In February 1964, Thomas McGehee announced the formation of the Greater Jacksonville Area Community Foundation, an organization that would operate independently of United Community Services.
“Its function is to accept gifts, grants or bequests to be held in trust for charitable, educational or cultural purposes designated by the donor to meet those needs for which funds were not already available,” he said.
McGehee said the foundation would mean much to the area’s cultural, charitable and educational endeavors and $55,285 already had been committed to the organization.
The organization was formally incorporated as a nonprofit three months later and for the past 50 years has remained true to the vision of its founders, albeit with a new name, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.
The organization is based on “the power of giving together vs. the power of giving individually,” said Nina Waters, foundation president.
The initial financial commitment has grown into more than $295 million in assets. In 2013, The Community Foundation issued more than 1,500 grants totaling $36 million.
Since 1964, it has awarded $278 million in grants to support public education, neighborhood revitalization, aging adults, the arts and the overall quality of life in Northeast Florida.
Over the past five decades, harnessing the community’s collective generosity has created several milestones in local philanthropy, Waters said.
According to the foundation’s website, jaxcf.org, the first significant gift to the organization was $45,000, the proceeds from the sale of the Community Chest-United Fund building along Market Street.
When he died in 1996, Swisher Sweet Cigar inventor Harold K. “Bud” Smith left the bulk of his estate – $9.7 million – to establish a charitable fund within the Community Foundation.
In 2004, the Henry and Lucy Gooding Foundation made a gift of $25 million to the Community Foundation.
“We were able to do a lot more work in the community,” said Waters, who became the organization’s president in 2005 after serving as executive vice president for three years.
The largest gifts in the foundation’s history were bestowed by Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver, who gave $20 million in 2007 to establish permanent endowments for 30 local nonprofit organizations. The Weavers followed that gift in 2012 with a $73 million gift. Last month, they donated their $4.7 million riverfront house to the foundation.
“In the past 10 years, our assets have quadrupled, despite the recession,” Waters said.
In 2001, the foundation introduced the Women’s Giving Alliance, a “giving circle” whose more than 320 members each contribute $1,500 annually but make grants collectively. Since its inception, the alliance has distributed $3.6 million in grants and has built an endowment of $2 million, Waters said.
In April, the foundation launched the $50 million “Quality Education for All” initiative. To date, $38 million has been raised to support local public school teachers and leaders and to improve student outcomes.
Funds are earmarked for a Summer Principal Academy, which will send teachers with leadership potential to Columbia University for two consecutive summers to earn a master’s degree in education while apprenticing under principals during the school year.
Another aspect is an incentive program that will provide a bonus of up to $20,000 annually for as long as three years to reward and retain effective reading, mathematics, writing and science teachers who work in academically challenged schools.
“We address human capital issues within Duval County Public Schools,” said Waters.
“I would stack up our local community foundation against any community foundation in the country for its strategic engagement with the entire community to solve important issues,” said Rena Coughlin, president of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.
Established in 2002, the center has been funded in part by The Community Foundation since 2010. Coughlin said the foundation provides an annual operations grant to the center.
She said the role of The Community Foundation is to create a partnership and improve relationships between benefactors and recipients.
“They are trusted by the nonprofit community and by philanthropists,” Coughlin said.
The Community Foundation operates with a staff of 15, which is smaller than most community foundations. The operations budget also is smaller compared to other nonprofits, equal to 0.8 percent of the foundation’s assets, Waters said.
The organization is looking ahead to its next 50 years of promoting and administering philanthropy in Northeast Florida. One of the goals is to maintain focus on the reason the foundation was created.
“I just hope that in 50 years, we can look back and say we were true to our mission,” she said.