Steven Rowe, president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation, said the foundation’s primary mission is to support Maine’s human capital. For Rowe, that means supporting early childhood education, encouraging Maine entrepreneurs and much more. PHOTO BY DAVID ROZA

Maine Community Foundation focuses on state’s “human capital”

ELLSWORTH — While many people might associate advocates of social change with sandals and peace signs, the close-toed shoe and tie-wearing employees of Maine Community Foundation have a 34-year history of investing vast sums of donated money for nonprofits, community agencies and innovative entrepreneurs across the state.

The foundation has helped fund a wide range of projects, including a Belfast woodshed that provides firewood for people in need, a new health and wellness center for the Micmac Tribal Community in Presque Isle and the rehabilitation of a family-owned farm in Auburn.

On top of that, the foundation awards $2 million a year in scholarships to Maine students. It’s all part of an effort to develop Maine’s “human capital,” said Steven Rowe, the president and CEO of the foundation.

“Your stock of skills, experience, training, education and creativity: that’s your human capital,” Rowe explained. “So one of the things we’re working on is to try to lift up human capital in Maine.”

To develop that human capital, the Maine Community Foundation taps into 1,800 different funds, which together are worth $450 million. Of those funds, 40 percent are donor-advised, meaning an individual or a family set up a fund to support a cause of their choice.

Donor-advised funds require at least $25,000 to get started, but philanthropists with smaller pockets can still donate to any of the foundation’s existing funds. These include county funds, which are permanent resources for nonprofits in 14 of Maine’s 16 counties.

In Hancock County alone, the Maine Community Foundation funded $154,122 in grants in 2016. Those grants went to organizations such as Camp Beech Cliff, to develop a leadership program for high-schoolers; Maine Coast Regional Health Facilities, to improve child language skills in preschool children through access to technology; and to Northeast Historic Film, for its inaugural International Maritime Film Festival.

“The whole purpose is to improve quality of life,” Rowe said.

Money isn’t the only way to donate to the foundation. Jim Geary, the foundation’s vice president and chief financial officer, explained that the Maine Community Foundation accepts a wide range of gifts, including real estate, stocks and artwork.

Once those gifts are sold, the proceeds are added to the foundation’s $450-million investment bucket. The funds in that bucket are invested in a diverse portfolio.

“On a quarterly basis we take the investment returns and we allocate them out into those 1,800 funds that we hold,” Geary said. “Our focus on the investment side is to return the most amount of money with the least amount of risk.”

Fossil fuel companies are among the foundation’s reliable assets. Geary said the foundation’s investments, widely distributed across different industries through its portfolio, are a drop in the bucket compared to the sums fossil fuel companies deal with every day. Whether the foundation invests in such companies “won’t influence the demand for oil,” he said.

Meanwhile, Geary said, lucrative and reliable returns from those companies ensure larger grants for the foundation, which in turn helps more Mainers.

The foundation does have a million-dollar investment fund that excludes defense contractors and fossil fuel or tobacco companies. However, “the investment return on that is a bumpier road,” Geary said.

Maine has plenty of bumpy roads already. The state is faced with an aging workforce, an opiate addiction problem and a decline in natural resource industries. But Rowe has a plan that might help the state into the future.

Last year, Rowe and his colleagues traveled across the state on a listening tour, where they met with Mainers of all ages, occupations, races and economic backgrounds.

“We had community conversations in most of the counties in 2016,” Rowe said. Each conversation, he added, helped staff understand the unique strengths, challenges and opportunities facing each community.

From these sessions, the Maine Community Foundation drew five core focus areas: early childhood development, access to education, racial equity, caring for the elderly and promoting entrepreneurial innovation.

Rowe explained that the focus areas will shape the foundation’s strategic plan for the next five or ten years.

“We’re going to be much more focused on these five areas than we have been,” Rowe said. “In terms of my proudest accomplishments thus far, I think it’s working with the staff and the board to really establish these five new strategic goals for the foundation.”

Part of the reason why Rowe is proud of the strategic goals is that they show the foundation is willing and able to listen to Mainers.

“We try to get down into all parts of Maine and find out what people need,” Rowe said. “What can we do to help?”

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.
David Roza

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