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Give Back to Support Your Hometown

Giving to a community foundation gives donors flexibility on where their financial aid flows and helps them make choices based on their interests.

These days, Bill and Pam Costabile are happily retired to the sunshine of Lehigh Acres, Fla., near Fort Myers. But both still feel strong ties to their old hometown of Flint, Mich., where they lived and worked for more than 40 years—a connection so strong that they've become long-distance philanthropists.

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Bill, age 69, and Pam, 70, are using the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to stay in touch and "pay it forward," Pam says. They support Big Brothers and Big Sisters, as well as youth scholarships through the Zonta Club of Flint, a women's service organization. And they established a legacy fund for a residential treatment center for children recovering from trauma.

Community foundations are public charities that generally focus their grantmaking on a defined geographic area, supporting local nonprofits with donations from individuals, families and businesses. There are more than 780 community foundations in the U.S., managing assets ranging from less than $100,000 to more than $7 billion, according to the Foundation Center, a nonprofit philanthropy resource organization.

Retirees sometimes choose community foundations as the vehicle to give back to their hometowns where they made their wealth or still maintain contacts, says Johnne Syverson, a wealth manager in Des Moines, Iowa, who specializes in charitable planning.

Community foundations know who is doing the "boots on the ground" work locally, and they can advise donors on the most pressing needs, Syverson says. Over the past two decades, community foundations have become more sophisticated and can handle complex gifts, such as privately held stock and real estate, he says.

Foundation donors also have a lot of flexibility on where their financial aid flows, and a foundation will help them make choices based on their interests, says Clint Mabie, president of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona. The Costabiles, for example, met with local foundation staffers to review options from grants to local charities to scholarships. And rather than a straight out grant to a community foundation, you also can create a donor-advised fund, just as you can at big financial firms such as Fidelity or Vanguard.

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