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Average Joes can be benefactors, too

Emma Edith Arundel was a feisty lady who lived on South Fourth Street, born in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and carried with her decided passions. One of those was cats. Every cat she ever had was named either Victor or Victoria.

So before her death in 1995, Emma Edith and her cousin, Ironton banker Don Edwards, got together to come up with a way to help all those cats she wouldn’t have the chance to care for. Her idea was to make a donation to the Lawrence County Humane Society for the expressed purpose of spaying as many female cats as possible and stop the overpopulation.

“I knew it wouldn’t take long to spend $30,000 in Lawrence County. There are so many cats,” Edwards said. “The best thing I could come up with was to make a donation through the Foundation for the Tri-State where they could protect the principal but pass on to the humane society the funds the trust was earning.”

That was the start of the Emma Edith Arundel Endowment Fund (FBO Lawrence County Humane Society). Twelve years and about 800 cats later, that decision proved the right one. And it shows that nowadays playing philanthropist is a goal accessible to more than the Donald Trumps of this world. Average Joes — and Janes — can become somebody’s benefactor.

In 2006 Americans donated almost $300 billion to charities, according to the Giving USA Foundation at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. Out of that figure about 76 percent came from individuals and 65 percent of those household philanthropists had an income of $100,000 or less.

The Arundel Fund was started in December 1995 with an investment of $30,000 with the Foundation for the Tri-State Community, an Ashland, Ky.-based community foundation that serves Ashland, Ironton and Huntington, W.Va. As of December 2007, the fund has distributed $23,402 to the humane society and had a balance then of $39,252.

Community foundations are often the route for those without the excessive assets required to start their own private foundations.

Through a foundation — private or public — the management of assets can be taken off the shoulders of the individuals wanting to direct his money down a particular charitable path. And if the foundation is a community one, it can take the legal and accounting costs off their shoulders as well.

“Your very wealthy people create their own private foundations, which is perfectly fine,”

Ashland-based CPA and attorney Ben Cooksey said. “The community foundation takes the place for most of us, shall we say, normal people. … They have helped a lot of people who wanted to do unique things, but just didn’t have the knowledge or the financial capability to put things together.”

That is what Cooksey and his wife, Carol, have done by setting up a fund with the Foundation for the Tri-State in the name of their son, Benjamin, 11, who is autistic.

“When our son was first diagnosed, my wife and I sat down and thought that so many have the need for certain services and educational opportunities,” Cooksey said. “We decided to start a fund where we could contribute and hopefully build up a pot of money where it could go for autism-related things.

“Building a permanent endowment, that is the whole idea behind these family funds so you can continually help year after year. … With community foundations, they can work with donors to craft certain things.”

According to the Money-Central Web site, charitable gift fund accounts usually require a minimum initial investment of $10,000, with subsequent donations of $1,000. Vanguard and Fidelity offer such accounts.

“If you make a donation to one of these funds, you may take an immediate tax deduction — even though the gift may not be distributed until some time in the future,” Terry Savage writes on the Web site. “Gifts of appreciated stocks, bonds or mutual funds that have been held for one year are deductible at full market value and are not subject to capital-gains taxes.”

And the money set up in the fund can grow tax-free.

However at the Foundation for the Tri-State there are funds that only require a contribution of $5,000 over five years. More can be added as desired. That is set up for a specific reason, Mary Witten Wiseman, foundation president, says.

“We have a number of younger donors who are young working families who are teaching their children about philanthropy,” she said.

One of those couples is Mike and Angie Stautberg, who lived in the Tri-State from 1997 to 2006 when Mike

was a vice president at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

“We lived in Bellefonte. I worked in Russell and I am a former president of the Ironton Kiwanis,” Stautberg said. “We really enjoyed our time there and we wanted to continue those commitments to charitable organizations.”

They also had a second motive for setting up a donor fund with the Foundation: Their children, David Mullis, 12, and Ava, 1.

“In doing that we also wanted to make sure that being a good citizen and philanthropy were instilled in our children as much as it was in us,” Stautberg said. “It

makes a much more well-rounded, good citizen for the region. We as a society have a responsibility.

“It is more than taking care of yourself. It is taking care of the society in which you live.”