Centennial close to home

This year marks the centennial of the start of World War I — “the war to end all wars,” “the war to make the world safe for democracy.” Yet it is also arguably the world’s stupidest war (because it was so easily avoidable) and most catastrophic (in so many long-term consequences, even the root cause of the current mess in the Middle East).

But this year also marks the centennial of a powerful idea hatched here in the United States demonstrating a better side of human behavior. A man named Frederick Goff, then president of the Cleveland Trust Co., believed people, no matter what their means, would want to be philanthropists if given the opportunity.

So his simple idea was this: People would donate funds to local foundations whose mission was to meet local needs, as long as those local foundations were ably administered, and the funds invested/distributed, by local professionals.

The key word is “local.”

Here locally, in Rappahannock County, we have the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation (NPCF), one of nearly 750 foundations dotting the United States that owe their existence to Frederick Goff’s simple idea. These foundations have combined assets totaling more than $70 billion.

Just the NPCF alone, founded in December 2000, now has almost $9 million in assets, including scholarships, the Richard Lykes and other funds. The four-county board of local leaders, chaired by our own John McCarthy, includes Rappahannock representatives Sharon Luke, Mike Leake and Bill Walton.

The NPCF’s executive director, Cole Johnson, also from Rappahannock, says she is “passionate about what we’re able to do for this community because more folks than ever understand the power of what we can do together.”

She points to the foundation’s “Give Local Piedmont” day of giving this past May that brought in more than $675,000 from 3,369 individuals, who donated to 107 local nonprofits serving Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier and Madison counties. “We’re thrilled by the success and plan to make it an annual event,” she says.

And Cole plans on joining other community foundation folks from around the country at their annual October conference in Cleveland, where it all began exactly 100 years ago.

Walter Nicklin