Alexandria in Action: Community foundations 101

Alexandria in Action: Community foundations 101

By John Porter

“I’ve heard good things about ACT for Alexandria, but what do you do?”

This is the most frequently asked question my community foundation colleagues and I confront. While community foundations have been around for more than a century, few truly understand what they do or what services they provide.

I constantly find myself explaining that, while we’re not a direct service provider, we provide extremely valuable services to the amazing nonprofit and governmental organizations and agencies that do provide direct services in our community. Or, as I put it, “We don’t feed hungry people or house the homeless, but we help the organizations that do to be able to do it better.” That sounds plausible, but still leaves much to be understood.

I hope the following frequently asked questions — and answers — provide a better understanding of community foundations and particularly ACT for Alexandria.

What does ACT do?

As a community foundation, ACT works to improve our community in a number of ways. We convene residents around issues of importance, work with nonprofits and city agencies to collaborate in areas of mutual interest and connect donors with causes about which they are passionate.

ACT provides community-minded and philanthropically inclined residents with a number of ways to better focus their contributions in the community — in ways that have a broader impact on those in need and the larger community.

How does ACT do this?

There are a number of examples where ACT has served the community in a collaborator role, from helping to found the Center for Alexandria’s Children to better coordinating child-abuse prevention and response services, to our present convening role on the issue of early child care and education.

ACT also provides interested community members with the opportunity to establish donor advised funds — charitable funds that operate much like a bank account but with money going to nonprofits, churches, synagogues and schools instead of to pay bills.

Lastly, ACT works with local nonprofits to help them better do what they do. We annually provide capacity improvement grants, hosts the IMPACT Forum, partners on various workshops and leadership development opportunities and coordinate Spring2ACTion, which raised more than $1.3 million this year for participating nonprofits.

Why ACT? Can’t I just give directly?

You certainly can. We promote giving to help those in need in Alexandria and beyond and provide a number of ways to assist with this. When coupled with the expertise of our staff and board, ensures donations are properly considered, strategic and have the desired impact.

Directing donations through a fund with ACT helps both the charity you care about and the larger community. And using a fund to target your donations more strategically generally results in a larger impact.

What are some examples of funds and what charities they support?

ACT hosts more than 80 charitable funds. Many are individual or family donor advised funds, from which the originator can give to whatever charitable causes they wish. While ACT encourages supporting local nonprofits, holders of donor advised funds also can give nationally and internationally. From ALIVE! And the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to SCAN and Saint Jude’s — all benefit from grants from ACT donor advised funds.

Other funds have been established for specific causes. The Lucas Tomaiolo Reinke LPIN1 Awareness Fund was established in memory of Tomaiolo, who died from a rare genetic disease. His parents wanted to increase awareness of LPIN1 so that others will not have to experience what he did. And the Chiari Campaign Fund was established for much the same reason — to address the many issues arising for people who suffer with this neurological disorder.

Recently, the Light It Up! Fund was established to receive donations for lights to be installed on the basketball courts in Potomac Yard. This effort is part of a public-private partnership with the city to fund the costs of lighting the courts.

How do I learn more?

That’s easy. Contact me at or 703-739-7778. I’d be happy to assist.

The writer is the president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.