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Season of Giving: 'Philanthropy is planned, longterm intent'

McCray Benson McCray Benson

Giving to a charitable cause is one way to make a difference in the community, McCray Benson will give you that. But as the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Henderson County, he would ask: How would YOU like to make a personal difference in the world?

It’s a legacy question and it gets to the heart of what he considers philanthropy.
“Charity is an impulse donation, an in-the-moment decision,” Benson said. “Philanthropy is planned and thought-out values and deeper, longer-term intent. It’s investing in a vision. It’s something you start so other generations can finish.”
He finds that baby boomers are “late coming to the table” to consider how they want to become philanthropic with their giving. “I say it takes 17 conversations” before potential donors make a decision. “They need to hear it from a lot of people — their friends, their attorney, their doctor, their barber. They have to hear it from other people to believe it’s a good idea. They need confirmation. The more conversations in the community that they have, the more it reinforces philanthropy.”
The Community Foundation, established in 1982, had 580 funds with more than $101.3 million in assets as of the end of September 2017. Most of those are endowed funds. Others are donor-advised. In fiscal year 2016-2017, the foundation awarded more than $3 million in grants in nine program areas, with 90 percent distributed within the county.
“There is a healing element to giving philanthropically,” Benson said. A fund can be set up with as little as $5,000 in memory of a loved one or to champion a personal cause. Among the community causes that have funds with the foundation are animal care, arts and culture, civic and community, conservation, human services, health, education, religious/faith-based and scholarships for higher education.
“Philanthropy sounds like a big word, but anyone can participate in philanthropy. The time to explore is now,” he said. “Boomers believe that they have made it on their own. They made it on their own, but they had an environment that made that possible.”
He encourages boomers — or anyone at any age — to talk about what they want to do in philanthropy at important times of change in their lives — when they marry, when they have children, when parents die, when grandchildren are born.
“The same time when you would review your will,” he said. “Boomers are not there yet. They think they are bullet-proof. They say ‘some day’ …. They are procrastinators. It’s a back-burner issue, but when they are ready, they are happy to do it.”
Benson said he understands boomers’ caution as they look to the future and worry about their finances and health and family issues. He suggests at least continuing to think about being philanthropic and perhaps starting incrementally, with a small amount of money in a fund, to build toward a vision. “It’s most rewarding to see how it works even if its proportional,” he said. “You can look at the results and tweak it.”
Although government and the private business sector have a large influence on how a community develops, “the most impact is from the independent sector through philanthropy and that requires getting involved in the community to know what the needs and dreams are,” he said.