Cook On Concord: Philanthropic opportunities in New Hampshire

Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the United States, in announcing that he was giving away 85 percent of his multibillion-dollar fortune, or over $30 billion, startled the business and philanthropic communities when he announced that he was giving it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This gift will make the foundation, set up by the richest person in the United States, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and his wife, worth $60 billion or more when the gift is completed.

When asked why he was doing it, Buffett said a duplicate bureaucracy would not have to be established and that the good work, vision and philosophy of the Gates Foundation was something he had come to admire and respect.

The Buffett gift brings to mind the opportunities people in New Hampshire have to make philanthropic gifts, whether during their lifetimes or at their deaths. Certainly not on the scale of Warren Buffett, there are people both able and inclined to make significant charitable gifts in New Hampshire. Fortunately for them, they have an opportunity similar to that Buffett chose when he gave to a charity set up by someone else. In the case of New Hampshire, it is the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

The Charitable Foundation is a major player in New Hampshire, both from a policy and financial perspective. In existence since 1962, it is now a major foundation with close to $350 million in assets and another more than $200 million in the “pipeline.” It has had an impressive investment performance, having achieved an 18.8 percent return during the last year, 18.4 percent per year for the last three years and 8.8 percent per year over the last five.

The Concord-based foundation operates several regional divisions throughout the state. Donors can establish “donor-advised funds.” Specific funds can be created and managed by the foundation with specific purposes. Lifetime income arrangements, such as charitable annuities or unitrusts, can be arranged as well.

Only a fraction of the funds managed by the Charitable Foundation are left to its own discretion. However, this discretionary money perhaps provides the foundation with its greatest opportunity both to do good and to influence the life of New Hampshire.

The Aspen Institute Non-Profit Sector and Philanthropy Program recently produced a report entitled, “One Foundation’s Story: The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation Makes a Significant Impact with Public Policy.”

The April 2006 report cited the important place the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation occupies in New Hampshire life and its influence on public policy. Crediting Lew Feldstein, president of the Foundation since 1986, the report emphasizes the foundation’s contributions to the state.

Quoting Feldstein, “It never would occur to me that working with the public sector isn’t part of what we do. Our goal is to make change and improve lives and communities. The dollars we have are a sacred trust, and we need to figure out the best way to leverage them to help make a change. This strategy was prompted by a strong belief that total foundation giving is tiny in relation to the big issues that we care most about – from land protection to taxes, public education, health, and other issues.”

The report emphasizes several the Charitable Foundation’s initiatives over the years:

• Its role in the Trust for New Hampshire Lands, a public-private partnership that raised $50 million in public funds to protect more than 110,000 acres from development. This idea involved use of its funds to leverage what could be created by attracting other public and private resources.

• The foundation was a key player in establishing the non-partisan public policy think tank, the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies. This entity produces nonpartisan policy study reports that have been useful to the Legislature and other parts of state government in studying the history and ramifications of public policy issues, a resource that previously did not exist here.

• New Futures, a statewide organization addressing substance abuse by young people, began as a foundation program and is now a separate entity.

The foundation, because of its good work, size and seriousness, has become a player in almost every major public policy discussion in New Hampshire. Governors of both parties and all philosophies have consulted with and asked the foundation to help with various projects.

As with many things, New Hampshire, a small state, has a major institution with sophistication far exceeding the relative size of the state in the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Not only should we treasure it, New Hampshire citizens should use it.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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