One of the questions I’m most often asked is “What makes a community foundation different from other charities?” Though most people understand what other charities do, the breadth of community foundations’ operations, and the extensive charitable activities we undertake, can make us hard to explain.

One of the most distinct differences between community foundations and other charitable organizations is that we are not “end users.” When you donate to an organization with a single mission – one that serves children or rescues animals, for example – that organization uses your donation directly for their programs and overhead.

When you give to Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, your gift is allocated to one of our more than 400 funds. Or you can establish your own fund. From these funds, grants are made to nonprofit organizations.

Most of our funds have a defined purpose or intent, established by the fund advisor, to support a particular cause or nonprofit. If you are inclined, you can designate your gift to one of these funds, or to a cause that is served by one of these funds.

Alternately, you can donate to one of our general funds and we’ll use your gift as part of our larger, scheduled grant awards to nonprofit organizations in the Lowcountry. The decision of where these grant dollars go is made by a committee of local residents specifically charged with assessing the greatest needs in the community.

When people me ask why they should give through a community foundation instead of directly to a nonprofit, I tell them that giving through a community foundation pools their gift with many other gifts, amplifying the impact of their donation.

Additionally, community foundations are public charities with a mission of serving the entire community. (For us, that means Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.) We have extensive knowledge of which issues are most critical and which organizations are working to solve these problems, giving us a community-wide vision.

Another distinction between community foundations and other nonprofits is that, unlike single mission nonprofits, community foundations exist to build permanent charitable assets. This provides an ongoing source of funding for a broad base of causes throughout the community – not just now, but in the future. Having this reserve makes us agile and able to change course as new challenges or opportunities arise.

When Hurricane Matthew caused extensive destruction and when COVID-19 left families without food on their tables, we allocated dollars from one of our flexible endowment funds to address those needs. Moreover, we understand that the challenges facing our community today might not be the same challenges we’re forced to tackle 20 years from now. Endowment funds give our communities ongoing charitable capital to invest in the region.

Community foundations are unique and complex. Our mission of building endowments ensures that we’ll be here to strengthen and improve our communities, both now and in the future. And that’s what sets us apart. 

Scott Wierman is the president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.