A Wisconsin Couple's Gift Shows the Lasting Value of Donor-Advised Funds

When David L. and Rita Nelson decided to leave an estate gift of more than $100 million to give back to their community, they wanted to make sure their money would be wisely managed and granted.

So instead of creating their own foundation or giving control of their money to another organization, they opted to create an endowed donor-advised fund at The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

The foundation, in turn, will support an advisory committee comprised of people who know the Nelson family to award grants from the fund.

And, in doing so, it will provide millions to nonprofits in Wisconsin each year for decades -- and perhaps centuries -- to come.

“It is a game-changer," says Curt Detjen, The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region's President and CEO. "It will be a catalyst for addressing community needs today, but also for investing in exciting opportunities for future generations.”

At a time when many in the philanthropy world are pushing for gifts to be made quickly and creatively, it's worth noting that measured and deliberate philanthropy can also have significant value. 

The Nelsons' $100 million-plus fund is expected to award $4.5 million in grants annually to benefit causes important to the couple and their family, primarily in the Fox Cities and Green Bay­ areas in northeast Wisconsin. That’s based on the Foundation’s endowment formula that up to 4.5% of a fund’s balance be distributed as grants each year to assure the fund’s giving capacity and permanence.

Each and every year, that $4.5 million will support nonprofits that work to create parks, recreation and waterways; advance education; provide health care; manage community services and community centers; and for historic preservation, including lighthouses, museums and historical societies.

Over time, it will grant significantly more than the $100 million that was used to create the fund.

What's more, it will do so through a measured and thoughtful approach that will help ensure the nonprofits that ultimately receive the funds have both the strategy and capacity necessary to deploy them effectively.

While community foundations and other philanthropic institutions are working to develop innovative approaches, it's important to remember that effective philanthropy takes many forms.

And the Nelsons' gift -- which will help improve its community for generations to come -- offers a poignant reminder that endowed philanthropy can still make a huge impact.

Learn more: Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region

David L. and Rita Nelson

David L. and Rita Nelson

Peter Panepento