Estates, charitable giving could buoy community hopes

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Sue Conley
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Last week I attended the Rural Philanthropy Conference, sponsored by the Council on Foundations, in Kansas City, Mo. Attendees numbered 180 from across the United States, all gathered to learn about the latest efforts to boost rural communities.

At the opening plenary session, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Dr. Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, brought us up to date with 2010 Census data on rural America. Sixteen percent of Americans live in rural communities, and their demographics are changing.

For example, did you know that 2009 data show that 58.2 percent of those who work in Janesville live elsewhere? And that 53.6 percent of Janesville workers are employed outside of Janesville? The data can be sliced many ways, and I encourage you to take a look. Visit the website lehdmap.did.census.gov for tools that analyze locations.

I attended several sessions on economic development and was pleased to learn that Rock County and Janesville are in the know and heading down paths that are new and innovative. According to Brian Dabson, vice president and chief operating officer of the Rural Policy Research Institute, the old method of economic development was recruitment first, retention second and entrepreneurship last. In order to create growing economies today, entrepreneurship development must be the highest priority. Rock County 5.0’s Accelerate Contest and the Janesville Innovation Center are two examples of encouraging entrepreneurship that is critical to growing our 21st-century economy.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture, was the closing plenary keynote speaker. While 16 percent of Americans live in rural communities, 44 percent of our military come from those rural communities. Secretary Vilsack believes that is because rural Americans learn the importance of giving back through farming. We cannot continually take from the land; we must replenish it to ensure its future. This give-back value system permeates rural communities, and the results are seen in areas as diverse as military service and philanthropy.

Is Janesville considered rural? No, but many of the communities surrounding Janesville are rural. Many of Janesville’s workers come from rural communities. During this era of budget cuts and government gridlock, rural communities face significant financial challenges.

Yet studies show that rural communities have tremendous wealth. It is estimated that by 2050, $17.05 billion will transfer from one generation to the next in Rock County. If we could capture just 5 percent of that transfer of wealth to create endowment funds for our communities, both rural and urban, we would have $850 million for community betterment forever. Imagine what we could do with annual grants of $38 million. What would Rock County look like with a perpetual resource of this amount annually and forever?

Consider adding your community to your estate planning and charitable giving. Visit the PLAN section of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin website at cfsw.org to learn more.

Sue Conley is executive director of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, matching personal philanthropy with community need. Address is 26 S. Jackson St., Janesville, WI 53548; phone (608) 758-0883 or 1-800-995-2379; website cfsw.org.

Last updated: 6:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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