To Achieve Leverage, A Small Funder Engages the Community’s Expertise

By Richard M. Zeigler, Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation

McCulloch Park, Muncie, IN Photo credit:

McCulloch Park, Muncie, IN
Photo credit:

The Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation takes a unique approach to our grantmaking: We pursue our mission by supporting a community organization composed of local citizens and experts who propose and select projects to be funded. In this way, we engage local citizens who know the community and have special expertise in our mission areas.

As president of the foundation and son of the founders, I feel that our strategy leverages our assets exponentially. Here is how we do it.

Established in 1984, the Zeigler Foundation is a small family foundation composed of seven board members with an endowment of just over $2.7 million. In 20 years we have distributed over $2 million to support our mission of being a catalyst for improving the natural beauty and the quality of life for the residents of our city (Muncie, Indiana), county, and state. We focus on projects that promote horticultural conservation and development, as well as supporting recreational facilities, historical preservation, and celebrations in connection with these activities.

Although we give directly to particular projects and provide annual contributions to various organizations, the majority of our funding goes to support the operating expenses and projects undertaken by Community Enhancement Projects, Inc. (CEP), a 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Muncie. CEP is the linchpin organization that empowers us to engage and benefit from the wealth of expertise in our city and region.

CEP was established in 1991 through the efforts of Marjorie Zeigler, one of our foundation’s founders, and a number of community leaders. CEP’s mission is “To foster through our beautification efforts, a cooperative environment wherein area citizens, government, industry and organizations continue to enhance and improve our quality of life for today’s community and for future generations.”

Its board of 16-19 members brings a variety of skills and perspectives to its mission. Members include horticultural experts, conservationists, architects, urban planners and designers, downtown advocates, current and former leaders of public entities such as the City Parks Department and the local Sanitary District, as well as prominent businesspeople in our community.

CEP projects include the creation of three new city parks and the design and building of the White River Greenway, a 5.5-mile trail with four overlooks that follows the White River through the heart of our community. Other projects embrace the beautification of existing parks, roundabout and street median landscaping, the maintenance of merchant flower containers downtown, the building of an outdoor performance stage at our largest downtown park, the placement of historic statues at our County Courthouse, and a variety of other endeavors.

Marjorie and her husband Sherman (who passed away in 1988) always intended for the Zeigler Foundation to work primarily through a local organization that would involve a broad range of citizens. After some initial stumbles working with other groups that engage citizens in grantmaking, which the Zeigler Foundation continues to support, the foundation chose CEP for this role. What makes the Zeigler Foundation’s relationship with CEP and the larger community unique is that the majority of the foundation’s grant money, in addition to supporting the overhead expenses of CEP, goes to fund the projects chosen by CEP’s board as being the most worthwhile for our community.

While the president of the Zeigler Foundation, as a CEP board member, has influence over the types of projects brought up for consideration, all CEP board members assume responsibility for conceptualizing and proposing potential projects, and the full board approves all projects. If the project is large, CEP seeks funding from other citizens, businesses, and foundations in our area.

Through this arrangement, CEP’s board directly controls the selection of most of the projects that the Zeigler Foundation funds (either in whole or in part). Given the Zeigler Foundation’s goal of being a catalyst for enhancing and beautifying our community, we continue to believe that our goal can best be met by convening a board of community leaders with expertise in the variety of areas necessary to successfully select, complete, and maintain our chosen projects.

CEP’s successful track record instills confidence in our community and political leaders that CEP will continue to envision and carry out projects with a high level of success.

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