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Monday, March 17, 2008

Elkhorn benefits from fund's investments

By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

Community funds, or pools of donations targeted at community groups in need, have grown in popularity.

However, organizers quickly find out how difficult it is to manage and grow these types of funds to the point that they do any real good for their communities.

That's why a few members of the Elkhorn community have formed the Elkhorn Fund. Instead of muddying the waters, they're in it to clear them.

This is an extremely important time to establish community funds like the Elkhorn Fund, says John Henderson, chair of the Elkhorn Fund advisory board.

"During the next 20 years there will be the largest transfer of wealth in history because baby boomers and parents are dying and they're going to give their money away.

"We're that vehicle for philanthropy. They want to do something to create a legacy for themselves and for their community."

The key to the Elkhorn Fund is their partnership with the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin (CFSW).

This partnership provides access to professional financial, industry and legal advisors and pooling funds with over 450 other southern Wisconsin communities.

CFSW includes Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, Rock and Walworth counties.

Elkhorn Fund donations are invested with others, providing higher yields and more diverse investment instruments and opportunities.

Henderson was on the CFSW board for six years when he decided the program would work in his hometown of Elkhorn.

"People want their money to help locally," Henderson said. "But we learned quickly that we had to have a base amount of money in the beginning or a community fund never gains any traction. It just sits there and not much happens."

That base came two years ago from the Peoples Bank, the locally owned bank in Elkhorn, in the amount of $50,000.

Beneficiaries will include schools and non-profits loosely defined by the Elkhorn Area School District.

Their first grant went to the Elkhorn Food Pantry last Christmas. Future grants will include community projects, historically significant activities, educational and art programs and other changing needs.

Henderson sees those fighting homelessness as possible beneficiaries for the Elkhorn Fund in the near future.

"We have a huge problem with homelessness and there is no good answer," he says. "Our churches are doing all they can, but it's not a real answer."

Because the fund is an endowment, the principal is not spent.

The grants come from income earned from the principal. That secures the stability and longevity that others can't.

When the economy digresses, the Elkhorn Fund won't, Henderson explains.

"Our fund will always be making money. It's always there continuing to grow and will be forever," he said. "So when the economy is at its worst and need is at its most, we'll still be able to be here."

"This is not a new idea;we're just bringing to Elkhorn what has been so successful in other communities," Henderson said.

Board members are Lowell Sweet, Sweet & Maier, S.C.; Ted Johnson, Godfrey, Leibsle, Blackbourn & Howarth, S.C.; Karen Ramsett, Wachovia Securities; John Henderson, NAI MLG Commercial; Steve Hatcher, Elkhorn Chamber of Commerce; Ryan Stelzer, Peoples Bank; and Jessica Berge, Peoples Bank.

Anyone interested in becoming a board member or involved in any way are encouraged to contact Henderson at (414) 333-1261. For more information or to make a donation, e-mail jane@cfsw.org or visit www.cfsw.org.

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