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TORCH PASSED
  • TORCH PASSED

Pat Lile is getting off the ARCF train, but its new engineer will keep it on track.

For the past 11 years, Pat Lile has been the engineer on the locomotive that is the Arkansas Community Foundation, driving the organization full-steam ahead from assets of $15 million in 1996 to $127 million today. The ARCF engine — Lile's own metaphor — pulls more than 1,100 cars, donor-advised funds that give financial support to everything from animal welfare to youth ranches.

Lile, 70, will get off the train in January. When she does, it will be with a load of awards, the most recent being named Woman of the Year in Philanthropy by the Women's Foundation of Arkansas — which she helped found in 1998. Lile was honored at the foundation's Power of the Purse Luncheon Nov. 1 for her work with ARCF, building the Women's Foundation and “the role of mentor she has played to so many women” in the non-profit field, Kadi Tierney, director of the Women's Foundation, said.

When Lile's name came up at a meeting of the board, “everyone under 40” had a story to tell about her guidance. “If she is going to an event she always brings a couple of women, non-profit executives, with her. ... She feels it's so important to introduce the next generation” to funders and others important to philanthropic efforts, Tierney said.

And don't let her rose-scented perfume and Southern accent fool you, Tierney said. “She's up before 5 a.m. and is the last one to leave the office at the end of the day. Whatever she sets her mind to do in this next phase of her life, watch out because she will make it happen.”

The next phase in the life of Arkansas Community Foundation will be headed up by one of Lile's proteges — Heather Eason. “We've had a great ride,” said Eason, who Lile hired nearly 10 years ago. “She has stabilized the foundation, built a base, so we can move to the next level.”

In 1996, when Lile came on board, the member funds stood at a mere 252. She reduced the staff of five to four and set to work to revitalize and build the foundation. The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which had created the ARCF, gave Lile a grant to hire development staff. In short order, the Walton Family Foundation began giving challenge grants to create ARCF's 26 affiliates across the state; it has donated more than $19 million to stimulate funding for these locally focused philanthropic groups. Assets have grown an average of $10 million a year since 1996.

This year, ARCF moved from a 19th century Victorian home in the Quapaw Quarter to offices in the Union Station — a fitting destination for an organization Lile likens to a train. Union Station owner John Bailey agreed to a suggestion by Lile to refurbish part of the building into a conference area for the non-profits headquartered in his building, providing ARCF with a facility to meet with and train other fund-raisers.

Lile recalls something philanthropist and shoe company owner Don Munro of Hot Springs told her when she first came on board at the Community Foundation. “He said, ‘I wish the day would come when we would hear the word “philanthropy” as much as we hear the word “Razorback.” ' I never forgot that.”

Today, she said, “I think we are hearing and seeing the word ‘philanthropy,' ” as well as “endowment,” more often (if not as frequently as “Houston Nutt”).

Eason will usher in a new era at Arkansas Community Foundation. The “next level,” as she calls it, is to build the unrestricted funds at the foundation so that its board can direct its own giving. Currently, only 2 percent of ARCF funds are unrestricted.

“We want to provide some leadership in this state that could move the state forward,” Eason said. “Our board is charged with having a 360-degree view of the community,” and will direct funds to specific issues, both directly and by educating donors.

“Unrestricted assets really takes [the foundation's work] to a visionary level,” Eason said.

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