The recent deaths of high-profile givers Don Ball of Ball Homes and Pearse Lyons of Alltech have left many people wondering who will take their places in the next generation of Lexington philanthropists.
It is a concern. The trend of business consolidation has left Lexington, like most cities, with few locally owned banks and even fewer corporate headquarters, and therefore fewer people with strong local ties who control the money.
But Lisa Adkins, president of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, isn’t worried. She said the 51-year-old non-profit that helps facilitate local charitable giving has seen significant growth recently in both dollars and donors.
The BGCF now manages $125 million in assets, about $71 million of which are in endowed funds that will donate earnings in perpetuity. Local people have earmarked nearly $20 million in “legacy” gifts, money that will go to non-profits or endowments after their deaths.
Last year, about $29 million was donated to BGCF funds and more than $9 million in grants were awarded. The BGCF includes 10 local charitable funds for Lexington and surrounding counties, with advisory boards made up of residents of those areas.
Many big givers are not well-known names, Adkins said. One example is the E.E. Murry Family Foundation, which Thursday announced a $1 million donation to help build a 10-acre Town Branch Park.
The foundation was started in Pennsylvania in 1974 by the grandfather of a man who moved to Lexington in 2011. Wes Murry is a founding partner of Castle & Key Distillery near Frankfort. His wife, Anne, is a dentist. They have two small children.
“We seek out unique opportunities that have the stated purpose of permanently altering the trajectory of a need or cause,” Wes Murry said in a news release. “When presented with the opportunity to be involved with Town Branch Park, my family and I viewed it as a no-brainer.”
The BGCF hopes others will feel the same way. It is coordinating a $31 million campaign to raise private money to build and endow the park on city land beside Rupp Arena. The park will connect with the already-funded Town Branch Commons and Town Branch Trail projects. The campaign has raised $6 million in seed donations so far and will soon go public.
Murry’s comment touches on a theory I have heard discussed for years. It goes like this: Lexington has a lot of wealth, including horse people who live here only part of each year. They haven’t invested more in the community because there haven’t been many projects ambitious enough to captured their imagination.
Town Branch Park will test that theory. “I do think there are dollars that have never been tapped into,” Adkins said. “When big gifts come forward, mid-size and small gifts follow.”
Adkins said much of the growth in local giving is coming in mid-size and small amounts. For example, the Good Giving Challenge, now in its seventh year, last year raised more than $1.6 million for local non-profits, mostly in small contributions.
A California firm’s survey two years ago ranked Lexington as the nation’s second-most generous city for charitable giving. Much of that goes to churches. “We’re trying to say let that be the beginning of your giving,” Adkins said. “There’s so much in the community.”
The BGCF offers free advice to donors of all sizes in setting family funds, legacy funds and other vehicles for charitable giving. It expects to be especially busy this year, because the new federal tax law makes those funds more attractive for many families. Kentucky also has tax credits for endowment donors.
“We’re happy to work with high-net donors, but we’re really put the emphasis on community,” Adkins said.
One program, in its second year, is called BGCF 365. It is aimed at people in their 20s and 30s, sign up for charitable giving of as little as a dollar a day.
One thing that makes Adkins think Lexington has more potential for philanthropy is the love so many residents have for the community. There is a lot of enthusiasm for continuing to improve Lexington’s quality of life, and much of that work will need to be funded by private philanthropy.
“There is nothing but potential,” she said. “We want to make Lexington a place where everyone gives something, whether it’s money or time.”