Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 27, 2013

Forum: The new science of giving

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Phil Ellis

A recent article — “The (New) Science of Giving” — offers a very insightful look at the future of philanthropy and is reflective of how donors’ wishes and direction are increasingly oriented to “transformational” efforts.

This represents the heart of philanthropy with a focus on how giving can be transformative for individuals, communities and cultures. One of the ways I have come to think of the difference between charity and philanthropy is that charity addresses and helps alleviate the needs of today and philanthropy is focused on resolving the problem or “changing the world” in a transformative manner.

An example of this type of philanthropic intent is happening here in our communities with the Community Foundation Cleo M. Purdy Endowment for Education and Families. This fund has, at its core, the mission of using education to lift up children, families and generations in Central Lake. As a donor, Cleo held that education is the key element to creating a different future for local residents, beginning at birth and focused on early childhood learning and development.

While it might be simple enough to only give money now to support early childhood, this is not the kind of transformation that Cleo was looking for. Her intent and vision are greater and reach beyond only making programs today a bit better.

Cleo had a vision to impact today while also ensuring that the benefit of her vision would be felt for generations to come. Cleo believed in the power of endowment, where a portion of her gift will be available annually for grants, forever. Changing the world is a pretty tall order and it is the kind of goal that requires that we stretch beyond what we know today and become the conduit to sustainable differences.

Cleo’s story is about one woman, born and raised in Central Lake, who joined the Army, went to college to become a teacher and began to invest in real estate. At the end of her life she was able to leave a gift that will impact generations to come.

As the single largest gift given to the Community Foundation, Cleo’s gift is significant. As importantly, though, is that Cleo joins many other donors who have entrusted more than 20 years of giving to our communities through the Community Foundation.

Cleo is no longer with us, but she will continue to help young kids and the Central Lake community each and every year. Cleo’s story is about a legacy for the kids and community she loved. This is the core of what we mean when we say the Community Foundation is the place where a donor’s wish lives, forever. This is the heart of philanthropy — creating the change in the world that has generational impact.

About the author: Phil Ellis is Executive Director of the Community Foundation. The foundation serves Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau Counties and is committed to improving the quality of life of our region by partnering with generous donors to build permanent resources, by striving to award meaningful grants for community projects and programs, and by engaging in community leadership. For more information, visit or call (231) 935-4066.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing Please include biographical information and a photo.