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The advantages of working with the Community Foundation


Robert and Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris cofounded the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey. Bob Harris cofounded Environ International. Active on many boards, they do their principal philanthropy through the Harris Family Fund at the Community Foundation.

For a philanthropic, environmentally minded couple, converting a family foundation into a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation was “a breath of fresh air.”

Bob and Stephanie Harris have done environmental work for more than forty years. They’ve helped create successful organizations and love applying their expertise to their philanthropy.

The Harrises wanted to focus on their passions, so in 1990 they set up a private foundation. They found that they enjoyed philanthropy, but running the foundation was a burden.

The answer? Convert the family foundation into a donor-advised fund.

“Steffi and I finished our graduate degrees at Harvard around the same time,” Bob recalls, “she in education, I in engineering. We tried the things we’d gone to graduate school to do, then decided that wasn’t who we were. Activated by the civil rights movement, the first Earth Day in 1970, and the increasing focus on our environment, we got into nonprofit work about as quickly as we could.

“We didn’t have much in the way of financial resources. But in 1990, a consulting firm I cofounded went public. We put some of the proceeds into a private foundation.”

“It was a headache,” Stephanie says. “I needed advisors, accountants, lawyers, a board. There were payout requirements, excise taxes, deadlines. It was a waste of our resources to pay so many people just to administer our foundation.”

“I had a great feeling about our giving,” Bob adds, “but I knew I wasn’t managing the investments ideally. I worried about doing the best possible due diligence. And it was a bit isolating. We didn’t have a body of likeminded donors, smart local people with ideas who could point out opportunities to become more responsible. Now the Community Foundation provides all that for us.”

“Converting to a fund was a breath of fresh air,” Stephanie says. “We don’t feel we’ve given up anything. The Community Foundation is our infrastructure now, and we can focus on what matters most.”