The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia Sweet Home Virginia Gala Oct. 19th: What to Expect and Why It Matters

Eileen Ellsworth, Sweet Home Virginia Gala

Each October, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia raises money and awareness about local needs at its Sweet Home Virginia gala with a black tie dinner, and live and silent auctions.

For the first time, around 700 business and community supporters will hear from a recipient of one of the charities that it supports at the event on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in McLean, Va.

“We always look forward to sharing our stories of impact with supporters and guests,” said foundation president Eileen Ellsworth.

“It’s also just a great way to celebrate local giving, the impact of philanthropy,” she added.

Founded in 1978, the organization serves Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties. It raises money from community donations and “donor advised funds,” which individuals, families or corporations can set up to help manage their giving.

Donor advised funds work with donors to distribute grants based on their interests, which may include charities anywhere in the U.S., while community investment funds are raised and awarded locally, by volunteer grant committees.

Through its grants, the foundation supports community development in five areas: child and youth development; poverty relief; health, mental health and aging; education; and members of the military and their families.

Ellsworth said that one of the benefits of donating to the tax-exempt 501c3 organization, rather than directly to a local charity, is the rigor and expertise of competitive grant-making.

It operates with an independent board of directors and has been certified by the  Council on Foundations, which sets standards on internal governance, financial management and donor relations.

“Every one of those dollars in the community investment funds are given out in a competitive grant cycle so that the best, most impactful, most well-managed, oftentimes most long-standing, widely supported nonprofits are the ones that get funded,” she said.

Board member David Young and his wife set up a donor advised fund in 2009 for high school scholarships in Indiana.

“I liked that, as a public foundation donor advisor, we were spared the work and expense of setting up and managing a private foundation,” Young said.

“For a very small fee, the foundation vets the charities we want to donate to, administers the donation process and provides needs-based information and advice on five core areas of need in our community.”

The foundation has supported local projects such as the Junior Achievement of Greater Washington’s Finance Park, which teaches public eighth graders in Fairfax County about financial literacy and personal budgeting.

Ellsworth said that some organizations receive grants every year, such as the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

She added that the foundation was positioning itself as a thought leader, giving away money in an “informed” way, through the commission of studies and reports.

In 2010, it published “A Portrait of Children in Northern Virginia,” that helped draw attention to critical needs in the area and increase charitable giving.

“The study changed the conversation about the extent of poverty in the northern Virginia region,” Ellworth said.

“People had no idea that of the 530,000 children in [northern Virginia], 80,000 participate in the free and reduced fee lunch program.”

The foundation will produce its second study, on aging, later this year and its third – about the needs of military personnel, their families and veterans – in 2013.

Ellsworth thought the report had contributed to fundraising success. She said people stepped up because they learned about community needs and saw what was happening in the economy.

Last year, the foundation set a fundraising record. It gave away $2 million to schools and charities and nearly $160,000 in scholarships, and managed assets worth over $30 million.

“It’s been very hopeful,” Ellsworth said, “Very inspiring frankly, to see the level of giving that some individuals have stepped up to.”

It also receives support from businesses, including government contractors. Companies, especially, support fundraising at the Sweet Home Virginia gala, buying tickets to the event and sponsoring tables.

“The foundation, being well over 30 years old, has a very diverse basis of support,” Young said.

“I think it really serves us well in these trying times.”

He has worked in government contracting for 35 years, and is also involved in a motorcycle manufacturing firm and commercial real estate. He called working with the foundation “a great honor.”

“My wife and I have been most fortunate in business and our lives. Our charitable activities are as important to us as any of our businesses,” he added.

The foundation will present BB&T Company with the 2012 Community Leadership Award for its community outreach at the gala.

Tickets, which are tax deductible and available online, start at $300 for individuals and $1,500 for sponsors.

The foundation will also present data at the event to help supporters understand what community needs are, from poverty, to aging and returning veterans.

“It’s not just our job to give money,” Ellsworth said.

“It is also our job to help raise awareness and help educate the general population about the critical needs, so that whether individuals do their philanthropy through us or directly they will make a more informed choice.

Sign up for the event here.



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