By: Bernadette Starzee June 8, 2016

Each year, donors give about $2 million to the Long Island Community Foundation to dole out to local nonprofit organizations. Through a competitive grant-making process, the Melville-based organization directs the funds exclusively to nonprofits on Long Island, supporting general causes as requested by the donors while providing a variety of services to the philanthropists to make charitable giving easy.

“It’s really about donor intent: What is the donor interested in; what are they trying to achieve?” said David Okorn, executive director of LICF. “We’ll try to help them work through what’s the best vehicle for them. They don’t have time to do this; they want to give to a cause, but they’re busy with their company or job or family. They say, ‘You have the professionals there; I’ll give you the money; here’s the issue or cause I care about. Come back to me and let me know how the dollars were used.’”

In addition to the competitive grants program, LICF has a donor-advised funds program, for those philanthropists who want more control over which organizations get their dollars. In any given year, LICF manages anywhere from $4 million to $10 million in this program, providing a variety of research and administrative services to the donors.

“The donors may give to their alma maters or other causes depending on their interests – they’re all over the place,” said Okorn, noting that a little over half of the donor-advised funds are invested locally. “They want control over which organizations receive their donations, but they want some of our support, whether vetting the organizations or telling them who’s doing really good work in a category, such as battling the heroin crisis. If we don’t know, we’ll go out and research it and educate them before they make their grant decision.”

When donors set up a fund at LICF, “they don’t have to do a 990 tax filing,” Okorn said. “We take care of that.” Donors also save other costs associated with setting up a private foundation.

For its services, LICF charges 50 basis points – 0.5 percent of the market value of the fund that is set up – or 2.5 percent of the grants made, whichever is greater.

“Say someone had a $100,000 fund with us. With the 50 basis points fee, it would be $500 per year,” Okorn said. As a division of New York Community Trust, which has $2.5 billion in funds under management, LICF is able to keep its fees low through economies of scale, he added.

In the organization’s competitive grants program, water quality is currently a hot issue among donors.

“We’re making a lot of grants for organizations concerned with clean water – not just our surface waters, but also our ground waters, where a lot of contaminants are showing up,” Okorn said.

Hunger continues to be a popular cause, particularly as the growth rate of poverty in the suburbs outpaces that of cities.

“About one-tenth of Long Island’s population suffers from food insecurity,” said Okorn, whose organization is not only writing grants to charities that directly provide food – such as food pantries – but other programs, such as those that increase access to SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) benefits. “Some organizations work to get people enrolled in the federal program,” Okorn said. “We’ve seen a lot more people in need, who are unemployed or underemployed and struggling with the high cost of living here.”

Affordable housing for youth and seniors continues to be a hot-button issue in the region.

“We’re putting a lot of time and effort into funding not only those organizations on the front lines of providing affordable housing, like Long Island Housing Partnership and Community Development Corp. of Long Island, but we funded an initiative to gather comprehensive housing data from Long Island’s fragmented towns and hamlets, which has been transitioned over to the St. Joseph’s College Institute for Attainable Homes,” Okorn said. “Previously that data was in separate silos; bringing it together makes it easier for affordable housing advocates to make a case for what is needed.”

To create a fund at LICF, the minimum investment is $5,000.

“It’s a low entry point,” Okorn said. “Just about anybody can become a philanthropist.”

The fund can be named for the individual or group that sets it up, or it can be anonymous. It can also be named for the cause.

The Massapequa Community Fund was set up by one of Massapequa’s favorite sons, actor Billy Baldwin, and his high school friends to support causes in the community, such as education, youth violence prevention and youth mental health.

White Post Farms in Melville established a fund last year, using proceeds from sales in its business to further hunger relief, veteran assistance and other causes.

All For The East End, or AFTEE, was set up to benefit East End charities. AFTEE is funded by founding presenting sponsor Bridgehampton National Bank and other East End companies, and LICF staff reviews proposals from nonprofit organizations serving one or more of the five easternmost towns on Long Island.

LICF accepts a range of assets beyond cash, such as stocks, securities and life insurance.

When business owners sell a company for, say, $25 million, they can “give us a share of that before they go through their liquidation event,” Okorn said. “They get the fair market value, which they donate to us, and don’t pay the capital gains tax piece. Say they put $5 million into a fund; it can be paid over their lifetime and beyond. They get the tax benefits at the time of the sale but don’t have to determine how to allocate the funds right away.”

People also bequeath assets to LICF in their wills, with instructions about how the funds should be spent. “They really care about an issue or a community and want their money to go to it,” Okorn said. “But it’s difficult to choose an organization in the future, in case it has a scandal or ceases to exist. They leave it with us, and each year, the grants get made based on their charitable intent and the best organizations out there.”

As part of a $2.5 billion organization, LICF isn’t going anywhere, and it has a solid system of checks and balances in place, according to Okorn.

“If someone on Long Island leaves money to breast cancer research, not only will our staff and board check that it’s going to the right place, but the New York Community Trust board and staff will verify it as well,” Okorn said. “If it’s left for breast cancer research, it can’t go to feed hungry people; it can’t even go to feed hungry people who have breast cancer – it has to be for research.”