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The first Community Foundation

Today, a tip of the hat to Cleveland, Ohio! The very first community foundation was established in Cleveland in 1914 by a lawyer and banker named Frederick Goff. Goff was frustrated by the many endowed charitable trusts he had encountered that were encumbered with restrictions – what he called ‘the dead hand of the past’ – and were now obsolete, with no way to redirect the funds except through long, expensive and usually unsuccessful legal action. For instance, one trust had endowed an orphanage for girls whose railroad worker fathers died on the job. This made sense in the 19th century when railroad work was dangerous but by the 20th century, it was outdated and useless.

Goff’s solution was the Cleveland Foundation into which could be pooled the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single great and permanent endowment for the “mental, moral and physical improvement of the inhabitants of Cleveland.”

“How fine it would be,” wrote Goff, “if a man about to make a will could go to a permanently enduring organization and say 'Here is a large sum of money. I want to leave it to be used for the good of the community, but I have no way of knowing what will be the greatest need of the community 50 years from now . . . The charitable problems of each generation can better be solved by the best minds of these generations than by the dead hand of the past.”

Today, the Cleveland Foundation has assets of over $3 billion.

Photo of the Fort Atkinson Railroad Depot courtesy of Vern Zech

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