For South Sound business leaders who want to direct some of their bottom-line revenues to charitable causes, one important question lingers — where do I begin? In the following, we introduce you to Pierce County’s leading community foundation to learn more about the state of our region’s philanthropy. We also highlight five South Sound businesses — from residential movers to mushroom farmers — giving both time and money to our community in innovative ways. Finally, if you are ready to find a worthy cause, our guide to charitable organizations is a good resource to get you started.
Putting the ‘Community’ Back in Community Foundation
For more than 35 years, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation has connected Pierce County donors to the causes they care about.
One recent weekday morning, Kathi Littmann, President and CEO of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF), was describing some of the charitable and philanthropic initiatives her organization and its donors have engaged in over the years when an assistant peered through the doorway and caught Littmann’s attention.
“It’s almost 11 a.m., right?” Littmann asked. The assistant nodded. “I have to run to Seattle soon for a big announcement.”
The big announcement, which would be shared via much media fanfare at a press conference later that afternoon, was that the Seattle rock band Pearl Jam, after raising approximately $11 million to combat homelessness in Washington state, would donate approximately $1.3 million to two organizations. One organization, All Home, aims to ensure homeless youth are off the streets and in safe housing by 2020. The other organization, A Way Home Washington’s “Anchor Community” initiative, is a pilot project to end youth homelessness in four counties — Pierce, Spokane, Walla Walla, and Yakima — by 2022.
GTCF is a partner in the Anchor Community initiative, but the real value to GTCF and its donors was in the connections and partnerships that would be made. It was one more resource for GTCF to tap when it came to connecting the organization’s donors with the causes they care about.
Founded in 1981 by a small group of people who pooled together $10,000 to start a charitable community foundation that would ensure funds would be available in perpetuity, GTCF has grown to become a major community foundation in Washington state.
In 1986, GTCF awarded its first round of community grants, which totaled $14,000. Today, the organization has about 480 donor funds established by individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations and approximately $112 million in assets. In Washington state, there are about two dozen community foundations, and GTCF ranks behind the Seattle Foundation, which has around $867 million in assets, and the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, which has approximately $180 million in assets.
Last year, GTCF directed nearly $7.1 million to more than 370 organizations that offer a range of services in Tacoma and Pierce County, with education ($1.8 million), the environment ($1.4 million), and basic needs ($1.1 million) rounding out the top three categories.
And yet, GTCF does more than simply administer donor-funded grants. The organization is a resource and knowledge base for individuals and businesses who want to engage in philanthropy and charitable giving.
“That’s a big part of what we do, and it’s not what people traditionally think about foundations,” Littmann explained during an interview at GTCF’s offices on the 11th floor of the Rust Building in downtown Tacoma. Littmann was a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation before she was hired in 2015 to lead GTCF.
Indeed, when someone approaches GTCF to set up a donor fund, the first things Littmann and her team want to know are what they care about, what they want to see in the community, and what are the things that give them joy? From there, GTCF tries to figure out how to leverage what a donor wants along with what others in the community need.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of different tools in our tool kit,” Littmann said. “We are connected to those (people and organizations) that are actually doing all the work. We make the introductions.”
How has GTCF managed to survive and thrive for nearly 40 years?
One factor is the organization’s history of financial stability, regardless of the state of the local economy. Gina Anstey, GTCF’s vice president of grants and initiatives, witnessed this early in her career at the organization.
“I started in January 2008, and six months later the world fell apart,” she explained, referring to the The Great Recession and housing market collapse. “I got to watch a sector and a city and a county react to that devastating event. I also got to see the benefit of being in an endowed organization because we continued to do grantmaking throughout all the recovery. In fact, we kept our grantmaking at a high level when other resources had dried up. Through our investment policies, we showed that GTCF is really, really stable.”
Another factor is how philanthropic organizations responded to a trend that began in the early 1990s, when banks and other investment firms started to look at philanthropy as something that could be folded into their portfolio of customer services. A product like the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund could be marketed directly to consumers, and this posed a threat to philanthropic organizations across the United States. Philanthropic organizations had to distinguish themselves from these banks and financial services.
One way to do that was for community foundations to double down on the word “community,” and GTCF was no exception.
Megan Sukys, vice president of communications at GTCF, recalled a 2005 industry report, entitled On The Brink, that was commissioned by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and gave community foundations pause.
“The entire community foundation sector said, ‘We are about to be eliminated because all of these individual donors are going to private banks and places like Charles Schwab. What is our value? What do we do?’” Sukys said. “That was when, across the board, lots of community foundations started saying it’s not just the dollars; it’s the partnership, it’s the connection, it’s how we facilitate in the community. We don’t just exist for the dollars; we exist for the community. How do we do that more? That was a big shift.”
“We had to make a decision collectively, as an entity: What do we want to be?” added Anstey. “Do we want to continue to do things that were just transactions? Or did we want to see what we could do that was transformational in our communities?”
A catalyst for GTCF to ramp up its community presence came under unfortunate circumstances. In 2006, after a shooting at a downtown Tacoma nightclub for teens and young adults, community leaders asked GTCF to convene a series of events that brought together local youth to discuss gun violence and explore ways to develop goals that would make Pierce County a safer place for young people to live. Collectively, those discussions became an inflection point for GTCF to lean into being more of a community presence, according to Sukys.
GTCF has since created a Youth Philanthropy Board that aims to help individuals aged 15 to 24 become philanthropic and community leaders, and even makes grant recommendations for youth-serving organizations; marked its 30th anniversary with a public celebration at the Tacoma Dome featuring Bishop Desmond Tutu; launched its Spark Grants program, awarding micro-grants up to $1,500 to community projects that foster positive social and neighborhood change; and convened more than 100 community leaders over a nine-month period in 2017 to discuss economic opportunities and challenges facing women in Pierce County.
Two recent trends in philanthropy keep Littmann excited about GTCF’s future.
First, research comissioned by GTCF shows that between 2015 and 2025, an estimated $14 billion of wealth in Pierce County is poised be transferred from one generation of a family or business to another. An initiative called “Leave 10” aims to encourage people to donate 10 percent, or $1.4 billion, of that wealth to the local community. Moreover, if that money were placed in an endowment, the return to the community would be $68 million annually.
The other trend involves impact investing, which aims to show returns that are both financial and social. In Pierce County, for example, impact investing has helped low-income homeowners repair their septic tanks so they can remain in their homes.
Also, GTCF invested $500,000 into a partnership plan with Forterra that will help preserve affordable housing in Pierce County.
“Really, our role is making sure connections are made so that donors know where they can make the biggest impact,” Littmann said. Besides, she confessed as she wrapped up the interview and prepared to leave for the press event in Seattle, “It is actually a lot of fun.”
Businesses that give
Taylor Shellfish Farms
Focused on supporting the communities in which it operates, this Shelton-based company offers sponsorships and grants to conservation and environmental organizations working to improve water quality and the marine environment, as well as efforts that engage youth in science and the outdoors.
Employees of this Lakewood-based moving and storage company noticed customers often viewed moving from one home or business location to another as the perfect opportunity to get rid of a lot of stuff, including perfectly good food. Why not redirect that unopened and nonperishable food to local food banks? Enter Move For Hunger, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that partnered with Golden Services in 2013, and has delivered nearly 43,000 pounds of food (enough to provide nearly 36,000 meals) to Puget Sound region food banks.
Korsmo Construction‘s client relationships don’t end with the completed design and construction of a new building. That’s particularly true for community service organizations that turn to this Tacoma company for new facilities or headquarters. Much of Korsmo Construction’s philanthropic support is focused on its own nonprofit clients, to which the company contributes financial and in-kind support to activities such as auctions, fundraisers, and luncheons. This summer, the company partnered with Metro Parks Tacoma and The First Tee of South Puget Sound to host a youth golf tournament to raise money for youth programs offered by Metro Parks Tacoma, for whom Korsmo Construction is currently building a new community center.
Ostrom Mushroom Farms
Annually, this 90-year-old family-owned and-operated Olympia business packages its mushrooms in pink cartons and donates a portion of its proceeds to breast cancer research. Some researchers believe those button-shaped mushrooms, which are loaded with vitamin D, have the potential to curb cancer development. Also, the company has established a scholarship program at South Puget Sound Community College to help students achieve their academic goals.
Nisqually Red Wind Casino
Skilled gamblers aren’t the only people who benefit from a lucky streak at this Olympia casino. Over the past five years, the Nisqually Indian Tribe has directed some of its casino earnings — an estimated $5 million — to South Sound organizations focused on improving public safety, children’s services, community health, cultural preservation, veterans support, and environmental protection. Last year alone, 145 organizations received $841,000 in grants.