Portage foundation seeks to boost visibility

November 29, 2018


Board members of a 2-year-old Portage philanthropic foundation sought experienced advice Tuesday, to boost both the entity’s visibility and its bank account.

The Portage Area Community Fund is not yet in a position to do what it was formed to do – distribute grants to nonprofit organizations that benefit people who live in the boundaries of the Portage Community School District.

That’s why the board invited Alan Strohschein, board member for the Columbus Area Endowment, to its monthly meeting at the Portage Enterprise Center.

One successful idea in Columbus, according to Strohschein, was to hold a “Night Out for Philanthropy” in a local coffee shop, where attendees’ admission prices were applied to the Columbus Area Endowment, and where the leaders of various nonprofit entities could meet each other and learn about charitable activities in the Columbus and Fall River area.

“That was eye-opening,” Strohschein said. “We found there were so many different entities in our community.”

Another event that combined fund-raising with awareness was the recent Youth In Philanthropy event held Nov. 4 at the Savannah Oaks Community Center in Fall River.

Besides offering music and appetizers, the event featured a focus on philanthropic programs in the Columbus-Fall River area that are run by young people, for young people, such as the Fall River-based Youth Against Drugs and Alcohol.

“We just don’t celebrate youth in philanthropy enough,” he said. “But when you do, then the parents get involved, and the grandparents get involved – and the grandparents bring their checkbooks.”

An infusion of capital is one thing that the Portage Area Community Fund needs now, said Sandy Gunderson, a founding member of the foundation’s advisory board.

The fund’s current balance stands at $27,735, including principal and interest. Gunderson noted the fund lost about $1,870 in interest during the recent downturn in the stock market.

Advisory Board Member Dennis Dorn said he’d like to see a principal of at least $25,000 before soliciting applications for grants. Strohschein advised growing the endowment even more, so that it would generate enough interest to offer grants of a meaningful size without touching the principal.

Strohschein said any event that the Portage Area Community Fund might sponsor would not need to have a high admission fee, though the fee would need to cover the cost of holding the event while raising enough to boost the principal.

And, the event would not necessarily need to include a meal or a large amount of food. Appetizers are usually sufficient, he said.

Steve Sobiek, the city of Portage’s director of business development and planning and an advisory committee member, said he envisions an event sometime in March, with a guest speaker prominent enough to attract attendees, to hear the speaker’s presentation and to network with him or her afterward.

When the event might be held, where and who the guest speaker would be are all issues that need to be worked out, Sobiek said.

Like the Columbus Area Endowment, the Portage Area Community Fund is administered by the Madison Community Foundation, which also administers two other Columbia County charitable endowments – the Rio Community Foundation and the Lodi Area Community Endowment.

Portage also has another philanthropic organization, the Portage Area Community Charitable Trust, more commonly known as “Positively Portage.” The administration of “Positively Portage” is done locally.

Gunderson said having the Madison entity oversee the administration of the Portage Area Community Fund, and the investments that generate its interest, saves time and money, and is intended to ensure that a maximum amount of grant money will be available to Portage area organizations.

Both foundations have similar purposes – to award grants for programs that benefit the Portage community, and to serve as “pass-through” funds for groups such as service clubs that are working on specific charitable projects.

Dorn said he doesn’t see the two endowments as being in competition with each other.

“The fact that we have two foundations in the community is great,” he said. “Three years ago, we had none.”

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