Spotlight On… Community Foundation of Tompkins County

By Rob Montana
Tompkins Weekly


Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can

Photo by Sheryl Sinkow.
Community Foundation staff, from left, includes Chief Development Officer Nancy Massicci, Philanthropic Services Officer Amy LeViere, CEO George Ferrari and Program Officer Janet Cotraccia.

sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.

This week we are highlighting Community Foundation of Tompkins County. To learn more, we asked Chief Executive Officer George Ferrari about the foundation’s role in the community.


Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
George Ferrari: The mission of our Community Foundation is to improve the quality of life in Tompkins County by inspiring and supporting enduring philanthropy.


TW: How do you fulfill that mission?

GF: Community Foundation assesses the needs in our community, raises funds, invests gifts from donors, and awards grants to nonprofit organizations addressing local challenges. We believe the organizations that we support will demonstrate specific results showing how our funding will make the changes we want to see in the community, now and in the future.

A few of the many organizations we support include: Camp Kesem at Cornell University, which offers a free week of summer camp for children touched by a parent’s cancer. Catholic Charities of Tompkins /Tioga received our help to open a new safe haven for women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. And Kids Discover the Trail! leveraged our grant funding to expand its field trips to eight cultural sites in Tompkins County to elementary school children from all of the county’s six school districts.

The first step in the grantmaking process is gathering information about the challenges our community faces through focus groups, community gatherings as well as meetings with other funders, donors and experts in the field. This process builds awareness of the issues that stakeholders identify are top priorities. We then use this feedback to guide our grantmaking and strategic planning.

Community Foundation magnifies local philanthropy by collaborating with other funders and working to build relationships among our donors. We engage people with similar interest areas so that they can work together toward a common goal. We also work with a diverse cross-section of our community, including people with different interests, experiences and socio-economic backgrounds, so we can learn what works well and how to build on that success.


TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
GF: One of our biggest needs is for flexible support for programs and donor services. Donors help us meet the most pressing needs with their gifts. We also seek long-term support to sustain our impact on growing the quality of life in Tompkins County for years to come by building both grantmaking and operating endowments.

We could not make the impact in our community nor carry out our work without our donors. Community Foundation serves vulnerable populations while addressing systemic change through greater collaboration among funders and nonprofits in the community. Because of the generous support of our donors, we continue this important work.


TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
GF: We are one of 872 Community Foundations in the United States, which engage communities large and small in philanthropy. Our Community Foundation was established in 2000 by local not-for-profit and philanthropic leaders who felt that Tompkins County needed a local resource for people to use in addressing local needs.

Since then, we have awarded more than $11 million to nonprofit organizations in Tompkins County through nearly 2,700 grants. In 2016 alone, we distributed nearly $2.1 million in grants to local nonprofits.

As the largest public charity grantmaker in Tompkins County, Community Foundation is unique compared to other philanthropic organizations. We use community represented review teams to advise us in the process of awarding grants to local organizations. And we award grants to nonprofits from all sectors, including those that are focused on arts and culture, the environment, and education.

As one donor told us, “Part of the reason I go to the Community Foundation is that they know the local issues, challenges, and needs.”


TW: How can people best support your mission?
GF: We believe that everyone can be a philanthropist. A meaningful way for individuals to address the continuing needs of Tompkins County is to make a gift to Community Foundation. We also welcome individuals who want to make a planned gift with a bequest in your will or IRA beneficiary.

Another way is to volunteer. Call us, complete a volunteer form on our website or inquire about our board. Offering your time, talent, treasure and voice about what you can do to improve our community is an incredible way to support our mission.

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