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Group aims to aid donors

The Baltimore Sun

The family of a fallen Army nurse wants to establish a memorial fund in her honor. An elderly couple plans a sizable donation to a favorite charity, insisting on anonymity. A group of alumni hopes to endow a scholarship at the high school where they became friends.

The Community Foundation of Harford County, a newly established grant-making organization, has been created to help such donors and direct their gifts to nonprofit organizations.

"We can tailor ourselves to our donors' interests and giving capacities," said Linda Koser, executive director of the foundation, which had its kickoff event Thursday in Bel Air. "The idea is to make it easy for people to give."

The organization, the newest of the 13 community foundations in Maryland, hopes to establish through donations a permanent endowment, which will be invested conservatively. The interest will be disbursed as grants to charities.

"This is a proven program that works to increase philanthropy," Koser said. "The whole idea is to allow our local nonprofits to thrive. We are a grant-making organization that emanates from, and is supported by, the community that wants to give back through donations."

The foundation will broaden the pool of donors and be a conduit that dispenses donations. It can relieve other charities from time-consuming fundraising activities and allow them to spend more resources on what they do best, said M. Scott Elliott, board president.

"The best use of Habitat for Humanity's time is getting houses for the needy, not fundraising at golf tournaments and galas," Elliott said.

Donors can give in several ways, including gifts of stocks or property.

Spicer Bell, president of the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, which was established 22 years ago, served as guest speaker at the inaugural event at the Maryland Golf and Country Club. The Salisbury-based organization has built a $70 million endowment since its founding, and last year, it awarded grants of more than $3.2 million, Bell said.

He related one story:

A family donated a building lot in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to the Eastern Shore foundation. The foundation then sold the parcel for $500,000 and created two endowments, one for the homeless and the other for the humane society, Bell said.

"The only difference between our foundation and Harford's is 22 years," Bell said. "We represent three rural counties with a combined population of about 150,000. Harford has about 239,000 people with an average household income that is probably 20 times higher than ours. It is just a question of spreading the word."

The Community Foundation of Carroll County did not have to put out a dollar last year when it moved into a $6 million, three-story building, furnished and tailored to the needs of 20 local charities that pay no rent. The Carroll County Non-Profit Center was fully funded and donated by Anverse Inc., a Georgia-based organization.

With no monthly rent payments, the organizations have more money for programs, equipment and staff, said Audrey Cimino, director of the Carroll foundation.

"We are very excited about Harford's foundation," Cimino said. "They will find they have tons of support from other foundations. This is something that really needs to happen there. The community foundation is a wonderful concept that is geographically focused on its community."

Until the Harford group receives official nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service, the Carroll foundation is managing its funds, which include a nursing scholarship in memory of Army Capt. Maria I. Ortiz, a nurse based at Aberdeen Proving Ground who was killed in July in Iraq.

Harford's organizers researched the possibility of a foundation for nearly 18 months; the county lent Koser, its grant writer, to the effort.

From a small office in the basement of a Bel Air bank, Koser and several volunteers have worked to determine whether the county had enough wealth, whether there was room for another nonprofit, and how it would raise money.

According to census figures, households with incomes of $500,000 or more will grow from 162 in 2000 to 543 in 2010, with another 1,551 earning from $250,000 to $499,000.

"In relation to other counties, Harford has one of the 100 highest incomes in the country in a state that is one of the richest," Koser said. "Overwhelmingly, we found there is the wealth here and the need."

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