It won’t happen right away, but if things go as planned, Atmore and Escambia County groups seeking financial grants will have, in the relatively near future, a local “clearing house” from which they can seek supplemental funding for generations to come.
Rebecca Byrne, president and chief executive officer of The Community Foundation of South Alabama, made public during last week’s meeting of the Atmore Lions Club that an “affiliate fund” had been established through which non-profits, churches, schools and governmental entities in and around Atmore could eventually secure money to help fund their operations.
Lions Club member Audrey Moon, who also serves on the Atmore Affiliate Fund Committee, pointed out during her Byrne’s introduction that, prior to becoming the top officer of CFAS, Byrne had proven that she knew how to manage a charitable conglomeration, having been the United Way executive.
“This is a model we adopted last fall, and Atmore is actually the first community we’ve moved into,” Byrne announced. “By happenstance, I was in a meeting with several others, and as they began to talk, I said, ‘You know, it sounds to me like y’all would be a great affiliate fund – or community fund might be a better word.’ There was a lot of enthusiasm.”
She pointed out that CFSA, which funds grants through interest or dividends gleaned from invested capital, was not a financial institution, although it operated in many ways similar to one.
“We are a public charity,” Byrne said. “We are not a bank; we are not a trust department. We take funds and invest them. It’s with the income we get from those investments that we turn around and make grants … Perhaps, even though we want you to understand that we are not a bank, the best way to describe us is that we are like a branch, like a community coming together with its residents and saying that you have your own community fund.”
Byrne said those involved with the local fund should not include immediacy among their expectations for the philanthropic project. She also noted that Bob Jones, who is on both the CFSA board and the Atmore fund’s advisory council, would be the liaison between the two.
“Obviously, the larger you can make your community fund, the more money you will be able to give back out,” Byrne told the 15 or so who attended the meeting. “You start with a minimum of $25,000 so you have at least something to work with. It’s an endowed fund, so you’re only spending the interest, and it’s going to take a while for it to grow. But a community fund is about creating long-term legacies, it’s not about immediate results.”
The local advisory committee, of which a roster of members was not immediately available, has already raised a significant portion of the mandatory amount to establish the fund and is “about $8,200 shy” of the amount needed.
Byrne reported that CFSA has an investment committee made up of “financial advisors who have over 220 years of experience” and who provide their services as part of their pro bono work.
“Many of them have been on the committee for decades,” she said. “They are very good at what they do, and that’s why we are one of the best, in terms of investment performance records.”
An “orientation” meeting is set for noon on Friday, February 24, at Royal Oaks Bed & Breakfast for those who might be interested in the idea. Byrne said she would “get a little more into the weeds about what it will look like to your community” during that meeting.
Moon expressed total confidence that any local money invested with CFSA would be in good hands.
“There are such good restrictions in place, so I know these funds are going to be used wisely,” she said. “We don’t have any money right now, but when we do, it won’t run out. It’s not going to be huge initially, but if we get a 4-percent return on $25,000 we will have $1,000 to give away after a year.
“I feel like, in this first year, if all we do is meet people so they become aware of it, the fund will become one that we can do something meaningful with next year or the year after that. If that happens, I will be thrilled.”
Byrne reiterated that the fund is designed to produce long-term benefits.
“It starts growing a little faster than you might think,” she said. “But you’re not necessarily doing it for today or tomorrow, you’re looking at the next generation, too. It’s just a beautiful model of philanthropy.”