By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Guest opinion: You, a philanthropist?
Placeholder Image

Nearly everyone practices charity somewhere. It might be dropping coins in a street musician’s open guitar case, buying a candy bar from the local sports booster club, attending a special fundraising event, or adding to the collection plate at church. 

Think you can’t be considered a philanthropist? Think again. Philanthropy is just a big word for caring. To be a philanthropist all you need is a kind heart, not necessarily a big bank account.  

The Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin likes to start people thinking about philanthropy as simply “a way of giving with goals.” Giving to any charitable cause is a very personal choice that involves thoughtful and meaningful decision making. In the words of Caroline Fiennes, director of Giving Evidence, effective philanthropy today is “not about what you give, but the way that you give it.” By tailoring gifts to your style, your family, your causes, you can start to identify where your gifts will have the most impact.

But how do you narrow in on the causes you’re most passionate about so that you help ensure they continue to meet local need and last forever? How and where can your gifts make the most impact?

Community foundations are the ideal conduit for charitable giving to a variety of causes that meet donor’s intentions and community need. They also help direct charitable resources to the areas of greatest need. As an independent public charity, community foundations work to build permanent collections of endowed funds, contributed to by many donors in both large and small amounts. The funds are pooled and invested. Earnings from the endowed funds are returned to the community in the form of grants, scholarships, and other charitable distributions that last well beyond many donors’ lifetimes. 

The PHS Scholarship Fund and the Platteville Community Fund are components of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin. The PHS Scholarship Fund made its first scholarship awards in 2010. During the six years since its creation, the PHS fund has presented scholarships to 300 PHS students and worked with donors to create 12 named scholarship endowments. 

The Platteville Community Fund has been making grant awards in the community since 2005. Through 2015, the Fund has made 190 grant awards totaling nearly $359,000 — all for projects that benefit the people of Platteville. 

Charitable giving or being a philanthropist doesn’t mean you have to be rich. Leaving a legacy doesn’t mean you need to start your own private foundation. 

We often hear, “I’m young. I don’t have an estate or assets.” If you work, have a home, a car, even a small savings account, you do indeed have assets and an estate that, through tax breaks and incentives, can work to offer you not only a nest egg for your family but also provide a legacy to the causes closest to your heart. Many are unaware of the tax benefits that still make it possible to give a gift you may not have thought possible, regardless of income level or age.

Where do you start? A community foundation can help you in creating your personal philanthropy mission and define what it means to give with goals in mind, but it is recommended you start with your financial advisor or attorney to learn the many benefits of planning your charitable giving. Your support of your cause or causes could be as easy as a simple designation in your will which won’t affect your cash flow during your lifetime and can be revoked or amended if your situation changes. You can also make a gift to a cause by assigning it as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy. And retirement funds can be heavily taxed if passed on to heirs, but tax free if given to a charity. Financial and legal professionals can help you establish your giving strategy. A community foundation can help you accomplish it. 


National Philanthropy Day is Nov. 15. Make Nov. 15 the day you begin and further your philanthropic journey. The Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin can help. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with assets in excess of $43 million working to match charitable donors with the needs of their communities and schools in nine southern Wisconsin counties including Iowa, Lafayette and Grant counties. For more information on the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin (, call 788-3344 or email