Christian foundation sees donations soar

June 25, 2011

A local Christian foundation is pulling in donations at such a rapid clip that it could double in size this year.

“It’s like planting seeds. We’re harvesting a lot based on what we’ve done in the past,” said Jim Cotterill, president of the National Christian Foundation Indiana.

cotteril Jim Cotterill launched the organization as a way to express his deepening faith.

The foundation has taken in about $38 million and set up more than 150 donor-advised funds since its founding in 2007, and Cotterill thinks the total could reach $65 million or $70 million this year.

The foundation has granted about $18 million so far and has a fund balance of $20.5 million. Its top three grant recipients are international charities: Sports Outreach, Mission to Ukraine and Nehemiah Vision Ministries.

The foundation also supports local churches, with the top recipients being College Park Church, Grace Community and St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church.

The Indiana group began as Hoosier Christian Foundation, but in April was renamed in a rebranding of the Atlanta-based National Christian Foundation’s 24 affiliates.

The national foundation also consolidated some territories, which means Cotterill’s Indianapolis office now oversees recruitment of donors in Lafayette and Fort Wayne. Cotterill said he might later add a representative in the Columbus-Bloomington area.

Cotterill attributes the foundation’s growth in part to the ability to tap a team of experts in Atlanta on complicated transactions, such as transferring shares of a closely held business. The National Christian Foundation has made a specialty out of those complicated transactions, and it says that $500 million collected over the last five years was in non-liquid assets.

The tax advantages of transferring assets to charity before a sale of a business are significant, and the national foundation promotes that as a way to give more.

Cotterill expects much of the local foundation’s growth to come from the transfer of hard assets, and he’s already connected with a big donor. Dave Garrison used a portion of his family-owned business, Remco Products Corp. in Zionsville, to set up a donor-advised fund worth about $2 million.

Remco sells plastic hand tools such as shovels and scoops to food processors and other industries, and it has seen annual revenue increase from less than $1 million in the 1980s to $10 million today.

Setting up the donation was complicated, but Garrison said he trusted his financial adviser, Matt Burke, a friend and fellow member of Castleview Baptist Church, who introduced him to Cotterill and the National Christian Foundation.

The shares—one-third of Garrison’s half of the business—first flow into a trust. Then, as shares are liquidated, the money goes into the donor-advised fund, as do any dividends. Garrison’s fund will get a second round of cash when his younger brother buys him out of the business.

Garrison, 56, originally planned to make a large donation when he retired. But with the donor-advised fund, he said, his adult children can take part in grant-making, and he’s reaching his lifetime giving goals sooner.

“It’s been a more fun process knowing we’re giving more because of this,” Garrison said.

The foundation’s rapid rise in Indiana is also the product of networking among evangelical Christian financial advisers and attorneys, Cotterill said.

“The reason we were formed in the first place—people were seeking like-minded people to work with. It’s a lot more enjoyable to work with somebody who shares the same values you do.”

The National Christian Foundation doesn’t approve grants to charities that support abortion or homosexuality. The values its donors are seeking also have to do with the Bible-based, intensely personal nature of their faith.

“That carries over, often, to passion in their particular giving,” said Bill Enright, executive director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Center on Philanthropy. Evangelical Christians focus more on missionary work, and they are more likely to give only to agencies that share their particular religious views, he said.

Non-denominational Protestants, a group where most would identify themselves as evangelical, give on average 3.7 percent of their income to their churches and charity. That level of giving trails only Mormons and Pentecostals, a long-term Center on Philanthropy survey shows.

“The fact of the matter is, evangelicals are very generous,” Enright said.

Garrison fits that profile. He set a lifetime giving goal of $7 million, and he thinks he’ll hit it through the donor-advised fund. His family supports a variety of local and international ministries with an emphasis on kids and education, but he’s most passionate about a Christian school in Hebron.

The students are Muslim, but the school, which was established in 1954, has a reputation in the Palestinian community for quality education and compassionate teachers.

“You just don’t get that kind of treatment at the government schools,” Garrison said.

When he retires next year, Garrison and his wife, Lois, will spend a lot of their time serving as the school’s U.S.-based administrators.

Donors from all types of religious backgrounds give to foundations that share their affinity, so it’s not surprising that the National Christian Foundation would do well with its target audience here, said Rob MacPherson, vice president of development at the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

CICF also has a Christian fund, the Barnabas Fund, which has granted more than $572,000 since 2000 to local urban ministries, such as Shepherd Community.

MacPherson was impressed by the Christian foundation track record, racking up $35 million in four years.

“Especially these last four years, I think that’s really great,” he said.

A group of 21 Indianapolis-area businessmen donated the startup money for the Christian foundation and hired Cotterill, 61, to run it. Cotterill, who was the second publisher of IBJ, had been looking for a way to express his deepening faith.

“It’s not about our balance sheet,” he said.

The foundation has no plans to set up an endowment, Cotterill said, because the emphasis is on giving as much as possible. Donors decide how much and how quickly to give away their money, and that’s often as soon as it comes in the door, he said.

That’s not to say Cotterill isn’t thinking big for Indiana, which is 10th-largest of the National Christian Foundation’s 24 affiliates. One of the largest affiliates, based in Kansas City, took in $100 million last year, he said.

“There isn’t any reason we shouldn’t be at that level here,” he said.•


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