Shelly Maharry was recently named executive director of an organization that, she says, strengthens the Johnson County community — the same place that gave her career a kick-start in the 1990s.
Maharry, 39, assumed her new role at the Community Foundation of Johnson County this month. Previously, she was the associate director for the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine.
Her work at community foundations started after 15 years with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, her first job after graduating from the UI.
The Community Foundation of Johnson County controls $26.8 million in assets, distributing money to nonprofits that support the arts and humanities, education and health and human services.
“Because we don’t support any one particular nonprofit, we are really a promoter of all philanthropic services throughout the county,” Maharry said. “All the good happening in the county, we are a part of.”
Maharry recently spoke with The Gazette about the foundation’s role in Johnson County and her transition to a new position.
Q: What is a key goal of yours as you begin to take on the director position?
A: A key role is to really educate our broader community of what a wonderful resource Johnson County has, having its own dedicated community foundation to serve the area. We have four real key roles, and that’s, one, in donor services. We provide the most advantageous philanthropic services for donors in terms of tax deductibility and quality of services that we provide.
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Also, we provide services to nonprofit organizations and other grant makers so we can be a partner with them, providing kind of back-office services for those organizations as well. The role of a convener in a community that the community foundation can offer, so because we don’t serve any one particular nonprofit or nonprofit sector, we can really be a neutral party on important community issues to bring people together to problem solve. ...
Q: What exactly does the foundation do, and what is its role in the community?
A: The center role of a community foundation is to manage assets on behalf of donors, and donors can be individuals, family members, corporations, and also other nonprofit agencies. We manage those funds to only be used in the manner in which the donor intended, so really we kind of act as a community liaison to ensure that funds are available to support community-related causes now and long into the future.
The biggest tool that we use for growing assets is what’s called an endowment fund. The endowment fund is a charitable tool where moneys are donated to the fund, and they grow over time. Those moneys are invested, and the spending from that fund is limited to 5 percent annually, so the thought is that the fund will grow over time and the 5 percent spending will go out to support causes that the donor has intended.
That creates an opportunity to create resources that are available now through that 5 percent spending, but also long into the future to support the needs of the community.
Q: In your experience working in Johnson County and with community foundations, what would you say is the biggest issue facing the community that the foundation can help address?
A: A big issue addressing not only our area but areas all across philanthropy all across the state is the idea of transfer of wealth.
That means that a generation — grandparents and parents — have generated assets that then get transferred to their children and often those children might live out of state or out of the region. It’s important for us to have conversations about preserving charitable giving in Johnson County — what we call leaving legacies so those grandparents, parents, family members who want to put plans in place to be able to support the needs of Johnson County long into the future. ...
As a generation’s children are more mobile and tend to live in different place around the country, this has been an issue that has come to light.
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Q: With changes to federal tax law potentially affecting charitable giving, do you have any concerns about that or plans in mind to encourage people to continue to give?
A: I don’t have concerns about that because individuals who want to support the causes that they love, I really believe that they’ll do so out of their care and concern for the cause, whether or not they see it as a tax advantage for them.
Through giving to endowments, gifts still in the state of Iowa are eligible for the Endow Iowa tax credit program, which is created by the Iowa Legislature. It offers a 25 percent tax credit to donors who give to endowment funds that are held at community foundations.
The state of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Economic Development really see community foundations as the premiere gold standard for managing charitable gifts, and so a community foundation is the only organization that is able to offer those tax credits. That will still be happening.
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