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May 6, 2014

With $150 million, new foundation starts cautiously

One of the questions is: What can we do and do very well? We don’t want to do so many things that we can’t make an impact. It’s got to be a partnership with the community . . . . Are you a check-writing organization or are you investing in your community?
— Fauquier Health Foundation Executive Director Christy Connolly
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Almost instantly, it became Fauquier County’s biggest philanthropic organization.

Fauquier Health’s merger with Tennessee-based LifePoint Hospitals, a publicly-traded company, on Oct. 31 created an endowment of more than $150 million.

Since November, the Fauquier Health Foundation’s board and staff have worked to figure out what to do with that windfall, representing the community’s 60 years of donations to the formerly not-for-profit hospital.

“Right now, we are just in a significant, information-gathering stage,” foundation Executive Director Christy Connolly said in a recent interview.

That process will continue Wednesday morning, May 7, with a “Health Needs Assessment Town Hall Meeting” at the hospital.

The foundation also has surveyed 200 community organizations and conducted a series of focus groups this spring.

Mrs. Connolly has visited other community foundations and philanthropic organizations. The possibilities run the gamut.

“Health legacy foundations are relatively new” and rapidly multiplying because of hospital mergers, she said.

In some communities, the foundations focus on business incubation and education to rebuild local economies. Some deal primarily with health care initiatives. Some hire a small army of interns. Others build structures that become community hubs.

Her phone started ringing immediately after Mrs. Connolly’s appointment in October, she said.

Non-profit group representatives wanted to know how they could apply for grants.

Lacking bylaws, a definitive mission statement or even a website, the foundation couldn’t start cutting checks.

In fact, six months later, dozens of details remain unresolved.

“This is new to the community,” said Mrs. Connolly, stressing the board’s desire to move very methodically.

“Every one of the foundations I talked to said they did it too soon” when awarding grants, she added.

The foundation board did agree to match up to $100,000 in donations to the “Give Local Piedmont Campaign.” That one-day blitz will raise funds for a host of organizations, through the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, on Tuesday, May 6.

It represents the type of cooperation Mrs. Connolly wants to encourage, allowing the new Fauquier Health Foundation to “leverage” its assets.

Still, the foundation must determine where it can have the greatest effect, she said.

“Some might define health as curing a particular disease,” she added. “Others might define it as the community you want to live in.”

Because such a large percentage of the workforce leaves Fauquier each day for jobs, should the foundation consider focusing on the challenges of commuting? Mrs. Connolly asked as an example.

Subleasing office space from Fauquier Health, the foundation, which has five employees, will need a headquarters. Does it rent, buy or build? What does it need? What does the community need?

The list of questions seems endless — the happy challenge of a sudden, nine-figure endowment.

To manage and safeguard the assets, the foundation chose Arlington-based Cambridge Associates after considering a group of firms that submitted proposals.

The foundation will issue annual reports and its tax returns will be public, as are those of all such non-profit organizations.

Although it serves a community with greater economic challenges because of massive job losses, the Danville Regional Foundation’s track record provides a glimpse of what could happen in Fauquier.

LifePoint bought the larger Danville hospital in 2005, and the foundation there started with a $200-million endowment.

The Danville foundation provides an average of $8 million in local grants annually, with a particular focus on economic development and education.

In Fauquier, grants that might logically average $5 million to $6 million yearly — based on the Danville record — could dramatically enhance other organizations’ efforts.

The Fauquier Free Clinic certainly seems a likely beneficiary. In fact, Fauquier Health last year purchased a Warrenton office building that will undergo renovation as the free clinic’s new home. The new foundation owns that building.

It also owns 20 percent of Fauquier Health, retained in the LifePoint merger. So, profits and dividends will go into the endowment, along with earnings from a range of investments.

The foundation’s leaders will work to sustain and grow the fund so its work will continue in perpetuity, according to Mrs. Connolly.

“One of the questions is: What can we do and do very well?” she added. “We don’t want to do so many things that we can’t make an impact. It’s got to be a partnership with the community . . . .

“Are you a check-writing organization or are you investing in your community?”

The foundation executive director appreciates the time her organization has to explore the possibilities and to build a new Fauquier institution. The experiences of other foundations have helped greatly.

By fall, the “strategic planning” should provide clarity.
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