Story and Photo by Taylor Nichols
When Whatcom Community College has gaps in state and federal funding, it turns to the Whatcom Community College Foundation.
The Foundation is funded by donors, and pays primarily for programs and scholarships available to students.
The Foundation, a non-profit organization, is contributed to by both businesses such as Puget Sound Energy and individuals such as local business owners or alumni.
“We have a very philanthropic community, and that speaks to individuals and companies,” said Anne Bowen, the executive director of the Foundation.
The Foundation is a separate entity from the college, meaning it has its own budget. Its governing board is composed of volunteer board members such as Village Books and Paper Dreams co-owner Chuck Robinson who oversee the Foundation and help raise money.
Bowen said that most of what the Foundation does for Whatcom supports “student access, success, innovation, or excellence.”
“We exist for the purpose of supporting the college,” Bowen said. “We raise unrestricted dollars that we give to the college for their greatest need.”
The Foundation recently partnered with local developers Dawson Construction, Blossom Management Corporation and Integrated Real Estate Management (IRM Inc.) to build what is soon to be Whatcom’s newest addition to campus, the Health Professions Education Center.
Whidbey Island Bank is financing the estimated $8.5 million project, and the Foundation will lease the building from the developers and sub-lease it to Whatcom. Bowen said the Foundation hopes to buy the building at some point in the future, and Vermillion said the timing on purchasing the building “depends upon fundraising and donor interest.”
One of the main ways the Foundation provides for students is through scholarships. Bowen said funding for student scholarships has been the Foundation’s main function in the past and in recent years has broadened to supporting programs such as the Turning Point Program and more capital projects, and will continue to do so.
In the 2011-2012 school year the Foundation awarded more than $163,000 in scholarships to 145 students. The Foundation contributed a total of $366,411 to the college in 2011-2012.
The Foundation received a record number of scholarship applications for the 2013-2014 school year, with a 25 percent increase from last year.
“We’re an institutionally-related foundation, so anything we’re doing is tied to the visions and the needs of the college,” Bowen said. These needs are not always monetary, and she said that they sometimes help the college with building necessary relationships and ties in the community.
Another service the Foundation provides for the college is funding programs such as the Turning Point Program, which offers classes to help members of the community make life transitions such as changing careers, and foster positive self-esteem.
Bowen said the Foundation began funding this program one year ago because state funding for the program was cut and the Foundation saw it as an important program.
The Foundation contributed $37,600 in the 2011-2012 school year to faculty and staff development, which Bowen said was a “way to make sure faculty and staff have the professional development that they need.”
Much of the Foundation’s funds are donated in the form of endowments. An endowment is an amount of money given with the intent of providing long-term financial support. This money is then invested by the Foundation, and the earnings from these investments are used annually.
Bowen said that the Foundation does not handle these investments. Instead, investment company Edward Jones handles this for the Foundation. The company invests in stocks that will earn at least 5% annually.
Whatcom’s finance director Ken Bronstein estimated that the Foundation has about $3 million invested, with around 70 percent of this money in stocks such as Apple and 30 percent in bonds.
Bronstein said the Foundation doesn’t pick and choose which companies they invest in, and that the money is invested in mutual funds. This means that all of the Foundation’s endowments are invested in “hundreds and hundreds of companies,” and that one mutual fund could include 500 different companies, he said.
“You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket,” Mary Vermillion, the college’s public information officer said.
Bronstein said it is likely that the Foundation has investments in most existing companies, but that. This is left to the broker.
Bowen said the Foundation held its first main fundraiser, the 45th Anniversary Celebration, on May 3. The celebration featured a special edition of the Chuckanut Radio Hour and was held in Heiner Theater.
The event made over $68,000 including a number of multi-year pledges donated by patrons of the event and of the Foundation, and was attended by around 200 people.
“We showcased the college beautifully, and much of that was thanks to faculty,” Bowen said, adding that the Foundation heavily depends on volunteers to help at events like this.
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