Corinne Isaak calls the Columbia Basin Foundation (CBF), variously, an umbrella, a vehicle, a conduit and a gathering place for charitable generosity, but those descriptions just scratch the surface in describing an organization that manages more than $14 million in charitable assets and distributed more than $1 million across 10 Eastern Washington counties last year.
“(The Columbia Basin Foundation) is a way for people to create a legacy and make sure the organizations they love and benefited from go on. It’s very much about legacy and generosity,” she said. “It’s for people who are interested in estate planning, and people who want to give charitably to the community in which they have lived, worked and played and have true roots in. They come to us, and we help them execute their charitable plans.”
The CBF, which is based in Ephrata, Wash., is a 501(c)(3) public charity, established in 1996 as a way to make it easy for people to donate money to their communities. The foundation sets up, manages and distributes money from funds and endowments on behalf of the donors. The foundation serves rural communities in Adams, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln, Okanogan, Stevens and Whitman counties. Isaak, who has lived in Coulee City, Wash., for 30 years, is executive director of the CBF, a position she’s held since 2020, although she’s been involved in the organization since 2004 as both a board member and the communications director.
Community foundations are important in both urban and rural settings, but Isaak said rural communities often don’t have as many resources to draw on as urban communities do. The money that the CBF distributes can often act as a stimulus package in small communities, and the scholarships that the organization gives out each year—almost 60 of them—can make a big difference to a student.
One of the biggest challenges facing the CBF is reaching and educating people on how the community foundation concept works. In general, an individual will include the CBF as a beneficiary in their will. They’ll meet with Isaak, who will help them decide what kind of fund(s) to set up, how much to fund them and how the money will be distributed. Only a portion of the interest is used each year, leaving the rest to grow the balance. Isaak said one donor left the CBF her estate and specified 23 different entities she wanted to benefit from it.
“Our job was to take her wishes and execute them in perpetuity,” Isaak said. “We can show donors how much their initial investment will give, and how it will grow. We take the charitable gift they give, we invest it, and the return becomes the distribution, and it continues to grow and give and grow and give.”
Besides scholarships, the CBF manages different kinds of funds, including:
- Agency endowment funds benefiting entities such as the Columbia Basin Allied Arts, the Ephrata Senior Center and the McKay Foundation.
- Building/Special Project Funds that address specific community needs, such as rebuilding the Almira School or improving a park.
- Designated/Donor-advised funds that benefit one or more specific organizations as determined by the donor.
- Field of interest funds, which support a general charitable interest, such as the arts, health, etc.
It’s not just individuals that work through the CBF. Businesses also use the organization to manage some of their charitable giving, such as Microsoft and the Grant County PUD.
While most donors’ gifts happen after they’ve died, Isaak suggests people consider establishing a fund during their lifetime, so they understand how it works, have a hand in selecting the recipient (for scholarships) and be able to see the recipients and the benefits of their contribution. One common way to do that is through a qualified charitable distribution, which uses a person’s minimum IRA distribution instead of requiring that the distribution be reported as income.
In the last few years, the foundation has hired a grant writer to help increase the amount of grant monies available to communities and to help other nonprofit entities apply for grants. The foundation also recently invested in a comprehensive software system built specifically for community foundations. Isaak said they can quickly and easily produce a statement for a donor that shows all contributions, distributions and how the fund is doing.
Some funds managed by the CBF are unrestricted, meaning they aren’t designated for a specific goal. Instead, the foundation’s board of directors decides where the needs are. The board of directors is made up of nine to 15 local professionals who serve three-year terms.
The CBF hasn’t forgotten its communities’ roots. A few years ago, it started an endowment that will benefit students who are going into agriculture. The goal is to grow the endowment to $1 million, which will enable it to have between $35,000 and $50,000 every year to distribute.
“I want people to know that we are a rural, charitable resource,” Isaak said. “When they want to start their estate planning and need an expert to walk them through the process of how to get to that end goal, we are just a phone call away. We will meet with them personally. We understand rural living and will make suggestions. We will make sure their hard-earned money is invested and will grow even after they’ve passed.”
For more information about the CBF, visit columbiabasinfoundation.org.
Side 1: Connell scholarship honors daughter
Greg and Julie Hart from Connell, Wash., have used the Columbia Basin Foundation (CBF) to continue to honor their daughter, Emily, who passed away more than 20 years ago while she was in high school. The Harts established a scholarship, the Emily Hart Fine Art Scholarship, to help encourage student involvement in the arts. Hart said he and his wife originally set up the scholarship and administered it themselves before handing it off to the foundation to administer. He said he’s been more than satisfied with how the foundation has handled the scholarship.
“Most people involved (in the CBF) come from small communities like ours, so they have a good understanding of the students who are applying for the scholarship. They know where the kids are coming from,” he said.
One of the things that has really impressed Hart is the fact that a CBF representative has come to the high school to make a presentation in person when the scholarship opportunity is available.
“I think it is important that the kids there see it and know it’s not just some nameless money that showed up,” he explained. “The scholarship is meant to go to students that share a lot of the same interests and values that Emily did in high school. We directed it that way in hopes that kids could stay involved in the arts in high school.”
Side 2: PUD funnels charitable giving through CBF
Besides individuals, the Columbia Basin Foundation (CBF) also partners with businesses, like the Grant County Public Utility District (PUD), to give back and support rural communities.
Annette Lovitt, the Grant County PUD community engagement public affairs officer, takes money returned to the PUD, usually in the form of energy conservation rebates, and partners up with different groups to give the money back to the community. Through the CBF, the PUD has helped buy computers for school children and supported a community garden that supplied food to food banks during the pandemic. She said partnering with the CBF has allowed the PUD to do more in the community.
“Having a community foundation is just so critical to meeting those needs that otherwise would go unmet,” she said. “Corrine is great to work with. She thinks outside the box, and it’s rarely a no, it’s a ‘how do we make this happen.’ She has done great things in our community through grants, scholarships and just really representing the entire area. It’s a great partnership.”
Lovitt believes community foundations are important, especially in rural areas, explaining that they often serve as a central place for people who want to give, but have questions, and for entities that need help finding grants.
“I think the whole partnership that the Grant County PUD has with the Columbia Basin Foundation allows us to do more and be more in our communities. That’s really what we are about, helping out our communities,” she said.