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- 2012 - May - 21st -

First Coast Success: Sherry Magill, Jessie Ball duPont Fund

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

Sherry Magill has been leading the Jessie Ball duPont Fund for almost 20 years.

The fund is based in Jacksonville and has given grants of $322.6 million since November 1976 to the more than 330 organizations identified in Mrs. duPontís will.

Magill was named executive director in 1993 and the title changed to president in 2000. She has been an outspoken advocate for philanthropy and the roles that she contends society should play in assisting those in need.

She recently was named vice chair of the board for the Council on Foundations.

The Daily Record interviewed Magill for ďFirst Coast Success,Ē a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross.

The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and the replay will be at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or online at www.wjctondemand.org.

These are edited excerpts from the full transcript and include additional information.

Tell us about Jessie Ball duPont. She and her industrialist husband developed Epping Forest along the St. Johns River, which was their private estate and is now a residential and a private yacht club. What role did she play in Jacksonvilleís history?

Mrs. duPont was quite a remarkable woman, particularly for her era. She was born in 1884, and she died in 1970. She made Jacksonville her home, as well as Wilmington, Delaware, which was Alfred duPontís home. She originated from the Northern Neck of Virginia. Her father had been an officer in the Confederate Army and lost his wealth with the outcome of the war. She became a schoolteacher and an assistant principal. She learned her philanthropy long before she ever married into money.

She took a meager salary as an assistant principal, and gave part of her earnings to young people who wanted to go to college. She was a deep, deep believer in a college education.

I say in many ways she was a woman ahead of her time. She was a very intelligent businesswoman, administering the Alfred I. duPont estate as well as his business enterprises. We remember her brother, Ed Ball, as having done that.

She sat on numerous boards. She was extraordinarily philanthropic, and she said something that we like to quote, that she didnít believe that giving money away was charity, that, in fact, it was an obligation.

Provide some context for Ed Ball.

Ed is remembered as having been a very shrewd and smart businessman. Alfred duPont died in the mid-1930s, and Ed Ball, his brother-in-law, became leader of the Alfred duPont estate and business enterprises.

They had major holdings in banking in North Florida ó the Florida National Bank was the family bank ó and real estate, certainly. The successor corporation is The St. Joe Company, and we know that as a major landholder in Florida, a real estate developer.

They also own the paper mill in Port St. Joe, which is a community we continue to fund, a very small, in many ways poor community in the Panhandle.

Ed Ball was a giant in business affairs in the state of Florida, and not nearly as generous as his sister, and certainly not known as the philanthropist in the family.

And I believe his toast was ďConfusion to the enemy.Ē

Thatís correct.

How did Mrs. duPont choose the organizations that she supported?

Weíre not exactly certain about that. We do know from her biographer that in the early days, as a young assistant principal, she helped young people go to college. We can tell that she was very sophisticated in giving to high-ed institutions. Many of the small private colleges in the state of Virginia, for example, her home state, were recipients of her personal philanthropy.

There are a large number of small historic preservation societies, so we know she had a deep interest in history. There are a lot of organizations that served poor and vulnerable children, so we know she had a heart for children who were disadvantaged.

She didnít say a lot about why she chose the organizations that she chose. Certainly the Episcopal Church was important to her. She was very generous to communities that she called home, for example the Northern Neck of Virginia and Port St. Joe.

It seems to have been in part personal, folks with whom she had a relationship, as well as some sense of what was happening in the general society, and the community that she called home.

But she gives money to two fabulous national organizations that are all about criminal justice and juvenile justice.

She created the fund in her estate?

Thatís correct. She did her philanthropy in a very personal way. She had an assistant, and she chose the charities and organizations she wanted to support. Her will established the Jessie Ball duPont Religious, Charitable and Educational Fund. She gifted the majority of her estate to the fund, and of course, we operate today under that original gift.

How is the fund governed?

When Mrs. duPont died, her estate was considered one of the largest at the time in the state of Florida. Today, weíre worth about $275 million. Weíve given away in excess of $300 million since 1977. Weíre governed by seven trustees.

Youíve reported that the Fund had assets of $326.9 million as of Dec. 31, 2007, but saw those assets decline to $233.3 million by Dec. 31, 2008. They have risen since, but 2007-09 was difficult for the nonprofit industry, and continues to be difficult. How has the recession affected the fund?

Itís been devastating. Itís not just devastating to a foundation that operates in perpetuity and doesnít receive gifts and doesnít raise money ó we really operate off investments, and thatís been a very, very tough environment.

I think that the trustees have managed the assets we have under our control remarkably well. We very immediately began to overspend the minimum required in an effort to try to help the most vulnerable people in the communities where we do most of our grant-making.

We immediately moved a million dollars to The Community Foundation in Jacksonville to support what we call the social Safety Net Fund, and our colleagues at the Community Foundation did a really good job of raising dollars to match our dollars.

Whatís so daunting is that weíre not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination, and when I say we, I donít mean the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

Weíre really a reflection of whatís happening in the general economy. Itís a measure of how tough it is for ordinary working people and poor communities.

In Florida weíve gone from a high unemployment rate of 12 percent down to 8 percent. But itís certainly not a 3 percent unemployment rate.

Weíve got a long way to go, and itís been very, very difficult.

This recession affected a lot of people in a lot of ways that perhaps the community doesnít realize. Can you talk about how the recession really showed its face?

Hereís some data from the U.S. Census. We know the percentage of households that are cost-burdened in Duval County alone, in terms of paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, increased from 33 percent before the recession to a whopping 40 percent.

So four out of 10 basically donít make enough to pay less than 30 percent of their income on housing. Thatís enormous.

We know that the calls to 211 for financial assistance doubled in a two-year period, in excess of 43,000 people in 2010.

211 is the central number folks call to say, ĎI canít pay my utility bill; how do I do that? I donít have enough food to feed my children; how do I do that?í

We know that enrollees in the SNAP program, we think of it as food stamps, increased over the past four years to 175,000 people in Duval County alone. Thatís a huge percentage of our population.

The data say that 20 years ago, one in 25 local residents was on food stamps. Today itís one in five.

And then one last fact. We know that nowhere in the state of Florida can people making minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment. They just canít afford the rent.

The fact that really disturbs me is that if you make minimum wage in Florida, you have to work 97 hours a week. Thatís two full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

A lot has happened over the past four years to working people that is very troubling and very difficult for them to climb out of with an unemployment rate and a wage structure that is part of the mix.

Whatís happening to the organizations that serve them? This is recent Duval County information ó 49 percent of our local nonprofits this year are operating in the red. Thatís up from 42 percent. Itís not alarming for an organization to operate a little bit in the red once every three years. But for this increase in the number that are really, really struggling, I find challenging.

What should be done?

Americans in general have to pay very careful attention to American social policy. Itís basically a system thatís federally funded. And itís cobbled together. American social policy has historically been some kind of compromise. But itís hodgepodge. Itís not Ďletís sit down and write a smart strategy about investing in our people.í

Voters need to pay attention to whatís happening to the social safety net. We need to have a different kind of conversation at the local level, which is, whatís the data telling us about our people? Whoís doing well? Whoís struggling? What kinds of jobs have disappeared in the past four years? Is that a permanent disappearance? How do we support our own people? What kind of investments do we need to make in them? What kind of local policies can we think about, invent, introduce, adopt, and how do we fund those?

None of us can do well if 40 percent of our people canít afford to live and eat and pay the utility bill. Thatís just not a good scenario for any of us.

I would ask people who can afford to, to think about increasing their giving. We outstripped the decline in giving nationally.

One of the questions that come up when you discuss nonprofits is Ďarenít those services duplicated?í What sort of response do you have to that? I see you smile.

I smile because Iíve worked in Jacksonville for 21 years, and for 21 years, Iíve heard that the nonprofit sector is too big, and duplicates service, and we canít afford all this.

Itís not realistic. I know itís not accurate, and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund has done study after study after study trying to understand our nonprofit sector, in part to be able to counter that argument with data.

We want to know if thereís a lot of duplication of service in the community because weíre all about efficiency and effectiveness.

We have a little more than 1,100 nonprofits in the region. Most of our nonprofits are small. The idea that you need one homeless shelter, you need one program that feeds people who are having a tough time ó it just defies logic to me.

If weíre having one in five people who need to depend of food stamps, if 20 percent of the population is hungry, and that includes children, I donít see how one can argue that we only need one feeding program. Itís ridiculous.

I guess I smile because I think itís becoming a ludicrous question to me. It continues to be asked by, or stated by, people as if it was a fact, and they refuse to look at the data.

What do you see happening next with the fund?

Weíre entering a new space for us. A few months ago, we announced that we were going to use part of our investment portfolio to complement our grant portfolio. We are starting a program-related investment strategy. Locally, it means that we have agreed to lend $2 million to the Florida Community Loan Fund to work on the preservation of affordable rental property in Duval County. It will be slow. As you know, thereís not a lot of construction going on, and thereís not nearly enough rehabbing of rental properties going on. Weíre going to roll out program-related investments in Virginia and Delaware as well. So itís a companion piece to our grant portfolio.

In Duval County, you can expect us to step out into the conversation around the lack of affordability of rents. Beyond that, we will keep doing what weíre doing, and we will continue to be a fierce advocate for the nonprofit sector. We deeply believe that American democracy doesnít work without a vibrant nonprofit sector

Where do you see the economy?

I wish I knew the answer to that. Economists say that typically it takes us a good decade to get out of a recession. Even though technically weíre not still in it, itís just not where any of us would like it to be.

Florida economists say itís going to be 2018 before we come anywhere close to full employment, but when we say the economy, there are different economies in the world, and there are certainly different economies in Florida and in the United States.

I donít know that weíll ever return to that housing bubble, at least in my lifetime. Florida real estate seems to be a long, long story of growth and prosperity and bubbles and busts. It just seems to be our history.

What intrigues me is how much work is changing. You notice I have an iPad. It makes my life so much simpler. Iím intrigued by how people work, where they work, and what kind of work they do, and how rapidly that is changing, driven by the accessibility of technology.

Iím fascinated by what folks might be doing in just 10 years that we donít even know about.

I spend part of my time worrying and part of my time very excited about the future.

Talk about your national position.

The Council on Foundations is a national professional organization. It is an organization of about 1,800 foundations, and they run the gamut from community foundations to corporate foundations to family foundations to private independent foundations like the one that I lead.

What else would you like to share?

I hope your listeners and your readers think about their own giving and how to do that. Be thoughtful about what kind of community we want to live in and what makes for a healthy community.

kmathis@baileypub.com

356-2466

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