Community Foundation breaks $1 billion in nonprofit giving

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Thanks to the generosity of its donors, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee had proudly announced a major milestone: $1 billion in giving to nonprofits across the 40 counties of Middle Tennessee and beyond since its inception 29 years ago.

“It’s funny, but in 1990 when we began and in 1991 when we got our 501c3 status, we never talked about any goals,” Ellen Lehman, president and one of the founders of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, said. “We never even discussed how much The Community Foundation might one day accomplish for our community.

“We never set any bars — we just said thank you. And over the years, we have gotten to say thank you thousands of times.”

It was Lehman’s friend, Ida Cooney, the founding executive director of the then HCA Foundation (known today as the Frist Foundation), who shed light on the fact that the Nashville region was one of the last major metropolitan areas without a community foundation in place for those with charitable hearts. 

It was also Cooney who brought together others — such as Ted Lazenby, Alyne Massey, Betty Brown, George Bullard, Elizabeth Queener, Richard Eskind, Judy Liff Barker and Ben Rechter — who had known the value a community foundation could offer.

After further research and discussion, these founders recognized the opportunity for people wanting to do good to join forces to work collectively and collaboratively, efficiently and effectively, and to make the word community work both as one word and as two, or “common unity.” 

It also was clear working on gifts that mattered to an individual helped others realize they too could make gifts that mattered to them. 

As The Community Foundation reflects on decades of grantmaking and reaching the $1 billion milestone, its team — especially the staff trailblazers, Laundrea Lewis and Melisa Currey — knows it could not have been accomplished without the generosity of its donors, community partners and friends of The Foundation. 

Tens of thousands of grants have filtered through its doors, impacting organizations working tirelessly on a broad range of needs ranging from arts to zoology. 

“We set out to make giving comfortable, convenient and cost-effective, and we worked to promote and facilitate giving with confidence,” Lehman said. “After those early years, we also sought to connect generosity with need. But all in all, we just worked to help people help others by customizing philanthropy to fit the donors’ intentions. That’s our mission … all of it.”

The Community Foundation continues to look ahead at making its community’s charitable giving stronger by building permanent endowments to support causes critical to the present and future. The team, which blissfully still includes Melisa Currey and Laundrea Lewis, is indeed dedicated to protecting donor intent while keeping the funds up-to-date in the face of changing needs and opportunities. 

“It’s a good thing we never set any goals for ourselves, because we would have broken all of them,” Lehman said. “Today, thanks to thousands of individuals, families, companies and corporations, we certainly are proud to announce that we have been able to distribute grants to nonprofits totaling a whopping $1 billion.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to help you help others as we continue this work into decades ahead. For now. For generations.”

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