CF of the Lowcountry | The Blind Men and the Elephant

In the Community

The Blind Men and the Elephant

June 18, 2015
How do you view Community Foundation of the Lowcountry? Many see us as grantmakers—which indeed we are. But even that is not the only description of the way we support nonprofits.

In the mid-1800s, John Godfrey Saxe wrote a poem entitled, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” It was about six blind men who attempted to understand what an elephant was like, and so approached one to better grasp the concept.

The first fell against the elephant’s solid side, describing it as being like a wall. The second discovered a tusk, and its sharp point, determining that it was spear-like. The third handled the trunk, and observed that this squirming elephant was similar to a snake. A tree was how the fourth man described the elephant after confronting its leg. Upon encountering an ear, the fifth man noted that an elephant was comparable to a fan. Finally, the tail reminded the sixth man of a rope.

The last verse of the poem summed up their experiences in this way:

“And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!”

The experience of these blind men precisely depicts how people may view Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. Most have a part of the picture depending on their relationship with us.

Many see us as grantmakers—which indeed we are. But even that is not the only description of the way we support nonprofits. In some cases, we are trainers, working with nonprofit boards on governance-related issues. Some organizations have established endowment funds with us, providing a relatively stable source of funding for their annual budget, as well as the capabilities of our organization and staff to provide special services to their donors. Does one of their donors want to offer a gift of real estate? Need income while wanting to provide a gift? Want to provide for them after their death? Many would describe us through this important service.

Students and parents might mention our scholarship program—not only the scholarship funds which have been established here at the Community Foundation, but also the directory of others in the community that provides one-stop-shopping for financial aid.

Many would describe our role in assisting people with their philanthropy. A number have established donor-advised funds. This is an inexpensive and easy way for people to manage their giving strategically without establishing a private foundation, dealing with government filings, or even worrying about making investment decisions. In addition, we provide knowledge of the local nonprofit sector and research as required, helping people have a stronger impact.

Some use us as a fiscal agent. A number of groups either don’t yet have their 501c3 nonprofit status, or don’t plan to apply. However, they want to do charitable work and provide donors with a tax deduction for support of the effort. In some cases, even if they have a 501c3, they don’t have sufficient staff to do the daily receipting of gifts and cutting of checks. We can do all of this for them.

A growing group would describe us as for nonprofits, service clubs and other groups. Lowcountry Volunteer Connections, a portal through our website, connects caring, talented folks with those who need volunteers.

Others would describe our community leadership activities. We are neutral conveners, gathering groups around a table who might need a little push and a place to meet in order to collaborate and solve problems together. We fill gaps and needs when we see them, examples being our Public Art Fund and Exhibition, the establishment of the Project SAFE Fund to assist with sewer service connections for low- to moderate-income residents of Hilton Head Island, and creating several women’s giving circles and community funds, allowing for people with a common interest (either in a geographic area or with those who want to participate in giving in a similar way) to work together toward a jointly-established goal.

There is so much more. We’d love for you to understand the entire elephant—or at least those parts that might be helpful to you or to your community in a way that is important to you. We can help you live generously in a myriad of ways that may not have been apparent before. Come and “see” us!

Denise K. Spencer
President and CEO

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