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Arkansas Community Foundation turns 30 

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In its first 10 years, the Arkansas Community Foundation, created in 1976 with a $258,000 grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, attracted 33 funds and reached assets of $3.6 million.

When current president and CEO Pat Lile joined the foundation in 1996, ACF’s 20th anniversary, it had 252 funds and $14.8 million in assets. So assets had increased by a factor of 5 from 1986 to 1996.

But the past 10 years has been even better to the foundation. Now, as ARCF celebrates its 30th anniversary, it oversees 1,100 funds and assets of $105 million. “Things really began to catch on” in the past decade, Lile said, because “Arkansans were beginning to grasp the power of endowment” — that money put away is the way to provide gifts indefinitely.

The foundation is a conglomerate of smaller funds created by people who want to donate money but don’t have the time or expertise to manage a fund. It only takes $10,000 to set up a fund at ARCF and begin a career in philanthropy. Donors may direct yearly grants from the fund to the enterprises they wish to support — like scholarships for students, funds for hospitals and schools, and any number of projects, from Pine Bluff beautification to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra to building construction. The foundation can make grants also from the Giving Tree Fund of unrestricted gifts, which made its first four grants this year. In 2005, nearly $5 million in grants were made from ARCF funds.

The 25 affiliates ARCF has in 33 counties accounts for much of the growth in the past decade. Affiliate boards, knowledgeable about local needs and local donors, have been able to “beat the bushes,” Lile said, to encourage philanthropic investment in a way the Little Rock office could not. “We’ve got about 400 board members out there,” she said, and the funds they oversee now account for 55 percent of the foundation’s assets. The Phillips County affiliate oversees the largest ARCF fund, the $9 million Helena Health Association Fund.

“A lot of money is poured into the Delta,” Lile said, and then the question is asked, “Where is it?” Because of the 10 ACRF affiliates in the Delta, “we say our program is going to be there forever.”

But Lile gives the biggest credit to the Rockefeller and Walton Family foundations for ARCF growth in the past decade. First, a $500,000 Rockefeller grant early in Lile’s tenure helped the main office develop affiliates and hire a development staff, and ACRF has received continuing support from the foundation and the Rockefeller Trust. The Waltons’ gift of $19 million in matching funds over 10 years ignited the progress of the affiliate funds.

ACH is now in the top 100 of the nation’s 740 community foundations and was one of the first 61 community foundations to receive accreditation, which is new to the field. “We had our act together,” Lile said.




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