Make an impact: 3 ways to get started with local philanthropy.

Apr 19, 2016

Originally appeared on CT Post Blog

Nationwide, community foundations serve as trusted partners for thousands of donors. One of the key reasons: these organizations make it easy to engage in local philanthropy and build innovative solutions to your region’s most pressing challenges. At Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, it’s our honor to bring people together to collaboratively support the growth of our region.

But what does being a philanthropist really mean? Can you be a philanthropist? And how can you get started?

What is philanthropy?

Simply put, philanthropy is giving that benefits the greater good. By making donations of money or other assets, and by working to support the growth and advancement of your community, you can become a local philanthropist.

Anyone can engage in philanthropy. Your giving may begin on a small scale — through an annual holiday donation, for instance — or develop into planned giving on a larger scale, touching the lives of future generations.

How can I become a philanthropist?

To get started on the path to effectively “giving where you live,” start by asking yourself some simple questions. Is there a cause that speaks to you — perhaps giving young people access to higher education, or helping families to secure affordable housing? How much do you want to donate? Are you ready to give now, or are you looking to establish a legacy through a will or trust?

As you get clear on why and how you want to give, one of these three stepping stones can get you started on the path of local philanthropy:

  1. Make a one-time donation. When you donate directly to a community foundation, those dollars can make an immediate difference right in your neighborhood — and even small contributions count. You can eliminate much of the “homework” associated with charitable giving, knowing that your donation will stay local and support solutions to the most critical issues facing your hometown. You’ll also get access to a charity tax deduction.
  2. Create your own charitable fund. Want to go deeper in making an impact? Working with a community foundation to establish a scholarship fund, endowment fund or other named charitable fund can help you to honor a loved one’s memory and give back in a way that matters to you, while feeling confident that your contribution is supporting nonprofits that deliver effective results. Starting donor advised funds also offers immediate tax benefits, with the flexibility to support your favorite non profit organizations at any time you choose.
  3. Establish a legacy. Partnering with a community foundation to engage in legacy giving can yield tax benefits for your family, while making an impact in your community for years to come. By making a bequest, selecting a nonprofit beneficiary for your retirement account or life insurance, or establishing a charitable trust, you can enjoy your assets now and give generously later. Some charitable trusts offer life income and tax benefits, and any of these arrangements entitle you to enhanced stewardship through a community foundation.

Why give through a community foundation?

Anybody can become a local philanthropist — but working with a community foundation makes it easier, and helps to ensure that your gift counts. Here are three reasons why:

  • Personal relationships and guidance. When you work with a community foundation, a philanthropic services advisor can meet with you one-on-one. By getting to know you personally and understanding your goals for charitable contributions, they can help you develop a personalized approach to your philanthropy, avoiding a “trial and error” approach when it comes to giving back locally.
  • Local knowledge. Community foundations are deeply rooted in the regions they serve. Staff members know the issues facing your neighborhood, inside and out. They also have deep experience with the non profit organizations that serve your community, and can guide you to make grants that have the greatest impact. For example, in 2015, donor support allowed Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to award $1.2 million to 63 local nonprofits that help young people to succeed in school and connect with meaningful careers — addressing the issue of a youth unemployment rate that is the 15th highest in the nation. View the photo gallery above to see how Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is making a difference in Connecticut.
  • Financial management, done for you. Giving through a community foundation provides you with all of the tax advantages and flexibility of grantmaking to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, while eliminating the effort and responsibility of complying with reporting and payout restrictions. It also reduces the expenses, such as excise tax on investment income, that would be required when establishing a private foundation.

“To feel completely comfortable with a financial partner is a great blessing. Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has earned my trust again and again with their local expertise and spot-on counsel. My relationship with the Community Foundation goes beyond a partnership. There’s a true understanding of my goals, and a true desire to bring them to life in ways I could not have imagined.”

— Eleanor Harrison Smith, Donor Advised Fundholder


As a trusted nonprofit partner and thought leader, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation brings together community organizers, business experts and philanthropists to solve our region’s challenges. Our goal is to create a vital and inclusive community, where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Find out how you can support this work and give back in your community by visiting, or learn about personalized options for giving by emailing

Together we thrive.