Opinion

Heinen: Madison Community Foundation leaves a lasting legacy

The truth to MCF's new web name, Madison Gives

Madison Gives. And that’s a fact. We are a generous community and we support what’s important to us about this place and the people who live here. When I first heard the Madison Community Foundation was changing its web address—and to a degree, its identity—to Madison Gives, I was a little disarmed by its simplicity. But that’s its beauty isn’t it? Madison gives. Why not just say it?
 
The Madison Community Foundation has been an essential vehicle for that giving for 75 years, becoming an indispensable piece of the community’s DNA in the process. It has grown into that role with vision, clarity of thought, credibility, trust and commitment. And what better way to celebrate this year’s milestone anniversary than raising the visibility and broadening the mission of MCF’s role in the greater Madison region. 
 
Early in my career hosting the television version of this column, WISC-TV’s Sunday morning public affairs show For The Record, at the recommendation of my late friend and colleague George Nelson, I had as a guest MCF executive director Jane Coleman. I don’t remember the amount of assets the foundation held at the time, but it wasn’t much, easily dwarfed by the current portfolio of some $160 million. But Coleman loved big ideas, and she had a bunch of them. By the time she handed the reins to Kathleen Woit 10 years later, the foundation was on solid footing. And thanks to a $15 million gift from local businesswoman and philanthropist Marie Graber, its assets included a Community Impact Fund. There are no more descriptive words for the Madison Community Foundation of today than community impact.
 
MCF has nurtured and protected its reputation as a trusted home for the legacies of Madison’s people, families and businesses. Its 1,000 charitable funds are testaments to the faith placed in the foundation’s commitment for eternity. Those funds help maintain some of the region’s most valuable natural and cultural assets. That is the Madison Community Foundation’s core mission and it will remain so. 
 
It’s a safe place to leave a mark, to make a difference, to give back. But over the course of 75 years, MCF has also learned a thing or two about the community it serves and it can see things others might not see. MCF has attracted some talented and knowledgeable staff over the years and has been served by a consistently excellent board of directors. It has used the flexibility of money available through the Community Impact Fund wisely and appropriately, and it is the planning for the expansion of that component of the foundation’s work that has me most excited. You are likely familiar with some examples of the fund’s impact: gifts to every library in Dane County, support for lakes and water protection, school and community gardens, literacy and so much more. During the depths of the national recession a decade ago, MCF nimbly pivoted and responded to the most serious basic needs of the community and helped countless individuals and families weather the economic storm. That’s how strong communities are built.  
 
MCF in 2017 is pivoting again. 
 
It’s expanding its donor base geographically. It’s working collaboratively with like-minded community organizations such as United Way of Dane County, Community Shares of Wisconsin, Forward Community Investments and a roster of nonprofits in the region. And it is keenly aware of the impact the Race to Equity report has had on how we think about social issues. This will be a year of celebrating the past for the Madison Community Foundation and envisioning the future. Look for announcements of new, major gifts and new ways to give what you can in ways that work for you. Madison is Madison in part because of the Madison Community Foundation, which has modeled the motto Madison Gives.

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