Long-time Kalamazoo attorney Dan DeMent has a unique view of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. His firm — DeMent and Marquardt — serves as our general counsel and with his wife, Jackie, he is also a donor. So Dan understands better than most what various types of gifts can do for the community. Recently, he talked about being a donor from his "insider’s" point of view.

Jackie and I have been donors for a number of years, and we established the Daniel and Jacqueline DeMent Fund at the Community Foundation in 2006. It is an Unrestricted Fund that can be used for both current and future purposes in the community. Several factors led us to establish the fund. Probably the first was that we believe so strongly in this community, that we need to support the community, and that we have a responsibility to see it continue to survive and succeed.

There are many ways to give to the Community Foundation, and they all are important. But Jackie and I chose to establish an Unrestricted Fund because we believe it is critical that the Community Foundation has substantial unrestricted resources available so it can meet future needs that we couldn’t possibly anticipate. We want the them to have the freedom to be able to use those funds for whatever the need is in the community at any given time. Because I’ve had the opportunity to see the staff and board in action, I totally trust the decision making that goes on there.

I don’t think people know how much giving has changed in the last three decades or so. Back in the 1980s, the unrestricted resources or assets of the Community Foundation were about 60 percent of its total assets. Today, it’s about 36 percent. And to make this even more complex, most of the Foundation’s working expenses come out of those unrestricted funds, so there’s actually less than 38 percent available to meet unforeseen needs. When I have attended national meetings of community foundations, I kept running into examples just like this.

The Kalamazoo Community Foundation is no exception. Because those who came before us saw the wisdom of making gifts with no restrictions, the Community Foundation has been able to "invest" in important community projects and programs that didn’t even exist until 50 years after it was established. For example, unrestricted monies went toward the construction of the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center on Western’s Parkview campus. They have also been used to support organizations like Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Ministry with Community and Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity — all of which were established in the last 35 years. Without unrestricted dollars, the Community Foundation would not have had the capacity to support innovative solutions like these that address current community challenges.

When I help my clients think about their estates, I ask them questions like, Have you thought about giving back to the community? Has it been good to you and given you a really good place to raise your family? Have you enjoyed the community services that are available? They usually answer, Yes. They even have heard about the Community Foundation, but are unclear where to go from there.

I’ve found that it’s easy for people to give to bricks-and-mortar projects in a capital campaign. And when people want to give to a specific organization or cause, I’m very supportive of that. But if they are interested, I also talk with them about the potential influence they can have on the community by giving a gift to the Community Foundation — especially an unrestricted gift.

The beauty of a community foundation is, when gifts of all sizes and types are brought together, they can address a large need that no one person or gift could possibly satisfy. This is especially true with unrestricted gifts. When pooled in the right way and for the right purpose, those gifts generate outcomes for the community that are many times more valuable than the initial dollars people contributed.