by Job Conger

A part of the Springfield community since before Lindbergh flew to Paris, the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln is riding a wave of unprecedented, higher profile growth under its new management and name.

In 1924, the Sangamon County Foundation, a charitable trust, was created by a combination of the original Marine Bank, Springfield’s First State Trust & Savings Bank and Ridgely-Farmers State Bank. “It was a very quiet, under-the-radar organization,” said President and CEO John Stremsterfer. “In the ‘70s it distributed maybe $3,000 or $4,000 to half a dozen charities.” In the ‘90s a few large bequests brought the asset levels up significantly. “In 2002 the board converted the title from a private foundation to a public charity and in 2003 we opened our first office and I was hired as the first employee,” Stremsterfer continued. “In 2011 we changed the name, we believe, for the last time.”

Soon after, the organization “expanded its footprint” to communities adjacent to Sangamon County (excepting Macon County) that did not have similar foundations. “We talked to professional advisors in the legal and financial areas. I think I talked to every Rotary and Kiwanis club from Taylorville to Petersburg. We didn’t want to over-promise and under-deliver. We have only a four-person staff here. Our most recent fund was created for the New Salem Lincoln League in Menard County that supports the New Salem sites. Many of our funds serve organizations who do special events but don’t want to be concerned with administrative details.”

“When I was hired in 2003, we had one charitable fund and under a million dollars in total assets, and today we have about 140 separate funds that we administer and total asset levels are approaching $21 million. We have unrestricted funds, where we can grant out money for anything approved by the board.” Other services include “field of interest” funds such as historic preservation funds. Most recently they helped the Springfield Art Association restore a room at the Edwards Place. Other donors may establish funds for specific charitable organizations.

“Most of our assets are either permanently endowed where the earnings from the funds go up or they have a long-term goal. Not all of our funds are completely endowed. But if you want to put a thousand dollars in and have a thousand dollars go out, this is not the way to go. You can just write a check to the charity.” For those looking for a long-term, more organized approach to charitable giving, a community foundation can be a good option. “We work with a lot of living charitable givers who might put in $10,000 to give away $2,000 the first year, and periodically contribute more to the fund and over time increase the annual gift,” Stremsterfer explained.

The advantage of the community foundation is that the research and administrative work is done by the foundation, rather than the donor, for a portion of the earnings generated by the endowment. “Our scholarship fund requires the greatest commitment of time,” according to Stremsterfer. “We work with the application process, engage counselors and students and the donor just gets to do the fun part. We make it easier to give. That’s the intent of the community foundation.”

Recent reports suggest charitable giving from middle-income families has increased while giving from higher income sectors has not kept pace with the past. “We necessarily deal with larger gifts,” said Stremsterfer. “When we’re asked to start a fund, we’re looking at $5,000 to $10,000 to set it up. That’s achievable for the greater part of middle America.”

Religion continues to constitute the largest slice of the pie for charitable giving for lower and middle incomes. The second most popular is education, with many donating to alma maters. “I’ve always felt that our (foundation’s) fate is more tied to the stock market, rather than the job market,” said Stremsterfer. “Our clients usually come to us with some form of accumulated wealth, recently inherited or from people who have done well. About half of our funds are donor- advised funds. It’s like having your own foundation without going to the trouble of establishing a foundation. The donor gives money to a community foundation and they take their tax deduction as they would if they had given to a church or alma mater. Then they can distribute it as they like.”

Donor-advised funds require a living donor and after their death, family members can be engaged as living donors or it can convert to a field of interest fund or a scholarship if the family does not want to be involved with the grant making.

“We stay in contact with area charities to understand where the needs are and regularly report to fund sponsors about the status and progress of their giving,” Strensterfer said.

Endowed funds remain a part of the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln in perpetuity, maintaining the financial foundation of the assets base. “That’s the heart and soul of our business. It builds a permanent resource for our community” Stremsterfer said. “People ask what the difference is between a community foundation like ours and the United Way. United Way raises the money and gives it away almost at the same time, annually. Here it’s permanent. The other difference is United Way focuses on social service agencies where we can serve anyone: arts organizations, museums, you name it. We work closely with United Way and donors to ensure maximum donor satisfaction.”

Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln is located at 205 South Fifth Street, Suite 930, Springfield, IL 62701 Website:

Job Conger can be reached at 544-6122 or