A trust for all times

It’s the oldest and second largest community foundation in the country. Created in 1914 through the vision of Cleveland attorney and banker Frederick Harris Goff, the Cleveland Foundation has worked to improve the lives of Greater Cleveland’s residents for 85 years.

In its early days, the foundation’s landmark studies on public schools, parks and recreation and the criminal justice system led to enormous changes. From the creation of the Emerald Necklace, Cleveland’s Metroparks system, to the renovation of Playhouse Square and Severance Hall, there are few projects in Greater Cleveland that aren’t in some way touched by this organization.

The foundation boasts assets of $1.5 billion, and last year doled out more than $47 million. The man appointed to oversee that awesome task as president and executive director is Steven A. Minter.

Minter has a background in public administration, having worked as the commissioner of public welfare for Massachusetts and as Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education. He has been director of the Cleveland Foundation since 1984.

He states the foundation’s role simply: “We help donors carry out their dreams, of what they wanted to do.” SBN sat down with Minter to learn the philosophy behind corporate giving.

What role has the Cleveland Foundation played in the make-up of this city?

We were the first community foundation in the United States, established in 1914. The foundation’s mission was to help improve the quality of life for all the citizens of Cleveland.

It was set up in such a way that it would be administered by a local bank, then the Cleveland Trust Co. (later Ameritrust), and it would place emphasis on encouraging persons of considerable means and small means to give something back to the community from which they made their living. Donors could specify how they would like their dollars used in perpetuity.

The foundation has been involved in schools, neighborhoods, housing and economic development. I think we’ve probably been involved in almost anything you can ask about that has gone on in Cleveland — providing some support, or we were involved in early start-up stages.

How important is the role of business to the process?

There’s a very large foundation community in Cleveland, and when you then add in the corporate sector, this is a community that has been very generous in terms of corporate giving. It makes for a lot of difference. In almost everything that goes on in this community, you find a mix of foundation funds and corporate funds and public funds.

Most foundations are giving from endowments and most companies have gone through a process and decided to allocate some portion of their income toward a corporate contributions program. A few of those companies have established foundations.

Cleveland is a partnership community. Public/private partnerships are something this community is quite distinguished about, even across the United States. Groups come here constantly from other cities to try to understand how the Cleveland turnaround occurred.

What is interesting, and a lot of fun these days, is to watch a lot of the smaller companies that don’t have 500-plus employees gradually beginning to pick up a share and do some very creative things. There are some small companies that are establishing school/business partnerships and working with the Cleveland Public Schools.

And there are other small companies which are making contributions to help sponsor a night at the opera and other activities. That’s really where our future lies, the emerging companies.

What role will the Cleveland Foundation play in the future?

We’re going through a period in the nation’s history where we’re going to see over the next 25 to 30 years probably what will be the largest transfer of wealth from one generation to the next — estimated to be in excess of $25 trillion. (We) know that there are a lot of people who today are accumulating wealth in amounts that they never expected that they would have.

Even after making provision for their heirs, there’s money left over and they’d rather not give it to the government. So institutions, whether it is the universities the hospitals, the Cleveland Foundation or others are trying to tell the story: That here is an opportunity in our case for you to help the community forever by making a planned gift in your will.

What we can say with some degree of confidence is that the Cleveland Foundation is going to be here. It’s permanent. It cannot be picked up and moved someplace else. Nobody can come in and acquire the Cleveland Foundation. It’s really the people’s foundation.

How to reach: The Cleveland Foundation, (216) 861-3810

Daniel G. Jacobs ([email protected]) is senior editor at SBN.