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ORGANIZATION TO AWARD LARGER BUT FEWER GRANTS

The Buffalo Foundation, the third-wealthiest area foundation, with assets of $87 million, intends to shift its emphasis and award larger but fewer grants.

Education will remain a top priority, and scholarships will continue to be emphasized.

In 1996, the foundation awarded $340,000 in scholarships to 500 Western New York students.

These ranged from $100 to $5,000, based on need, "but most were in the $500, $1,000 and $2,000 range," said Gail Johnstone, the foundation's new executive director.

The future will see some far larger scholarships through a new Educational Excellence Fund that will be unveiled in the near future.

The foundation itself has established two funds: an Environmental Fund and the Burt Flickinger Leadership Fund.

The newly created Flickinger Fund will be dedicated to providing support to the non-profit leadership in our community.

Also, non-profit agencies applying for funds will have new guidelines to follow, especially when it comes to collaboration.

"I remember the second year I served on the governing committee," said Gordon R. Gross, current chairman of the foundation. "It seemed like every fourth application was for a van. I remember saying, 'Isn't there some way these agencies could pool a van?' "

The governing board now will review grant applications in specific areas four times a year.

February -- education.

May -- humanities and civic improvements.

August -- environment, science and health.

November -- social welfare.

"Agencies will now know when their proposals will be reviewed," Ms. Johnstone explained, "and by grouping the proposals, it will allow the board to compare all of the proposals against each other."

The new image for the 76-year-old foundation is the result of a two-year self-assessment by the foundation's governing committee with guidance from the National Council of Foundations.

"It was an illuminating experience," observed James B. Denman, who served as chairman of the governing committee during the self-assessment. "It was very plain to see that changes were needed with investments, grant-making, internal governance and development."

"There were two other very basic problems," Gross said. "No one knew who we were or what we were. We became painfully aware our potential for raising money here in Buffalo for the community was far greater than what we were achieving."

William L. "Beau" Van Schoonhaven, who recently retired as chief executive of the Buffalo Foundation, had an easy way to describe a community foundation -- which the Buffalo Foundation is.

"Unlike other foundations (such as the Wendt Foundation) which are private, a community foundation is a public charity," Van Schoonhaven said. "With private foundations, the family, or whoever it is that established the foundation, makes the ultimate decision on how to give the money away.

"With a community foundation, donors come from the community. There is no minimum amount required, and if the donor wants to designate how earnings from his or her contribution is used, they may, and that request is honored in perpetuity. Or the donor may decide to leave that decision to the foundation board."

The foundation board includes three people chosen by the three banks that hold the foundation's assets, another person chosen by the mayor of Buffalo and three by judges.

No board member can be a public official.

About two-thirds of the Buffalo Foundation's portfolio is restricted gifts.

"These monies are inviolate as far as the wishes of the donor being honored," Ms. Johnstone said. "Earnings from the remaining third will be spent as the board thinks is wisest."

"There are a lot of opportunities in this area for environmental projects that governments cannot or have not been able to fund," Gross said. "The foundation could be the funding source."

Gross said the foundation has received proposals for environmental projects, "but they came in for far more dollars than we usually gave out for a project.

"We usually gave grants ranging from $1,000 to maybe $7,000, but now we will reach out to other funding sources to leverage our money for these proposals."

"We are already participating in a study," Gross said, "to see how we can gain the most impact in our community by working with other foundations located in cities on the Great Lakes."

Flickinger, a member of the governing committee at the time of his death, "was one of Buffalo's outstanding leaders in philanthropy and volunteerism," Ms. Johnstone noted.

Ms. Johnstone said the fund, "which started out with small donations, has already grown to more than $50,000, and we have promises of much more."

The financial impact the foundation can have will, of course, depend on the donor stream.

"I am confident the potential for raising more money in Buffalo for the community is far greater than what we have been achieving," Gross said.

"There are many ways for a person to donate to the foundation and at the same time protect their estate," he said. "In the spring, we will be introducing several of these options that we feel will be very user-friendly and at the same time help the foundation to grow and do more for our community."

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