The World’s First Community Foundation
Frederick H. Goff
Banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff was a “mover and shaker” in Cleveland long before that phrase became part of the American lexicon. Today, 89 years after his death, the moving and shaking that Goff began with his revolutionary idea have become a benevolent worldwide rumble. And its greatest reverberations are still here in his adopted home town.
Goff was already an elite professional and the former mayor of what had been the city of Glenville when he hatched the idea of a “community trust.”
His vision was to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single, great, and permanent endowment for the betterment of the city. Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust’s resources would accrue to fund “such charitable purposes as will best make for the mental, moral, and physical improvement of the inhabitants of Cleveland.”
From that revolutionary idea, the Cleveland Foundation was born on Jan. 2, 1914. Within weeks, the foundation began reshaping the way community members care for one another not just in Greater Cleveland, but around the nation and the world.
By the end of that decade, a series of sweeping, reform-minded studies the foundation launched were bearing fruit. One laid the groundwork for the creation of the Emerald Necklace of the Cleveland Metroparks. Another shook up a corrupt and “Dickensian” justice system. Another spearheaded sweeping public school reforms and gave support to the radical notion that girls were worthy of equal education.
The foundation had also spawned a global movement. Within five years, community foundations had sprung up in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Buffalo, N.Y.
Now, more than 700 community foundations in the United States collectively manage more than $48 billion in assets and distribute some $4.5 billion a year to community needs. Moreover, the idea has emigrated: Some 1,700 community foundations now exist worldwide.
Steven Minter, former president of the Cleveland Foundation, lectures on the history of the foundation.
Here at home, Goff’s dream has grown into a $1.8 billion civic-progress fund – an engine of collective betterment, collaborative partnerships, and courageous leadership. The foundation has evolved from an institution funded by the wealthy to one endowed by people of all income levels. It serves the region, not just the city. And it has firmly reinforced its commitment to serve as an active and visionary community agenda-setter, not a mere grantmaker.
Along the way, the Cleveland Foundation has bestowed more than $1 billion in grants. The grants, and the expertise of the foundation’s professional staff and partners, have touched millions of lives. Those resources have invigorated our region’s health care, arts and culture communities, neighborhoods, schools, economic development programs, and more.
And it is only a start.
Frederick Harris Goff and the Cleveland Trust Co. establish the Cleveland Foundation. Goff declares its first project to be “a great social and economic survey of Cleveland, to uncover the causes of poverty and crime and point out the cure.”
The foundation abandons the single survey and conducts a series of specific studies on several social ills. The objectives are to target foundation resources and to stimulate public debate over reforms. Among the focus areas that emerge are public education, recreation, justice administration, lakefront development, and higher education. Copycat community foundations sprout in 11 other cities and Rhode Island.
The studies begin producing results. The education study sells 150,000 copies worldwide and leads to the creation of a citizen school board, equal education for girls, and other reforms. The recreation/leisure study spurs a wave of new playgrounds and a city recreation department, and provides the impetus for the creation of the Cleveland Metroparks system. Justice system reforms include new Cleveland Bar Association screening of judicial candidates, the establishment of court reporters, and the creation of probation and court psychiatric departments.
Goff dies. Foundation assets stand at $367,000, and grants total $7,637.
The Cleveland Trust Co., which had heavily underwritten the “study decade,” drastically cuts its financial support to the foundation.
Cleveland Trust Co. relinquishes its sole trusteeship, and the foundation opens the door for Cleveland’s other major banks to play a role in managing foundation assets. This move allows potential donors to do business with the foundation through the bank of their choice. It proves to be one of the two events that save the foundation from collapse.
Industrialist Harry Coulby leaves $3 million, providing the foundation’s second saving grace by increasing its asset base and grantmaking ability nearly tenfold.
Albert Convers, a former Cleveland industrialist who later became president and board chairman of Dow Chemical Co., leaves the foundation $3 million.
The foundation again lashes out at the city’s woeful recreation facilities in a 148-page report declaring that play space is unavailable to “something like half of the city’s child population.” The report says adding 100 ball fields and 50 playgrounds would be a minimum.
The foundation helps lead the slum-clearing and planning that spur the nation’s first public housing.
The foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary with a record level of grants that collectively top $200,000.
Foundation officials are stunned by what one called a “most remarkable” bequest. A retired German-immigrant laundress named Katherine Bohm leaves the foundation $6,454. Bohm was blind and had only one leg when she died at age 80, but had built her small fortune through thrift while working in the homes of some of Cleveland’s wealthy elites.
The foundation creates its Combined Fund as a way for people of all income levels to contribute. Inspired in part by Bohm’s earlier bequests, the foundation begins soliciting smaller gifts and pooling them into one fund that can be administered inexpensively.
Fund assets reach $10 million.
The estate of “mystery man” George B. Wheeler leaves the foundation $360,000 – and no one, including the Cleveland Trust Co., knows who Wheeler was. Finally, after three months of sleuthing, foundation director J. Kimball Johnson learns Wheeler was a successful oil and railroad businessman who retired to Florida in 1919.
Among the foundation’s endowments is one gift of 50 cents. It distributes $544,000, topping the half-million-dollar mark for the first time.
Retired legal secretary Nellie B. Snavely’s will leaves the foundation $500,000, pushing total assets past $20 million.
Grants reach $1 million.
The foundation and other philanthropies create the Greater Cleveland Associated Foundation to find and fund remedies for educational, employment and housing disparities fueling inner-city unrest among black residents.
A $75,000 planning grant for the city’s first junior college lays the groundwork for Cuyahoga Community College.
The foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary at a luncheon at the National Council on Community Foundations conference at the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel. Community foundations in the United States now number 185.
Grants surpass $4 million only nine years after first reaching $1 million.
The foundation smashes a historic taboo by making grants to Cleveland’s city government, paving the way for public-private partnerships that have become community foundation hallmarks.
Federal tax reforms giving substantial tax advantages to community foundation donors lead to a growth spurt.
The foundation makes its first $1 million grant, toward the merger of Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, and helps create the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland.
Foundation grants save three derelict but historic downtown theaters from demolition and begin the decade-long renaissance of the Playhouse Square theater district.
Homer C. Wadsworth becomes foundation director.
Grants top $10 million.
Foundation staff and a $250,000 grant spearhead a united drive by six arts organizations to land a $2 million matching grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. The beneficiaries - Great Lakes Shakespeare Company, the Karamu Company, Cleveland Ballet, the Cleveland Opera, the Cleveland Play House and Playhouse Square Foundation - receive the arts endowment grant, provided they can raise $2 million in matching funds in three years. They raise more than six times that amount.
Foundation grants pave the way for construction of Lexington Village in Hough, the neighborhood's first market-rate housing in half a century. It triggers more than two decades of reinvestment in Fairfax, Hough, Central and other east side neighborhoods.
The emergence of neighborhood-rejuvenating “community development corporations” in partnership with the foundation-championed Neighborhood Progress Inc. helps invigorate Cleveland‘s neighborhoods.
Steven A. Minter becomes the foundation's president, beginning a tenure at the top that many in philanthropy later hail as among the most successful in the history of community foundations.
The foundation-sponsored master plan for downtown Cleveland‘s lakefront helps create North Coast Harbor, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Great Lakes Science Center.
A foundation study on medical research and education opens the door for unprecedented collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University. The study helps develop the region's biotechnology industry and leads to the creation of CWRU's Center for Structural Biology.
Cuyahoga County commissioners and the foundation launch the Early Childhood Initiative, a partnership to redesign human welfare services and improve life quality for all county children from the prenatal stage through age 5.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy, an esteemed journal of the charitable sector, cites the founding of the Cleveland Foundation as one of the 10 most significant events shaping the nonprofit world in the 20th century.
The estate of automobile sales entrepreneur Frank Porter and his philanthropist wife, Nancy, provides the foundation its biggest gift ever – up to $70 million.
Ronald B. Richard becomes the foundation's new president and chief executive officer.
Foundation grants total $86 million, a new record.
The Successful Aging Initiative, the foundation's $4 million, three-year project to help older people live healthy and productive lives in their home communities, concludes to national acclaim. Among its products: the creation of six Lifelong Learning and Development Centers.
A decade of work by the foundation and other organizations results in the passage of Issue 18, which provides public funding for the arts in Cuyahoga County for the first time. The foundation also hires Richard Stuebi as its first BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement.
The estate of Donald J. and Ruth Weber Goodman gives $39 million to the Cleveland Foundation. Combined with a previous gift and anticipated future gifts, the bequest is expected eventually to total about $70 million. Also, the foundation's ongoing efforts in the area of advanced energy help lead to the passage of a "renewable portfolio standard" in Ohio, requiring that by 2025, a certain percentage of electricity produced in the state must come from renewable energy sources.
Evergreen Cooperative Laundry launches as the first in an integrated network of for-profit, worker-owned businesses linked to the supply chains of anchor institutions such as Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospitals, among other customers. The Evergreen businesses are part of a foundation-led strategy to revitalize core city neighborhoods by creating jobs and wealth among local residents.
Fulfilling a dream four years in the making, NewBridge Cleveland Center for Arts & Technology opens, offering digital arts education for teens and medical career training for adults. The foundation is the driving force among partners that collaborate to establish these programs, modeled after Pittsburgh’s acclaimed Manchester Bidwell Corp.
A capacity crowd packs Severance Hall for the 75th annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, created by Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf. Administered by the foundation and judged by a panel of internationally known writers and scholars, the book prize remains the only one in America focused on works that address racism and diversity.
The foundation awards the largest grant in its history, $10 million, to Case Western Reserve University for construction of a top-tier medical education and research building. This “legacy gift” is the first in a series of extraordinary grants to the community to mark the foundation’s centennial in 2014.
The mixed-use Uptown District reaches a milestone as a public-private partnership, convened by the foundation, dedicates phase one in the development of this retail, residential, and cultural hub. As part of the Greater University Circle strategy, Uptown aims to help bridge the divide between University Circle and six adjacent low-income neighborhoods. The district also functions as a lively “Main Street” for Case Western Reserve University.
Mayor Frank Jackson introduces “Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools,” crafted with significant input from the foundation. The plan builds on education reforms dating to 2006, when the foundation and its partners began creating a “portfolio” of high-performing schools within the district. The partners successfully advocate for changes in state law that set the stage for the school system to implement the mayor’s plan and take the portfolio school concept to scale.
By the people, for the people
We are a community foundation created by Greater Clevelanders for Greater Clevelanders. For nearly 100 years, the foundation has lived an ethic best summed up in our modern mission statement: To enhance the lives of all residents of Greater Cleveland, now and for generations to come, by working together with our donors to build community endowment, address needs through grantmaking, and provide leadership on key community issues.
We serve Cuyahoga, Lake, and Geauga counties by strategically sharing wealth – bequests and living trusts, as well as the richness of human capital. Our assets, around $1.8 billion in all, are the community’s in the form of more than 1,300 separate funds representing individuals, families, organizations, and corporations.
The foundation invests these funds in perpetuity, so that the resources remain in trust forever. Then we distribute the funds’ earnings to worthy organizations, mainly nonprofit organizations in Greater Cleveland. In that way, we and our community partners leverage the wealth of yesterday, today, and tomorrow to create opportunities, answer needs, and fulfill dreams.
Our legacy surrounds – in our metropolitan parks, our cultural institutions, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Our outreach touches people through all of life’s stages, from prenatal months to elder years. We help give root to generations of new leaders through scholarships, internships, leadership academies, and mentor pairings.
We are the Cleveland Foundation. We build prosperity for the people in our community to thrive.
Frederick H. Goff’s revolutionary view of charitable giving
Eliminating the ‘dead hand of the past’
At the dawn of the last century, Cleveland Foundation founder Frederick H. Goff vowed to sever the “dead hand of the past.”
That’s the phrase Goff and others derisively used to refer to wills that left large sums of money for charity, but encumbered it with conditions and directions that proved so limiting that the bequest wound up being choked off from beyond the grave.
As an estate attorney, and later as president of Cleveland Trust Co., Goff viewed those sorts of endowments with disgust, and spent years searching for legal ways to comply with such directives or fighting uphill court battles to get them overturned.
Some examples of irrevocable wills that became useless or contrary to evolving community values and standards of decency:
- An “orphan asylum” for girls whose railroad-worker fathers died in on-the-job accidents. It was a benevolent idea in the mid-19th century, when rail work was deadly. But safety had so advanced that by 1933, a nationwide search for eligible orphans turned up only a dozen.
- An endowment for watering troughs for horses.
- Dictums forbidding an endowment – most commonly a school or college – from benefiting women or ethnic or religious minorities.
Goff was also dismayed at how the heirs of 19th-century industrial magnates lost interest in the charitable trusts their ancestors had formed for their descendants to run.
So while pondering what should become of his own considerable wealth after his death, Goff conceived a better way – what he called a “community chest.”
Goff later explained to Colliers magazine: “How fine it would be if a man about to make a will could go to a permanently enduring organization – what Chief Justice Marshall called an ‘artificial immortal being’ – and say: ‘Here is a large sum of money. I want to leave it to be used for the good of the community, but I have no way of knowing what will be the greatest need of the community 50 years from now, or even 10 years from now. Therefore, I place it in your hands, because you will be here, you and your successors, through the years, to determine what should be done with this sum to make it most useful for people of each succeeding generation.’”