Tag Archives: History of Community Foundations

Frederick Goff Vision

Frederick Goff: The Vision for a Community Foundation
Over 100 years ago, Frederick Goff, acting as the President of the fast-growing Cleveland Trust, set up the Cleveland Foundation. It was the first community foundation in the U.S., established in 1914. Indianapolis followed in 1916, Chicago in 1919, and New York in 1920. By 1931 – 74 communities had established community foundations.
What made such a rapid expansion possible? The answer lies in the powerful vision of Frederick Goff. It was Goff that saw the need for an institution that addressed two great societal forces: the urge of donors to give, and the unmet needs of fast-growing communities.
Day after day, as a banker, Goff worked to serve his high net worth clients with ways to maximize their impact as philanthropists.
Day after day, as a civic leader, Goff also saw unmet needs in his community, Cleveland. These needs were met neither by the marketplace nor by government. Examples were everywhere: churches, colleges, hospitals, and homeless shelter were just the beginning of a long list of more-than-worthy causes with unmet needs.
Out of this work, as a banker and as a civic leader, Off formed a compelling vision: His vision was to create a “permanent enduring institution”, a “community chest”, which could match the needs of donors to the needs of the community. The community trust (now called a community foundation) was perfectly suited to serve in this way.
His vision was a way for community needs to be met, as well as a way to facilitate donor giving.
In a sense, Goff fused philanthropy after death to living philanthropy. Where others saw estate planning and living philanthropy as two separate issues, Goff saw them as seamlessly connected, through a “permanently enduring organization” – a community trust.

While some wealthy people, along with their estate planners, toiled to describe in excruciating detail how fortunes were to be used in the future to advance community well-being, Goff asked a much simpler question: can a donor give his or her wealth to a permanently enduring organization that the donor trusts?
He conceived of this “permanently enduring organization” – this “community trust” – as a way to enable both a “living trust” and decision-making about the use of funds when the donor was no longer able to make those decisions.
Goff expressed his vision beautifully in Colliers magazine:

“How fine it would be if a man about to make a will could go to a permanently enduring organization –  what Chief Justice Marshall called an ‘artificial immortal being’ – and say: ‘Here is a large sum of money. I want to leave it to be used for the good of the community, but I have no way of knowing what will be the greatest need of the community 50 years from now, or even 10 years from now. Therefore, I place it in your hands, because you will be here, you and your successors, through the years, to determine what should be done with this sum to make it most useful for people of each succeeding generation.’”

The early visionaries called them “community trusts”. Now called “community foundations”, they were a product of people, places, and policy innovations.
Goff foresaw an institution that could be capable of great stewardship, that could respect the wishes of donors, deceased and alive. For the deceased, the institution would need to be capable of carefully respecting donor wishes as detailed in wills and other expressions of intent. And for the living, he also saw – in that same institution – a capacity to listen to donors, to earn their trust, and abide by their wishes for their hard-earned money.
Goff envisioned a living and breathing organization, in touch with present-day needs of the community. This would be not simply an institution that was administering the wishes of people who had long since died. It would be an organization with the capacity to hold a “trust’, or an endowment, for the “community”. Indeed, in the early days these organizations were called “community trusts”.
The Mayor of Cleveland strongly backed Goff with this assertion about the value of a “community trust”:

“…The Community Trust is an endeavor to substitute contemporary wisdom for foresight; and that is particularly important when we reflect that we are living in a world which has changed more rapidly and in more of its fundamental conceptions within the past dozen years that it has ever done before in as many centuries.”
Newton D. Baker, Mayor of Cleveland, and former Secretary of War