Firsts – the Cleveland Foundation

The Cleveland Foundation was the World’s First Community Foundation

Banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff was a “mover and shaker” in Cleveland long before that phrase became part of the American lexicon. Goff was already an elite professional and the former mayor of what had been the city of Glenville when he hatched the idea of a “community trust.”

His vision was to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single, great, and permanent endowment for the betterment of the city. Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust’s resources would accrue to fund “such charitable purposes as will best make for the mental, moral, and physical improvement of the inhabitants of Cleveland.”

From that revolutionary idea, the Cleveland Foundation was born on Jan. 2, 1914. Within weeks, the foundation began reshaping the way community members care for one another not just in Greater Cleveland, but around the nation and the world.

By the end of that decade, a series of sweeping, reform-minded studies the foundation launched were bearing fruit. One laid the groundwork for the creation of the Emerald Necklace of the Cleveland Metroparks. Another shook up a corrupt and “Dickensian” justice system. Another spearheaded sweeping public school reforms and gave support to the radical notion that girls were worthy of equal education.

The foundation had also spawned a global movement. Within five years, community foundations had sprung up in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Buffalo, N.Y.

Now, more than 750 community foundations in the United States collectively manage more than $48 billion in assets and distribute some $4.3 billion a year to community needs. Moreover, the idea has emigrated: Some 1,700 community foundations now exist worldwide.

Here at home, Goff’s dream has grown into a $1.8 billion civic-progress fund – an engine of collective betterment, collaborative partnerships, and courageous leadership. The foundation has evolved from an institution funded by the wealthy to one endowed by people of all income levels. It serves the region, not just the city. And it has firmly reinforced its commitment to serve as an active and visionary community agenda-setter, not a mere grantmaker.

Along the way, the Cleveland Foundation has bestowed more than $1 billion in grants. The grants, and the expertise of the foundation’s professional staff and partners, have touched millions of lives. Those resources have invigorated our region’s health care, arts and culture communities, neighborhoods, schools, economic development programs, and more.

And it is only a start. (From the Cleveland Foundation website)