Monday, May 24, 2010

Foundations offer loans as a way to help nonprofits

The Buffalo News reported that a $650,000 check in 2008 from the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York for a new program to assist the frail elderly in Cattaraugus County came with a caveat: Trustees of the foundation wanted the money back, with interest.

A single grant of that size was beyond the capacity of the foundation, so trustees decided instead to make it a loan.

The money allowed Community Care of Western New York to launch a program that will keep more than 200 rural elderly people safely in their homes. Without it, the project probably would have stalled.

"It would not have opened without us, and what is a really promising model for elder care in a rural community would have been lost," said Ann Monroe, foundation president.

Increasingly, foundations in Western New York and across the country are turning to loans, loan guarantees and other measures as a way to aid needy nonprofit organizations without giving away the store.

The John R. Oishei Foundation, the area's largest private foundation, currently has more than $12 million — nearly 4 percent of its $280 million asset base — being used in this fashion. And at least two other local foundations, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation and the Joy Family Foundation, have experimented with alternative financing.

Known as "program-related investments," or more popularly "PRIs," the loans and loan guarantees are serving a dual purpose for foundations hammered by stock market losses in 2008.

PRIs, like grants, put money toward projects that might not otherwise get off the ground. Read more here.

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