Talking History … with Betsy Day
Since its founding in 1986, financial support lent by the Community Foundation of Frederick County has touched the lives of countless local residents. Elizabeth Y. “Betsy” Day, president and CEO of the organization, recounts the origins of the organization and discusses the strategic directions it is taking to respond to the county’s ever-changing needs.
Scott: Who started the creation of the Community Foundation of Frederick County?
Betsy: Don Linton learned of the community foundation movement and recruited Jerry Offutt and Charlie Main to join him in starting one in Frederick County. Their collective leadership and integrity made other leaders agree to serving on the board of this fledgling organization with no assets and no real mission except to create a charitable foundation to benefit all of Frederick County for then and in the future.
Scott: When was this? What prompted their belief that the foundation was needed?
Betsy: The first board meeting was in December 1986 when an anonymous $10,000 gift was announced to pay for the articles of incorporation and bylaws. They then approached local philanthropic-minded citizens to create funds with $25,000 paid over five years to start the Community Foundation’s grantmaking. These donors created the initial momentum.
Scott: How does funding work?
Betsy: Donors create funds with a minimum of $25,000 and determine the purpose of the fund. Most distribute 5 percent of the fund’s annual market value but some spend more.
Scott: How many funds are in place to date, and what is their dollar total at this writing?
Betsy: There are more than 740 funds, totaling about $134 million in assets. The funds support human services, arts, faith-based organizations, scholarships, historic preservation, environmental causes, and a lot more. Anyone can add to a fund at any time.
Scott: Is it known how much money the foundation has distributed since first chartered?
Betsy: This is the best part! Over $71 million has been awarded in grants and scholarships since 1986.
Scott: What attracted you to the position?
Betsy: I was hired in July 1995, when the Community Foundation had 150 funds totaling $5 million. I was excited to build something that would have a strong reach into the community for generations to come.
Scott: Are there years in particular when the foundation experienced significant growth—both in terms of increased funds and philosophical growth as an organization?
Betsy: In 2011, the Community Foundation conducted its first county-wide needs assessment and then used its findings to create strategic funding areas, which began our more proactive approach to creating impact. The second assessment was published at the end of 2018, which gave us a renewed focus on the community’s most pressing needs to be addressed with funding, advocacy, education and collaboration.
Scott: Please describe the recently created Forever Frederick County Campaign.
Betsy: When donors create funds, they designate what charitable causes the fund will benefit. Some donors want their funds to support the most pressing community needs, which shift over time. The Forever Frederick County Campaign can accommodate these charitable intentions so that these funds will always be used for current issues as Frederick County changes and grows.
Scott: What do you consider to be the issues in Frederick County that personally most concern you?
Betsy: I concur with the most recent Human Needs Assessment that supporting families with children, responding to substance use disorder and addressing an aging population are the most pressing needs. I am personally concerned with preventing adverse childhood experiences, providing affordable housing and looking for new ways to address disparities.
Scott: Has COVID-19 adversely affected funding?
Betsy: Generous donors have continued to support the Community Foundation and its funds since the beginning of the pandemic. Many donors gave to our COVID fund for our COVID grantmaking response because they trusted our abilities to vet applications and award impactful grants. While we haven’t experienced a downturn in giving, many other nonprofits have not been as fortunate.
Scott: What do you like most about your job?
Betsy: Every day is like drinking out of a fire hose. I love the busyness of it, but I also like the community reach that I have through our nonprofits, donors, volunteers and trustees. There’s always something new to learn or do.
Betsy Day and her husband, Michael, live in Middletown. For more information on the Community Foundation, including ways to give, visit www.frederickcountygives.org. Scott Grove is a marketing consultant and owner of Grove Public Relations, LLC, an advertising and marketing firm he founded in 1986. A former reporter, Grove is a lifelong student of history and co-owner of iTour, creator of the Frederick Maryland Walking Tour, produced both as a mobile app and a DVD. For more information, visit itourfrederick.com or grovepr.com.