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Projects not too small, or large, for help from local Foundation

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image Evelyn Lunsford, left, discusses upcoming grants and procedures with officials of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Beverley McClain and Interim Foundation Director, Gene Marshall. Penny Fletcher Photo

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

By PENNY FLETCHER

SUN CITY CENTER — When the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center was founded as the local arm of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay in 1992, it had a dual purpose: to aid South County’s 501(c)(3) organizations lend a hand to their recipients, and to give donors more bang for their buck.

The Sun City Center division is affiliated with the Tampa branch in that it runs under that group’s 501(c)(3) tax-free status. It also helped to become an affiliate instead of reinventing the wheel because Tampa Bay’s procedures, bylaws and goals were already set up.

But philanthropy and vision run high in South County, especially in the retirement community of Sun City Center, which provides most of the donations.

As of Dec. 31, the local branch had $30.7 million in its coffers; had donated $865,000 in grants during the previous 12 months; and had operating expenses of only 0.80 percent of its net assets- less than one percent.

“That’s because of the countless hours of volunteers,” said Evelyn Lunsford, who sits on the Sun City Center division’s 12-member Council and has been on the front-line of reading, examining and approving grants for more years than she can count.

Grants may not be made to individuals, Lunsford explained. Only to organizations and agencies that have been granted 501(c)(3) tax free status by the Internal Revenue Service.

This means they may be faith based; community based, or even places like county schools and libraries, added Beverley McLain who is a member of the Tampa foundation. McLain and Interim Foundation Director Gene Marshall met with representatives of the Sun City Center foundation Feb. 10 to discuss future plans.

The Tampa foundation, which is much larger than the local branch, examines grant applications twice a year, in spring and fall, Marshall said.

But the Sun City Center foundation accepts and accesses grants from September through June, added Lunsford.

Another thing the local branch can do on its own is look around the community for unmet needs and see if there is money in an unrestricted fund to meet them. 

As explained to me, there are two main types of grants, restricted and unrestricted, with many variations of each.

“Someone may say, ‘I want to help schools,’ or more specifically, ‘I want to help with literacy,’ or in a wider sense, say ‘help education,’” Lunsford explained. “We’re helping eight South County schools and the RCMA –which meets the same criteria as the public schools.”

RCMA is the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. It provides services including child care, tutoring, and many types of classes as well as filling basic needs including food, clothing and locating shelter.   

This story will deal specifically with donations, while Part Two in this 2-part series will highlight various things on a wide spectrum that the grants have provided.

For now, let’s simply say cultural events, the arts, schools, libraries, clubs and organizations designated tax-exempt, and even some animal shelters have received funds earmarked for both restricted and unrestricted needs.

The Foundation also provides matching grants and “top off” grants to organizations that do their own fundraising but don’t quite make their goal.

“Recently this was the case at Apollo Beach Elementary School when they had fundraisers and PTA events but couldn’t make their goal for computer technology improvements,” Lunsford said. So the Foundation gave the school a “top off” grant that helped it provide projectors and other devices to upgrade the school’s room.

Some grants are unrestricted, giving the Committee complete control over who gets them.

Robert Mohr, also a member of the 12-member Council of the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center, pointed out that it isn’t millionaires that provide most of the grants.

Marshall agreed, saying the same thing is true in the Tampa Foundation

“Our median grant is $68,000 but we’ll take any amount,” Mohr said. “Ten thousand is the minimum grant amount to have a fund named after you,” Mohr said. “And the smallest grant awarded is $250.”

Aside from that, and the restricted and  unrestricted regulations, there are few set rules.

Because only the interest of the money donated is spent and never the principle, every grant enables more to be given and the fund only grows, Mohr explained.

The South Shore grants have more flexibility than Tampa however, because more live donors are in Tampa while the Sun City Center-based organization has benefited from many wills, trusts and annuities.

“Wills and trusts are a way people can leave legacies in a field- like the arts or education- they have always wanted to help but couldn’t during their lifetime,” Mohr said.

Annuities, however, can provide income while a person is alive and then be designated for a cause after a person dies.

“Even giving a little can mean a lot,” said Marshall. “When several people give a little, it leverages the community impact.”  

Nonprofit organizations bring their donors to the Foundation, Lunsford added. “They know they can get more help for their causes that way.”

Although the intent is to help only residents of South County and organizations that help residents who live south of the Alafia River, if a donor specifies he or she wants to leave something to an out-of-state college or possibly and organization that helped them as a youth, that is also possible.

“Grant money may be divided between several organizations as well,” Mohr said.

According to McLain, three things that are important are that the Foundation honors the donor’s intent; the Foundation Council stays aware of community needs and that the gifts are perpetual (since only the interest is used.) “People need to know their fund will continue to help people on and on after they are no longer with us.”

To find out more about the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center call (813) 633-6677; send grant applications to P.O. Box 5914 Sun City Center, FL 33571; or visit www.cftampabay.org.

Next week: A close-up look at how varied the grants can be.

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