Featured Fund: The Gates Fund

As many Featured Fund articles have demonstrated, establishing a fund is not difficult and many generous men and women have found the process uplifting and very rewarding.

What can be challenging is the process of ensuring that a fund meets the intent of the donor over time. Unlike a one-time gift to a particular nonprofit organization, an endowed fund stretches out into perpetuity. The good news is, organizations like the Valley Community Foundation (VCF) and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (TCF), are prepared to keep abreast of the community’s evolving character to meet its needs. The Gates Fund is a great example of the Foundations’ abilities to stay within the original donor’s vision for helping to improve the Valley region.

Derby residents, Frank and Ross Gates, established their fund with the Union & New Haven Trust Company approximately 70 years ago and, in doing so, expressed their desire to make a difference in the Valley. At that time, many philanthropic funds were established with trust banks. Their gift was significant and is still one of the largest funds endowed at TCF today.

As time went on, there was some question as to what the brothers intended would happen with the fund. Leaders in both New Haven and the Valley met to ensure the community would do right by the brothers’ intentions.

As agreements were established to clarify roles and responsibilities, these hard-working and forward-thinking leaders learned more about the community than they expected, gleaning insight from fund documents and realizing a lack of quality grant applications from nonprofits serving the Valley. The Valley Advisory Committee (VAC) was formed to address this issue. Working first to understand the needs in the Valley, they commissioned the Mt. Auburn Report in 2001, the VAC then established the Valley Needs and Opportunities Project, which worked collaboratively with nonprofits to focus grant requests more on the Valley’s needs found in the reports. It became apparent that there was substantial need in the Valley and more philanthropic funds needed to be raised. In 2004, VCF was established to build the philanthropic assets of the Valley for the Valley. 

VCF started as a supporting organization to TCF, benefitting from an annual appropriation from the Gates Fund to support operations and grantmaking. Today, VCF is its own public charity and partners with TCF through an affiliation agreement. The foundations entered into their fourth affiliation agreement during 2018, ensuring a continued partnership of close strategic and operational alignment that can build a stronger community for all. Today, VCF continues to receive substantial back office support and the annual financial appropriation is over $1 million. 

Angela Powers, senior vice president for planning and operations at TCF, fondly remembers her role as VCF’s first president. “VCF and its partnership with TCF is a stunning success and has exceeded the expectations we envisioned 15 years ago. Not only has The Community Foundation helped VCF distribute much needed money from the Gates Fund but they’ve also established more than 180 new funds to benefit the Valley as a result.”

Angela said, “A typical community foundation has four goals: 1) to attract and support people who want to act as philanthropists in their community; 2) invest those funds well - in this case, TCF is the investment arm of VCF; 3) fulfill donors wishes through  grantmaking,; 4) provide leadership in the community. VCF has done well identifying the needs and opportunities in the region and rallying people around those issues. The Community Index has coalesced that vision for the Valley, started all those years ago, first by the Gates brothers and then again when VCF was founded.”

She added, “There has always been a strong sense of community here and we knew that an entity led by a board of respected members of the Valley would be the key to long term success.”

Given that the Gates Fund is unrestricted, the Board has discretion on where to make grants for the most impact and the ability to support a broad range of non-profit organizations. Unrestricted funds allow community foundations to provide leadership on major community issues and the 2019 Valley Community Index is a shining example of a tool to help make a difference in the region.“I’m thrilled with how VCF and TCF’s relationship with them has evolved and I’m very proud to have been associated with this effort in its formative years. The Gates Fund is crucial to our future and that flexibility indiscretion means the Board can do what’s right at the time, keeping the fund relevant and something we believe the brothers would support wholeheartedly. Even if someone doesn’t want to start their own fund, they can contribute to an existing fund, knowing that VCF and TCF are looking carefully at the community and how to make this a better place for us all.”






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