As the Catholic Community Foundation celebrates two decades of successful philanthropic work, the outgoing and incoming presidents reflect on the organization, its history and its future plans
Since its launch 20 years ago, the Catholic Community Foundation has worked to fulfill its mission “to support financially the spiritual, educational and social needs of our Catholic community.” Based in St. Paul, it has grown to become the nation’s largest community foundation serving Catholic philanthropy.
With a staff of 12 employees, CCF manages approximately $209 million in charitable assets and more than 1,000 funds on behalf of individuals, families, parishes, schools and institutions.
The foundation will soon experience a leadership change. Marilou Eldred, president of CCF since 2005, is retiring April 30. On May 1, Eldred, a member of Assumption in St. Paul, will be succeeded by Anne Cullen Miller, a member of St. Joseph in West St. Paul and currently vice president of finance and investments at CCF.
The Catholic Spirit recently interviewed both women about their work and the work of the foundation. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.
Q: Marilou, during your eight years at CCF, what accomplishments related to the organization are you most proud of?
Eldred: The first thing that came to mind immediately is hiring the staff that we have. I just couldn’t be prouder of the group of people who work here — their competence, their commitment to the mission, their engagement with donors and their willingness to go above and beyond in any way possible for the good of the foundation and our donors.
Very close to that is recruiting the board members that we have. We’ve had a lot of turnover on our board in eight years because board members serve three years and they can be reappointed twice, for a total of nine years. In the eight years that I’ve been here, we’ve had almost a full turnover of the board. We’ve lost some very key people. But I think the people we’ve brought on have brought new perspectives and new ideas for how we can strengthen the foundation — ways that we can engage better with the archdiocese, with the local community, with our parishes, with our donors.
Shortly after I came, we hired a new investment consultant [LCG Associates]. Since that time, we’ve made a lot of improvements in the way we do our investments. Very much related to that, we hired a new investment person who was Anne Miller. So the combination of LCG Associates and the work that Anne has led on the investment side, with a lot of help from the board, has really strengthened the way we look at our investments and the way we select investments. Our performance has been — except for the blip in the market that everyone experienced — really good.
Lastly would be the overall growth of the foundation. When I came to CCF, our asset base was about $130 million. Now, as I’m walking out the door, we’re at $209 million. I feel good about that. It’s not been just me, it’s been a large number of people contributing to that.
Q: Do some people have the impression that CCF is a charity itself rather than a facilitator of charitable giving?
Miller: I think so. We have the ability to do some of our own grant-making but it’s very small in comparison to this enormous transfer of assets or investments people have from their own portfolios, through us and then out into the community.
Eldred: We’re really a conduit to donors. We’re very much a trusted partner with donors, who invest their money with us and then we facilitate their giving. On the endowment side, we’re a trusted partner with institutions, where they invest their endowments with us, knowing those are permanent. So we have a wonderful partnership with the St. Paul Seminary, Catholic Charities, Catholic Cemeteries, Center for Mission, and then many, many parishes and schools. We invest funds for well over half the parishes in the archdiocese and about half the schools, mostly elementary schools.
Q: What is the biggest benefit for a Catholic donor to participate in charitable giving through CCF?
Eldred: Catholics know whatever we do at this foundation will align with their Catholic values. For our donors — individual and families — that is a huge benefit. They could go many other places and invest their money, but they wouldn’t know for sure whether it was going to be invested or given away to organizations that align with Catholic values.
We talk about our personal service. We’re kind of at everyone’s beck and call day and night, and we go out to parishes to do presentations on a frequent basis. And, we’re able to serve a variety of individuals and institutions through the various vehicles that we have — through planned giving, through endowments, through donor-advised funds and many others as well.
Mass set for Cathedral
- What: CCF 20th anniversary celebration Mass
- When: 5:15 p.m., April 17
- Where: Cathedral of St. Paul
- Celebrant: Archbishop John Nienstedt; concelebrants are Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, Bishop Lee Piché, Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines and Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral.
Q: How do people in the pews see the benefits of this kind of giving?
Miller: If you sit in the pews and you care about Catholic education, if you care about educating and providing support for priests, if you care about paying it forward in terms of this Catholic community — of your parish that has served you and probably your family, for example, or of the Center for Mission that serves beyond our domestic borders — CCF can make that happen for you in many different ways regardless of the resources you think you have or don’t have.
Some people think they just don’t have enough money to step up, and I think through some of our portfolio of options, we can show people in fact that they can give, and they can give in a meaningful way.
Q: How does CCF work to ensure its Catholic identity and the Catholic identity of its work?
Eldred: There’s socially responsible investing. It came out of the U.S. bishops’ letter on the topic, so we subscribe to that. But then we have a very specific process that we use to determine that our managers will not invest in funds that are antithetical to Church teaching.
Miller: I think of the Catholic identity question in three ways:
One is the screening that we do. We consider that our brand — that’s the real big differentiator in terms of what CCF can do. You’re not going to get that screened approach to investing at other places.
We work really hard to do that well, not only in the execution but in the education. We’re all called to be accountable to that in this community. Not every parish council, investment committee, or finance committee necessarily understands the requirements and how to execute investing in this way. We can help in the execution, but we can also help in education. We did a big segment on this concept at our investment conference in February. We brought in a speaker because we really want to arm this community to understand what that means, the difference you can make, and the obligation you fulfill by stepping up and making sure you do it well.
No. 2 is that we also do that through our grant-making. We get requests for grants all the time. We have a process by which we investigate the organizations where grant recommendations have been made, and both our staff and grants committee and ultimately our board have a responsibility to ensure that every grant that goes out of here is also in alignment with our values.
The third thing is our organizational culture. It’s also a component of our Catholic identity because that comes out in our customer service in the boards we serve on externally and the other things we do out in the community. It is a part of our culture. Our staff as a team has an enormous respect for, and dedication to, our Catholic faith. You see it in everything we do, every meeting we have.
Q: In what ways does CCF work in collaboration with the local Church under Archbishop John Nienstedt?
Eldred: We say and we mean very seriously that we work in solidarity with the archbishop and the archdiocese. Archbishop Nienstedt [who is ex officio chair of the CCF board] is incredibly supportive of our work. We think of ourselves as a strategic partner with the archdiocese. We’re working harder than ever to learn what the needs are in the archdiocese so that, when we have the opportunity, we can facilitate a donor’s giving toward one of those needs if the donor so chooses.
In the last couple of years, I think we’re doing an even better job than we did earlier at trying to collaborate appropriately with the archdiocese. We’re not an arm of the archdiocese. We do not work for its development department. But we are working together.
Q: What are some of the goals of the new CCF strategic plan that was adopted last fall?
Miller: There’s no fundamental change to CCF or its mission as a result of the plan. Our mission is to financially support the spiritual, educational and social needs of our Catholic community, and we will continue to do that.
Our goals within the plan are about aligning human and economic resources and expanding our reach — with the ultimate measurement of success being our ability to facilitate more and more financial support to our local Catholic community.
Q: So what new plans or initiatives are on the horizon?
Miller: As Marilou said, we view ourselves as a conduit. Our donors have access to us and we have access to a repository of information about this community. So we really want to help leverage that. We also want to reach out to the next generation of donors as they embark on their own personal philanthropy. We really want to get that word out.
Professional outreach is another area. We really want to work to get the CPAs, the lawyers, the investment advisers, etc., aware of this work that we do. There are many that have practices in which they’re approached by their clients saying: This is what I want to do — how do I do it? And we want them to say: Have you heard about the Catholic Community Foundation?
Eldred: Regarding the next generation, about four years ago we started an initiative we called the Next Gen. We set up a committee of Next Gen people — people in their 40s and maybe into their early 50s, the next group of philanthropists to come of age, if you will, in the Catholic community and in society generally.
They’ve been extremely helpful to us to think about how to approach this group of people. We also invite people to a few events every year, like a Next Gen breakfast or Next Gen lunch. We usually have a speaker — in fact, Anne is our featured speaker at an upcoming lunch in Minneapolis. We had the attorney for Mother Teresa speak a year or so ago. Archbishop Flynn has spoken. We’ve had generations of families — the senior generation and then the next generation that has come along in philanthropy — talk to this group of people about how they got started in all of this.
Want to learn more?
Visit the Catholic Community Foundation online.
Q: Anne, what attracted you to the president position?
Miller: I really believe in the mission of this organization. As my role has evolved here, I have discovered I get an enormous amount of energy from this work and the people with whom I have the opportunity to interact with in every facet of the organization.
I was educated in Catholic schools [St. Matthew, St. Paul; Brady High School; University of St. Thomas] from first grade through graduate school. I’ve been an enormous beneficiary of all that is good about growing up Catholic — from my education, to my kids’ education.
I’m enormously grateful for that. I view this work as an opportunity to pay it forward and help create those same opportunities for other people. My life has been materially changed by my experience in the Catholic community, and I hope I can lead this work and perpetuate that for other people. It does change lives, and we will help do that.
Q: Marilou: What are your plans following retirement?
Eldred: I realized a couple of months ago that this year — 2013 — I will have worked 50 consecutive years, with the longest break ever of three weeks. I thought maybe I’ll just take a little time off. . . . The main personal project I want to do is get into an exercise program.
Otherwise, honestly, I don’t really have a specific plan. I’m on the board of St. John’s University. I’m chair of the board of Visitation School, and I’m on the board of St. Paul Seminary. Those are all commitments of varying sorts. I truly believe, whatever I’m meant to do, will turn up and I’ll respond to it. So stay tuned.