In the months before Pete McCown officially started as president of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, he was invited to a meeting at attorney Mike Pianowski’s office with a man named Guy David Gundlach. Little did any of them realize that the lunch they shared that summer afternoon in 2011 would change the trajectory of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and the county itself. In this interview, edited for clarity, Pete reflects on the last decade.
What do you remember from that meeting?
David was 56 when I met him. Part of the conversation was very specific in that he had a couple of properties here in Elkhart that he wanted to title over to us, but mostly it was just a conversation where we were getting to know each other. At the end of the meeting, he did write a check for $100,000 to create a donor-advised fund at the foundation. And he made that gift essentially so that we could practice, together, his giving, his philanthropy, in Elkhart County. David gave me some instruction that he wanted to give those monies to youth-serving organizations. That summer, I invited and collected grant proposals from several youth-serving organizations. David and I then talked about them, and he instructed me to distribute the $100,000 in a variety of different ways
When did you come to learn more about his estate?
I knew he had decided to include the foundation in his estate plan, he had disclosed that, but I did not know the details. We only had a chance to interact with each other for three months before he passed away on October 16, 2011. Soon after David’s death, we learned he had named the foundation as the majority beneficiary of his estate and later learned the estate included a Swiss bank account with a balance of
$113 million. As we began to marshall the assets of the estate we came to realize there was $30 to $40 million worth of real estate as well. I would be remiss if I did not recognize the important role Liz and Tom Borger played in settling David’s estate and securing his gift for our community.
“David’s gift is certainly a significant part of our story in our history. But there are more than 10,000 people who have also contributed to the Community Foundation in one measure or the other over our 33-year history.”
– Pete McCown, President of the Community Foundation
How did you determine how he wanted his estate to help others?
When we met in person the one time, I asked David what causes were the most important to him. He certainly had a heart for kids, specifically underprivileged kids. I think if he had lived longer we would have developed a greater definition of his philanthropy. But at the time, he somewhat comically said, “Pete, as Mike has explained this to me, the Community Foundation exists to do good in Elkhart County.” In response I said, “Well, and I’m not on the payroll yet, but that’s what I understand, too.” And David says, “Well, you know, kiddo, it seems to me that you and your board are better qualified to make decisions about what happens with my gift than I am because I don’t live in Elkhart County, and you’re close to this and you should be able to interpret the greatest needs in the community.”
What did the Community Foundation look like then compared to now?
We were founded in 1989. Before David’s gift, we had $10 million in the Fund for Elkhart County. So other donors had made that decision to support the foundation, along with matching grants. In 2012, we had five employees. We had $43 million in assets and approximately 200 endowments. We administered probably 20 or 30 scholarship funds at the time and had another 20 donor-advised funds and 100 or so agency endowment funds. Today we’re sitting in this new office space that represents probably a 10-fold office environment from what we occupied in 2011. We have nearly $400 million dollars on our balance sheet. We have 126 scholarship funds, 292 designated funds and 200 or so donor-advised funds. The Fund for Elkhart County has grown from $10 million to $200 million. In 2011, we gave away $500,000 a year from that discretionary fund involving one grant committee. Today we work with three grant committees, made up of community volunteers, to award more than $10 million each year in grants and scholarships.
What have we learned over the last decade?
One of the things I’m cognizant of is that there’s no “best” way to steward our investment in community projects and organizations. There are multiple ways in which the foundation can fulfill our grantmaking and leadership responsibilities. I am pretty certain we will always be iterating, in some regard. We are the stewards of an important community asset. David’s gift is certainly a significant part of our story in our history. But there are more than 10,000 people who have also contributed to the Community Foundation in one measure or another over our 33-year history. On a discretionary side of our grantmaking, we’ve been entrusted to be good stewards, but we get to draw the boundaries for how that looks. Sometimes I think the boundaries need to get wider and sometimes they need to get narrower, depending on the circumstance. There is no playbook here. We’ve also learned that David’s generosity didn’t suppress giving from others. In fact, it did the opposite. We have received over $200 million in gifts in the last 10 years that do not get attached to David Gundlach.
What’s happening at the Community Foundation now?
We are in the process of conducting a “Listening Tour” and want to facilitate conversations about the future of Elkhart County with approximately 100 focus groups this year. I think it’s valuable for us to create this feedback loop; we need the community to continue to inform the way we conduct ourselves and the way we think. We have become involved in a range of regional efforts that have benefited Elkhart County, so I think that will continue. There are 400 or 500 people who have disclosed to us that we are part of their estate plan. We count them as members of our Legacy Society. I hope these folks live long and rich lives. However, the estate plans of our Legacy Society members represent close to a billion dollars worth of additional giving to the foundation over a generation or so. So there’s no question the foundation will continue to grow in terms of scale, and as a result,
its ability to impact the community.
What does the future hold for the Community Foundation?
The question I ask myself is “on what date do we arrive at the high-water mark of a billion dollars and then $2 billion and $3 billion?” When I came to the foundation we had a discussion at one of my first board meetings about what the foundation might look like at $400 million. So last June I took the board through an exercise in which I challenged them to consider what CFEC would look like if it grew by 10X again and had a balance sheet with $4 billion in assets. Certainly you’d have to have a larger staff and office. Likely our investment strategies would change to some extent. However, this planning exercise was more valuable as a futuristic view of our community impact and vision. Today we give away $30 million a year. We were forced to consider the question of “What does our stewardship look like 20 years from now if we are responsible for investing $300 million annually into our community?” Despite the fact that the stock market has gone in the wrong direction the last six months, I am very optimistic about the future for the Community Foundation. The foundation will continue to expand its impact in our community through the generosity of those who entrust us to steward their philanthropy. We will also continue to learn and improve our practice of community leadership and collaboration. For me personally, this is a labor of love; I am grateful I get to be a part of this work.