How to Give Back to the Valley

You don’t have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist. Community foundations can help multiply your generosity.

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

CREATING IMPACT. The Dabble Box, a new makerspace at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire, is supported by the Lois and Arnold Domer Fund, which is part of the Eau Claire Community Foundation.
CREATING IMPACT. The Dabble Box, a new makerspace at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire, is supported by the Lois and Arnold Domer Fund, which is part of the Eau Claire Community Foundation.

Sooner or later, there comes a time in most of our lives when we feel the desire to give back to our communities. Depending on our means and motivation, this desire can manifest itself in something as simple as writing a check or as complex as making an estate plan that creates a long-term endowment to support specific causes long after we’re gone.

However we want to give, organizations such as the Eau Claire Community Foundation are one option that can help us make the best use of our dollars, now and forever.


“It’s amazing what a community foundation can do,” explains Sue Bornick, the foundation’s executive director, who notes the organization has given $7.2 million in grants in its 20-year history. She describes the foundation as a bridge between donors and charitable groups that do good work in the community, from children’s charities to theater groups to agencies that aid the disabled.

When Bornick meets with potential donors, she asks them what they love in the community, and then the foundation helps facilitate their donations to these causes, donations that can continue perpetually.

While the foundation itself is a nonprofit organization, it doesn’t compete with other nonprofits for donor dollars. As one of the foundation’s slogans explains, “People do not give TO the Eau Claire Community Foundation; they give THROUGH it.”


The Eau Claire Community Foundation was formed 20 years ago by a group of Chippewa Valley residents who saw the need for a permanent entity to fill the void left by the Hobbs Foundation, which distributed more than $5 million locally over a period of 35 years before folding in 1995. (The Hobbs Foundation is the reason you’ll see the Hobbs family’s name around the Valley, including on an ice arena and an observatory.)

In 1997, 64 founding members gave $10,000 (or more) each in unrestricted donations, which helped form an endowment for the Eau Claire Community Foundation that remains to this day. This endowment means that the foundation doesn’t have to continually raise funds for its own operations.

There are more than 700 such community foundations nationwide, including the Community Foundation of Dunn County and the Community Foundation of Chippewa County.

“Community foundations impact lives, solve problems, and improve futures,” Bornick says. “As many residents grapple with limited resources and a growing need for services, we are more determined than ever to bring our community partners together to find innovative and effective solutions to support these needs.”


The Eau Claire Community Foundation now oversees 210 active charitable funds (including 37 funds for the Eau Claire Public Schools Foundation). Some serve as pass-through funds for specific projects (for example, all donations to build the Confluence Arts Center go through the foundation) while others were created by individuals or families to support their favorite causes, now and in the future. Depending on the type, an endowment fund can begin with as little as $500 and can start issuing grants once it has grown to $10,000. Here’s a breakdown of some of the various kinds of funds:

UNRESTRICTED FUNDS: According to the foundation’s annual report, “unrestricted funds honor the legacy of a person or family by making grants to meet the community’s ever-changing needs in their name.” Unrestricted funds are greatly appreciated, Bornick says, “because the dollars give the foundation resources, through our grant process, to address the greatest needs in our community.”

FIELD OF INTEREST FUNDS: These funds allow donors to permanently support causes in their areas of interest – whether they are education, the arts, health, social services, etc. – and “a committee will recommend grants to promising projects in that area now and long after you’re gone.” Consider how one Eau Claire couple’s gift continues to give: Arnie Domer was well-known as the owner of Arnie’s Ski and Garden Center. In 2003 – coincidentally, just a day before he died at the age of 87 – Arnie wrote a $1 million check to create the Lois and Arnold Domer Fund, which supports “winter sports, animal concerns, and general community needs.” In the time since, the fund has distributed more than $472,000 in grants to 167 recipients.

DONOR-ADVISED FUNDS: If you want to be fully involved in your philanthropy, creating a donor-advised fund is the right choice. As the foundation explains in its annual report, “You recommend grants to your favorite nonprofits, while the foundation handles all the paperwork and administration.” One such fund is the Thurston “It’s the Little Things” Family Fund, which was created to support the needs of older adults, including funding field trips and visits from therapy animals.

DESIGNATED FUNDS: These funds allow donors to support specific nonprofit organizations, schools, or churches in perpetuity. If the beneficiary ever ceases to exist, the foundation will find another worthy entity that supports a similar mission. An example of this kind of fund is the Helen and Karl Andresen Family Endowment for Special Needs, which supports scholarships and celebrations at Helen’s House, a program for older adults with disabilities that is named after Helen Andresen. “We will continue that legacy forever for that family,” Bornick says.


One unique fund that is part of the Eau Claire Community Foundation is the Women’s Giving Circle. Members give $250 annually to be part of the circle, and every year the group collectively makes grants to projects that help women and children in the area. Last year, the Women’s Giving Circle awarded eight grants worth $36,000 to programs as diverse as the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic and the Safe Sleep Task Force.

This is just one part of the generosity harnessed by the Eau Claire Community Foundation over the past 20 years thanks to donors large and small. As Bornick notes, “Anybody can be a philanthropist.” The foundation now has more than $20 million in assets, and last year distributed $1.27 million ($970,000 of it for Confluence Arts Center construction). This spring alone, the foundation gave out 51 grants worth $118,000 to community organizations.

It may sound like a cliché, but community foundations allow everyday people to make gifts that keep on giving.


Eau Claire Community Foundation • 306 S. Barstow St., Suite 104, Eau Claire, WI 54701 • (715) 552-3801 •

Community Foundation of Chippewa County • P.O. Box 153, Chippewa Falls, WI 54729 • (715) 723-8125 •

Community Foundation of Dunn County • 500 Main Street, Suite 322 • Menomonie, WI 54751 • (715) 232-8019 •

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