Think of John Stremsterfer as the man in the middle of a stream who builds a bridge to either side. On one side are the people who have money to give and on the other are individuals and organizations in need of money - Stremsterfer brings them together.
The executive director of the Sangamon County Community Foundation is a giving kind of guy, and with equal passion and charm - he can also take money.
Stremsterfer was hired as the SCCF's first executive director six years go. It was just the right time.
The Sangamon County Foundation started in 1924, and "community" was added in 2003. John Eck was on the board when the transition was made.
"It was a great decision. We looked at what we were doing, and we were giving money away, but then we looked at what we could do -- and we never looked back," Eck said.
Eck admits it was a hard sell to hire Stremsterfer hired because of his youth.
"That's another decision we never looked back on," Eck said. "He's comfortable whereever he is and with whoever he is talking to. He's genuinely enthusiastic and sincere. When you are trying to fake that -- people know it. People know he has a genuine interest in making sure their money is well spent and a genuine interest in the community."
The addition of that one word, "community," changed the whole complexion of the charity.
"It really opened things up. We could go to philanthropic folks and organizations and they could paint us a picture of how they wanted to be philanthropic," Stremsterfer said.
SCCF sets up foundations and then wraps them under the umbrella of its organization. What that does is give donors as much, or as little, control as they may want, and it puts the impetus on SCCF to handle all that pesky paperwork the government wants from people who want to play Robin Hood in this day and age.
The original charity was a group of people that took the interest from a big chunk of cash and gave it away in grants. Under the tutelage of Stremsterfer, the possibilities for community organizations to get money exploded. He began actively seeking funds from organizations as well as local citizens in a position to set up endowments and funds.
In the past two years SCCF has given away in grants the amount of money the foundation had when Stremsterfer was hired.
For an administrative fee based on the amount of a fund -- the higher the fund the lower the fee -- SCCF will do everything from file tax returns, establish grant criteria, collect the applications and screen them and give the money away.
Or, Stremsterfer said, the foundation can just put the money in a fund and dole it out at the behest of the donor.
"I'm selfishly happy the SCCF decided to wait for me to become a community foundation, because my job is a blast," he said with a big smile. "I get to interact with philanthropists and help them give out their money. We are the first line of policing. We can say that criteria is too narrow to the donor and help them adjust the guidelines. One of the most exciting things is what we can do for our community. We can uncover people thinking about what to do with their wealth and create new philanthropy. We are the gatekeepers for the people with wealth.
"Donors are becoming more educated. They may not have children, and we can offer them a wonderful option for giving for their estate," he said.
Stremsterfer said in the past attorneys would come to the foundation after a client had passed away. "Now we have people giving as part of their estate planning," he added.
"We are the community foundation. So let's say you gave your whole life to the food pantry and that's where you wanted your money to go after you died," he said. "But it's a little worrisome because the organization is made of volunteers and is put together rather loosely.
"We can set up a plan where they get a certain amount of money at regular intervals. They know it is something that is coming and something they can depend on and you have the peace of mind knowing that is going to be taken care of when you are gone."
"We like to think we are a community foundation that is the community's foundation. We are always trying to find out what is going on in the community. We can and do encourage certain initiatives. But people who think they don't have enough money to set up a fund should try it. We can set it up; you don't need a lawyer. You just put the money here, and we take care of the paperwork," he said.
The job of the foundation is also to engage and facilitate.
"We connect those who care with causes that matter," Stremsterfer said. "We want people to stay as active in their fund as they want. Some families set up funds and encourage their children to participate. They want to get that attitude of giving going,"
Stremsterfer admitted it is sad to work with someone for years setting up a fund and then they pass away.
"That's why we try to engage them in working with where the money is going to go and how to structure it," he said. We can make them happy knowing what they want to accomplish is going to be accomplished, and we can be happy knowing we helped them and some community organization."
There are also funds set up for scholarships, and those donors get the added pleasure, if they want, of meeting the recipient and knowing first-hand how and who their money is helping.
"I'm a lucky guy. I work with so many good people who want to help the world," Stremsterfer said. Then he flashed a smile that wouldn't make you think twice about giving him your money.
Sangamon County Community Foundation
John G. Stremsterfer
The Sangamon County Community Foundation manages between 80 and 85 funds right now, according to executive director John Stremsterfer, but there may be as many as a dozen gifts coming to the foundation.
Donors can set up a fund in five general areas - but Stremsterfer said as long as a fund meets IRS criteria and it can be administered, it can be set up with the foundation.
Fund types include:
The art of giving
Giving money to a charity or to someone in need should be a heartfelt, personal gesture. Giving money to a fund or foundation and having an impersonal check show up somewhere can dilute that gesture.
Sure, the person or organization is happy to get it, but it doesn't carry that same warm, fuzzy feeling for the donor.
The Sangamon County Community Foundation tries hard to keep the warm and fuzzy in "giving," and that attitude has helped diversify those on the giving end as well as the organizations and individuals on the taking end.
The Butler family created the Butler Community Endowment Fund in 2005 as part of the SCCF. "We created the fund for two reasons," said Val Butler, communications and marketing coordinator for Butler Funeral Homes.
"The Butler family has always considered community involvement and benevolence as part of the mission of the funeral home," said Butler. "And we wanted the administration and the paperwork taken care of by someone else.
"This fund doesn't replace our other contributions," she added.
Butler makes donations to this fund in remembrance of each person it has ceremonies for as well as in remembrance of each pet owner it assists at its cremation center.
One of the grants from the Butler Community Endowment Fund went to the New Berlin Community Health Clinic so the clinic could purchase needed medical software.
"Working with the Sangamon County Community Foundation has been just wonderful," Butler said.
Ginny Conlee set up the G. Virginia Conlee Fund with SCCF.
"I set the fund up a couple of years ago. I wanted to have some control over what happened to my money when I was gone," she said. "I didn't want to just leave it in a trust.
"I named a charity in my will and they will get a percentage of the annual earnings from the fund that the Sangamon County Community Foundation set up."
One of the grants from the Women to Women fund at SCCF went to the University of Illinois Springfield's Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center. Kelly Thompson, center director, said the money was used to pair up UIS women athletes with 103 girls in District 186.
"They met weekly with the girls and the program was very well received," Thompson said. The foundation was wonderful to work with. They made applying for the grant incredibly easy and it worked out very well."
Rob Kashmer set up a scholarship fund in memory of his late wife, Lori Kashmer. He and Lori were high school sweethearts, and she died at the age of 48. "I set up a scholarship fund because she just had so much knowledge," Rob said. "People tell you that you have to just get over your loss.
"I spent so much time taking her name off of everything; I really needed this to put her name on something. This was just perfect. It helped me get over the loss knowing I was helping someone fulfill their dreams and this was something that would never be erased."
He's met the scholarship recipients for the past four years at a reception set up by SCCF.
"It is both rewarding and humbling to help someone. I was prepared to do this on my own, but the foundation was just so helpful, and they put a great effort into doing exactly what I wanted," Kashmer said.
The Eck Family Fund is still in the build-up stages, said John Eck. "What I did was set up the fund and then tell my children, the ones here and the ones in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, to put whatever they could into the fund. We haven't been able to do grants yet, but we are close, and they will pick where it goes.
"I told them that I didn't care what they gave, but they needed to give back to the community and to get into the habit of giving back," Eck said.
The Prairie Center Against Sexual Assault has an endowment fund with the foundation and they have also been a grant recipient. The endowment fund takes away the problems of investing money so future capital needs can be taken care of.
"We thought we would give our money to the experts," said Catherine Walters, Prairie Center director. "They are very conscientious about what to do with it, and we don't want to have to worry about that."
Prairie Center got a grant from the Young Philanthropists to fund a project called "Hug Away the Hurt."
"Their focus that year was children's issues and the project allowed children to build their own bear, which they would then take to all their therapy sessions," Walters said. "They were taught they could kiss the heart and make it better, and parents were taught how to work with their child and the bear. It was a wonderful program, and we will end up serving about 200 children."
The Hanson Family Fund was set up by the Hanson family in honor of their parents, Walter and Sue Hanson.
Karen Pletsch, their daughter, is also on the board of SCCF.
"I became involved on the board because I liked the idea of philanthropy with no agenda," she said. "As I worked more with the board, I thought about how my mother and father enjoyed the community and they were active participants in the community.
"The fund seemed a perfect venue to explore options to give back to the community," she said.
Pletsch said the family is using the fund as an educational tool for their grandchildren.
"I'm excited about them giving and them getting involved."
SCCF just makes things so easy, Pletsch added. "We get to do the fun stuff like giving away money, and they have to do the paperwork."
The Springfield Electric Supply Co. Fund was set up at the foundation in mid-2007. The fund is in honor of company founders Marion and William Schnirring Sr. William Schnirring, son of the company founders, said the fun is the company's way of saying thank you to friends and customers.
"We know we can put the money in, and it will be taken care of," he said. "If we have a really good year, we can put more in. I am a great supporter of the community approach by the foundation. There are lots of funds, and they offer all sorts of opportunities for all levels of giving for all variety of reasons."
- Kathleen Ostrander
The Sangamon County Community Foundation encourages diversity in giving, but there are some funds that are initiatives of the foundation.
Young Philanthropists: "It's like social networking but with philanthropy at the core," said John Stremsterfer, executive director of SCCF.
Members of the fund are between 21 and 45 years old, although Stremsterfer said that's not set in stone.
"You could think you are young," he said. Members put in $125 as an individual membership or $250 for a couple.
"There's a democratic element because then you vote on a general cause. Pick seven names out of a hat and they do the research and bring the information back. It's exciting because we are working with the givers of tomorrow," Stremsterfer said.
The Young Philanthropists meet socially several times a year and the research is presented on the giving opportunities available in the general-cause area.
For example, the general-cause area was Children and Youth and a grant went to the Asbury's Children's Supper Hour.
Women for Women: This fund is the brain-child of former mayor Karen Hasara, who saw a similar fund at work in Hilton Head, S.C, said Stremsterfer.
Women join the fund by contributing $1,000 annually for three years. This is a permanent endowment fund to address pressing issues facing women and their families in Sangamon County.
A grant committee reviews grant applications and then grants are awarded.
A grant awarded last year went to a mentoring program for young girls. It matched University of Illinois Springfield female athletes with Springfield girls in grades 8 through 10.
"We've got the right ladies on board and there is a lot of energy there," Stremsterfer said.
Access to Recreation Endowment Fund: "This is a permanent fund that will serve as a resource to enhance, expand and create new recreational opportunities for people with disabilities," Stremsterfer said.
The fund got a big boost from a $426,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich.
The initial grant from the fund will be used for a navigation system at Southwind Park. It will include interpretive signs, accessible golf carts, TTY communication systems and an emergency call system.
Future project grants will include everything from making school playgrounds more accessible to special outdoor programs.
Communityworks: SCCF, along with the United Way of Central Illinois and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, has set up this permanent endowment fund to address needs compatible with the Continuum of Learning premise.
The motto of the Continuum of Learning is "ready to learn, ready to work and ready to succeed." It addresses needs involved with child care, education, work-force development, and land use and protection.
- Kathleen Ostrander
Sangamon County Community Funds
The Unrestricted Fund supports nonprofit organizations within through an application and review process.
Field of Interest Funds
These funds allow donors to remain actively involved in suggesting uses for grants from the funds. Grants are given to support causes and organizations the donors care about most. These funds are: 2100 Fund, Barker Family Fund, Capestrain-Tracy Family Fund, Eck Family Fund, Ed & Lucy Breitung Family Fund, Edwards-Hall Family Charitable Fund, EHLIAN Family Fund, Erin Elzea Fund, Hanson Family Fund, Judith G. Stephens Chairperson's Fund, Kindling Fund, Lisa and Stephen Stone Family Fund, Loken Family Fund, Michael Victor II Memorial Fund, Petty Cash Fund, Springfield Electric Supply Co. Fund, Springfield Tracy Fund, The Butler Community Endowment, Velma L. Carey Family Fund, Wanless-Claus Family Fund, Wilfred and Esther Lam Family Fund.
Organization / Designated Funds
Story published Friday, September 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 5 )