide leadership in the nonprofit sector. It offers a series of development seminars for nonprofit board members and staff, and it administers and supports the Adirondack Nonprofit Network, a group of organizations working collaboratively across a variety of disciplines - health and human services, education, environment, arts and culture, historic preservation, etc.
"We're really creating a strong independent sector in the Adirondacks," Brooks said. "We are both working with very generous people, and we are helping really important organizations of this region. We kind of marry those two."
Brooks describes the Adirondack Foundation as "an institution that seeks to be a central, affirming element of our community - foundational to the place we seek to serve. We help improve the lives of people in the Adirondack region. We pool the financial resources of individuals, families and businesses to support effective nonprofits. We are concerned with building both short-term and long-term resources for the benefits of our neighbors."
Basically, if you have some extra money and you want to give it away to a good cause, the Adirondack Foundation can help you find one or more causes that mean the most to you.
"We do a lot of matchmaking with charitably inclined people," Brooks said.
The Adirondack Foundation is one of 24 community foundations located in New York state and serves Essex, Franklin, Clinton, St. Lawrence, Hamilton and Warren counties. The closest community foundation to Lake Placid is the Watertown-based Northern New York Community Foundation, Inc. that serves Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. Others serve the remaining counties of the Adirondack Park, such as Fulton, Herkimer and Saratoga. In all, there are more than 700 community foundations around the U.S., many created in the 1990s. In 1997, local organizers hopped on the bandwagon to create the Adirondack Community Trust.
"The founders saw very generous people but a lack of charitable capital in the Adirondack region," Brooks said. "There weren't foundations. There weren't a lot of big corporations doing philanthropy on a regionwide scale. There was a lot of local charitable giving."
Yet, over the years, there's been an ongoing problem with the name Adirondack Community Trust. It sounded too much like a bank. So they changed the name.
"When they figured out we weren't a bank, they thought were a trust company, which we also are not," Brooks said. "What we are is the community's foundation, so we really wanted to embrace that word."
The foundation part of Adirondack Foundation remains intact. This 501(c)3 nonprofit organization administers more than 220 distinct, personalized, charitable funds and organizational endowments ranging from $10,000 to $8 million (Crary Fund for Education). More than $34 million is pooled and invested, and each year those investments pay off in the form of grants and scholarships. In 2013, the foundation awarded $1,920,240 to their clients' causes.
How it works
To start a charitable fund through the Adirondack Foundation, a donor needs a minimum of $10,000. Yet those who don't have $10,000 in their bank accounts can still help out. First of all, people have the ability to grow a fund over time through an installment plan called an Acorn Account.
"And when it reaches $10,000, it can make a distribution," Brooks said. "We can set up a fund today and have it make a grant tomorrow. Or we can set something up over time and eventually it will make a distribution."
Or people can contribute to established funds.
"There could be a fund that's already established that really meets your charitable goals, so we can grow existing funds and they could have a bigger impact," Brooks said.
The organization's operating expenses are mostly paid through supporting fees charged to the charitable funds, and the fee structure varies depending on the type of fund. About 98 percent of the Adirondack Foundation's operating budget is covered by this fee. In addition, the foundation has its own administrative endowment to help with expenses.
"And people we work with - board members and others - recognize the great work that we're doing, and they make gifts to us every year," Brooks said.
The supporting fee comes out of the endowment and is not an additional fee.
All the funds are pooled together for investment purposes, and each is tracked separately.
"You can go onto your computer, and you can see your fund online," Brooks said.
As an example, if the Adirondack Foundation set up an endowed fund, 5 percent annually can be recommended in the form of a grant or scholarship. For a $10,000 fund, that's about $500.
And while Adirondack Foundation staffers are happy to help people establish scholarships, Brooks doesn't recommend it.
"We'd talk to you more about establishing a school-enrichment fund because with scholarship funds, typically the money is leaving the North Country," Brooks said. "We would certainly accept and support a scholarship fund if you want, but we also talk to you about art, PE, foreign language. Our schools are really struggling, so if we could set up some kind of a fund to support the school, you're helping all the students. You're helping our local community sustain itself over the long term."
Some of the Adirondack Foundation's funds are familiar to many local residents: Thomas Shipman Memorial Youth Center Fund, North Elba Land Conservancy Stewardship Fund, Craig H. Randall Acorn Account, Bandshell Park Fund, Shore Owners Association of Lake Placid Fund and Wilmington E.M. Cooper Library Fund.
"Each charitable fund has its own mission, vision and purpose," Brooks said. "They can be very broad, or they can be very specific."
While the Adirondack Foundation staffers work with short-term and long-term funds, their primary goal is growing endowed assets.
"We also work very closely with donors who want to have a larger impact immediately, so that endowment is not required, but it (endowment) is kind of our sweet spot" Brooks said.
In addition to individual funds, there are community funds in Malone, Essex and the Gore Mountain Region, where committees are involved in distributing grants to the places and people that need it the most.
Brooks put a face to the name of one fund, the Sybil A. Pickett Fund, named for a woman who spent many years vacationing in Lake Placid. Pickett, who died in 2007, made a lot of memories in the Olympic Region over her lifetime, including a marriage proposal on a rock in the AuSable River. She is buried with her husband, Winston Pickett, and her parents, Muriel and Martin Alger, in the St. Agnes Catholic Cemetery in Lake Placid.
"She cared very deeply about the arts and the culture and education in the Lake Placid community," Brooks said, "and upon her death her two daughters established the Sybil Pickett Fund with the Adirondack Foundation to ensure that her commitment and passion to Lake Placid was always maintained."
The Sybil A. Pickett Fund was set up to "perpetuate a mother's passion for the arts, theater and music." The fund has already supported a number of local projects, including the Adirondack Art Chairs Exhibition at the LPCA; the Lake Placid Elementary School's playground project, Paw Print Park; and renovations to the bandshell in Mid's Park, where the Sinfonietta performs in the summer.
To learn more about the Adirondack Foundation, call 518-523-9904 or visit online at www.generousact.org.