What do trees and nonprofits on Bainbridge Island have in common? The answer: We have a lot of both. On the surface, trees and nonprofits are very similar as they are essential and beneficial to any community. However, just like each variety of tree differs from the next, so do our nonprofits. Here on Bainbridge, we have more than 240 nonprofits that support a vast variety of charitable causes ranging from one end of the charitable spectrum to the other, all of which are devoted to helping our neighbors and improving the quality of life for everyone on the Island (see below for some links to nonprofits on the Island).
With all these nonprofits one might wonder how they can possibly receive enough funding from a community of less than 30,000 people to make a meaningful impact. That’s where the Bainbridge Community Foundation (BCF) comes in.
I sat down with Jim Hopper, Executive Director and Dana Binnendijk, Community Impact Officer at BCF to learn more about them and the services they provide.
It began in the 1970s (and continued through the 1990s), when the board of One Call for All (then known as the Bainbridge Foundation) amassed a number of illiquid assets, many of which had a complicated history, making it difficult to liquidate for charitable use. In the late 1990s, One Call for All (OCfA) created a Trust Committee, led by Steve Davis, to formulate a plan. It was through this committee (and with the assistance of attorney Larry Mills) that they were able to liquidate the assets and take the next step—to build a reliable and permanent source of income for nonprofits in the area when an urgent need arose.
With OCfA’s blessing, the Trust Committee was dissolved and a new independent nonprofit was established as “a chartered grant-making organization that would analyze the needs of our community, prioritize and address those needs, and anticipate how to foster quality of life for island residents in the near and long term.” The Bainbridge Island Community Endowment—as it was called until 2005 when it adopted the name Bainbridge Community Foundation—functioned as an all-volunteer organization and contracted with the Seattle Foundation to assist in fund and investment management as well as grant-making services.
BCF’s first Community Grants Cycle was in 2005, and by 2011 the foundation had grown to over $7 million which became too large for the Seattle Foundation to manage them. In 2011, they hired their first executive director and BCF transitioned to independently managing their investments and operations.
But what makes BCF different from all the other nonprofits on Bainbridge? While most nonprofits have a specific cause they support, community foundations have a broader goal to serve and improve the community as a whole, allowing them to make grants to a variety of charitable organizations throughout the community.
“BCF is singularly positioned to understand and address the broad needs of our community…We are proud to help our community grow and diversify by providing financial and logistical support to Bainbridge Island nonprofits through positive, sustainable, and inclusive investment—funded by citizenry that cares deeply about our shared home and wants to shape constructive impact, whether as major contributors or first-time donors.”
At its core, BCF works to assist nonprofits by conducting surveys in order to analyze their needs, provide tactical support to strengthen their individual organizations as well as grants, which allows them to continue their work. In addition, they support the community through scholarships to provide youth empowerment, recognition of local individuals and organizations through philanthropy awards and bringing different entities together in order to solve issues and take advantage of opportunities that might otherwise slip by without combined community support.
They also provide free online public education programs on financial literacy, which includes education on building wealth and financial stability (regardless of your income), advice on social security, investing, philanthropic giving, and much more. As their website states, “practical education about financial management is too often out of reach for people, especially those with limited incomes. Former BCF Board member Paul Merriman—founder of The Merriman Financial Education Foundation—has dedicated his retirement to providing free training to all ages about how to secure a more stable financial future.” To learn more about this, click here.
In a nutshell, BCF’s unique approach allows them to better understand the needs of our nonprofits and our community, which allows them to grant funds for projects outside of the operational needs of the organizations. As Jim explained, “We’re able to have a deeper conversation on the more obscure needs and carefully vet our recipients via our grant cycle volunteers.”
We also discussed the challenges BCF faced during the pandemic. As Jim pointed out, the first few months of the lock-down projected an ominous future for approximately 30 percent of our nonprofits. However, as Dana was quick to point out, Jim foresaw the issues that were arising and was instrumental in communicating and building partnerships within our nonprofit community to build an emergency grant program as well as therapeutic support to keep them going.
In closing, I asked Jim and Dana about some of the hurdles BCF foresees going forward. One particular concern they voiced was the need for a new generation of volunteers. “We need a generational transfer of younger members in the community to step up through volunteering and philanthropy so that we can maintain our core values,” of assisting and supporting the islanders’ needs, Jim said.
Learning about BCF was an eye-opening experience, however we’ve only scratched the surface and the Island Wanderer is excited to share more in-depth stories on their specific programs in the future.
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