Hello, can you help me with my basement?

In early October, we took a call at the office from a man who had googled “St. Thomas foundations”. We had to explain that Elgin – St. Thomas Community Foundation couldn’t help him with his basement wall.

While it’s easy to explain what we don’t do, it’s not nearly as simple to give a thirty-second elevator pitch about what we’re all about—although we’ve certainly tried.

Originally, we coined the slogan “Leave a lasting legacy to the community you call home”. Then a couple of years ago, we adopted the slogan “For Elgin. Forever”. Following that, we started using the Twitter handle #4elegin4ever. Readers with sharp marketing eyes will note that these say something about what we do, or how long we do it, but don’t say much about who we are.

An Elgin – St. Thomas Community Foundation committee spent several hours on the “what’s our message?” question and came away with … several messages. Hmmmm.

At the Community Foundations of Canada level, people say, “If you’ve seen one community foundation … you’ve seen one community foundation.” Hmmm, again.

If someone says “hospital foundation”, you have a pretty good idea what that someone is talking about because you know what a hospital is, and you probably have an idea what a private or public foundation is.

The same thing is not quite true for “community foundation”. In Canada, “community” refers to different geographic areas as well as almost any group of people. We take terms like LGBQT2S, women’s Indigenous, black, youth, seniors and so on, and pair them with “community” at will. The term “community” has such broad application that it’s easy to see why “community foundation” isn’t nearly as clear in anyone’s mind as, to take another example, the Rotary Foundation.

In Elgin, we confuse this further by having two community foundations—the Aylmer Area Community Foundation and the Elgin – St. Thomas Community Foundation (ESCF).

Let’s tackle this another way. All 191 community foundations in the Great White North have some things in common.

We belong to Community Foundations of Canada.

We attract endowments as a core charitable activity, that is, we accept gifts in the form of cash, stock transfers, etc. and we issue tax receipts; we invest these gifts, and the income on investment supports charitable causes in perpetuity, hence, the #4elgin4ever.

All of us have an unrestricted Fund for general community granting. In the case of ESCF, this Fund is very small, and this restrains the impact we can have in addressing the community’s greatest needs. We have a plan to begin to correct that.

In Elgin, we also run 100 People Who Care and a Building Capacity Series and we’re launching a new campaign called the Great-EST Giving Tuesday, raising funds for the Vital Community Fund, addressing our most pressing issues or greatest needs.

I find it impossible to convey that in 30 seconds and I haven’t started on donor advisors, field-of-interest Funds or flow-through.

So here’s another idea. If you want to know more, have your people call my people. We’ll do lunch. Just don’t expect a quote on your basement.