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FERNDALE – Affirmations Community Center has received a bequest of almost $800,000 from an anonymous donor who passed away in late 2013, BTL has learned. This is the largest unrestricted gift to the LGBT community center’s general operations in its 25-year history.
In January, the center received the first installment for $226,094.57 from the trustee. The remaining $571,464.35 will be disbursed to the center as assets in the trust are liquidated. The value of the gift was recognized as 2013 income on Affirmations financial statements and totaled $797,558.92.
Sources have told BTL that the first installment could be used to pay the remaining balance due on the building’s mortgage, which was $119,228.02 at the end of 2013. That would leave the center mortgage free.
“I think it is exciting and great that we are fortunate enough for someone to leave us such a substantial gift,” said Jon Fitzgerald, interim executive director of the center. “It will allow us to focus on strategic objectives, and of course for us to begin thinking of the organization’s long term sustainability.”
“That’s fantastic!” said former board president Nancy Katz upon hearing of the gift from BTL’s reporter. “That kind of infusion can make all the difference for a small non-profit like Affirmations. Just think what they can do with that money; they can expand programs, get more staff, pay off any debts and still have money they can put aside into an endowment.”
Katz was the co-chair of a $5.3 million capital campaign that funded construction of the new center, completed in 2007. That special campaign received several large donations from individuals, including a $1 million gift from Allan Gilmour and Eric Jirgens, and Katz and her partner Margo Dichtelmiller donated over $500,000.
Katz now serves on the center’s executive director search committee. Dave Garcia, the former executive director, left at the end of January to take a position at the Los Angeles LGBT Community Center.
“I’m on the search committee for a new executive director, and this is exciting because the organization’s financial stability should make it a much more attractive job. Whoever comes in won’t have to hit the ground running to raise money for the immediate operating budget,” said Katz.
Affirmations was first notified of this new anonymous bequest in November 2013 by the trustee. Fitzgerald said the board decided to delay the formal announcement so they could fully review all the documents. “We absolutely want to make sure we are being responsible with that kind of a gift, so we wanted to take the time to fully review everything before announcing it, ” Fitzgerald said.
“The board is completing its due diligence and has engaged legal advice to evaluate any risk of contest of the trust or will,” said Affirmations Board President Mark Blanke via email. “For me intent is extremely vital to having the trust of the community for future donations and we are being prudent in making sure any intent is fully honored if the donor had intent.”
“Of course any large gift to an organization as small as Affirmations can have significant impact and provide significant opportunity for programming and continued execution of the strategic plan,” said Blanke.
Katz put the gift in context for planned giving as an important tool for community organizations.
“I think we will be seeing more gifts like this as our community ages out. We generally don’t have family and children to leave money to, so it only makes sense we would leave it to LGBT organizations or other charities.
Margo and I have a trust and have made accommodations for charities we care about. They might change as time goes on, but the principle is the same – to leave money after we’re gone to charity. It’s a big part of our estate planning we’ve done,” said Katz.
“Affirmations has received other bequests, although none this large, and a couple of times they have come from people that none of us on the board even knew. It came out of the blue. It speaks to how deeply Affirmations touches people, even if we don’t always realize it at the time,” said Katz.
“I think right now that Affirmations is stable enough in terms of its leadership, outreach and operations to make the optimal use of this money. It comes at a time when the center is moving in new and very positive directions,” said Charles Alexander, an early board member and volunteer curator of the Pittman Puckett Gallery.
This is the second large bequest to Affirmations within the last few years. When Lester London died in 2011 he left a $250,000 gift to the center.
“We had talked at Affirmations about getting a planned giving program going, and it always seemed to get pushed back under the pressure to raise money right away for the operating budget. Maybe now that some of the pressure is relieved with this gift the board will be able to take a step back and put together a planned giving program that can secure Affirmations’ future,” said Katz.