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Morning Call Newsmaker Q&A: Bernard Story, Community Foundation CEO

Bernie Story, President and CEO, Lehigh Valley Community FoundationBernard "Bernie" Story is CEO of the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, which has distributed more than $30 million to more than 600 nonprofits since 1967. As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the collection is funding six rounds of special grants this year to address mental health and five other important issues. The first round was announced last month. Story is the subject of this week's Q&A.

Q: How did you end up at the Community Foundation?

A: Originally, I was planning to be a high school English teacher and soccer coach after my studies at Moravian College. There weren't very many teaching jobs in the Lehigh Valley at the time and I was fortunate to be recruited to join the admissions staff at Moravian. That turned out to be a 32-year career, most of them as dean of admissions and financial aid. After three decades, it was time for a change but I still had a lot of fuel in my tank. I wanted to stay involved in the community and I heard about the search for a CEO at the Community Foundation. I put my hat in the ring and I was very fortunate to be selected. It's been five years, and I've loved every minute of it!

Q: The foundation disburses millions of dollars annually. Where does it get the money?

A: Community Foundation is a collection of charitable funds, which are really individual charitable stories. Individuals, families and even corporations and coalitions establish charitable funds as a way to provide financial support to the causes that matter to them. All of these charitable funds provide grants to the community. To give you some numbers, in the last fiscal year we granted $3.5 million. About 80 percent of these dollars stayed here in the Lehigh Valley, with the remaining 20 percent directed across the United States. Depending on the purpose for which the fund was established, the grants are made either at the discretion of the foundation, to where we see pockets of need in the community, or at the request of the donor, living or deceased.

In the last five years we've seen a nearly 40 percent growth in the number of charitable funds established at the Community Foundation, and we now administer over 220 individual funds which is so outstanding for the Lehigh Valley.

Q: What's your pitch to potential donors?

A: First, a community foundation is not a place to give, but rather a way to give. The pitch is that we provide a simple, powerful and highly personalized approach to giving to charitable organizations. So we connect with estate planning attorneys, financial advisers and tax accountants who need to know how easy and beneficial it is for their clients to establish a charitable fund at the Community Foundation and how informative our staff and board can be about where to give and how to give.

Almost 90 percent of Americans cannot name all of their great-grandparents. Names are forgotten, but we have found that a name can live on and be remembered through perpetual charitable giving. Locally, think about General Harry Trexler. His foundation in his name has supported Lehigh County for decades. Likewise, we have many examples of people who have done something similar at the community foundation, but through the use of a charitable fund vehicle, which for many families is often a more efficient use of resources.

Q: How would you characterize the state of philanthropy in the region? Do we have enough to go around?

A: There is never enough. The needs are great. Food and housing access, quality of early learning opportunities, expansion of economic development and job growth, addictions, sustainability, the changing demographics of patrons of the arts. … The list goes on and on. These are the focus of philanthropy, and so there is never enough. But the Lehigh Valley is comprised of very generous, caring people, who strive to improve the quality of life. The foundation works hard to direct charitable dollars to organizations and programs that can make the most impact.

— Sam Kennedy

Copyright © 2017, Lehigh Valley Business Cycle
 

Sam Kennedy
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The Morning Call