The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation was founded in 1949 as the Community Welfare Fund in Cedar Rapids for the purpose of receiving gifts and bequests to provide support for charitable enterprise. It was originally established as a private foundation by seven community-minded leaders including Robert C. Armstrong, Edwin Evans, John T. Hamilton, Van Vachten Schaeffer, A. L. Smulekoff, Frank T. Welch, and T. M. Ingersoll. The Community Welfare Fund received its first significant gift – a $300,000 bequest from the estate of Minnie Rubek, a janitor employed by a local utility company.
In 1987 local radio and television entrepreneur William B. Quarton changed the scene of Cedar Rapids philanthropy by offering a challenge to his friends at the Community Welfare Fund. If the Foundation would agree to change the IRS tax status of the Foundation from “private” to “public,” change the name to reflect the broader interests of the rapidly growing Linn County community, and pledge to raise an additional $450,000 in permanent endowment, he would match the funds raised, dollar-for-dollar, by means of a $900,000 charitable lead trust. The challenge was quickly accepted and successfully achieved, and following a mandatory five-year transition period, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation received its 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS in 1992.
Gifts of Historic Significance
William Quarton left a powerful legacy upon his passing at age 104 in August 2007. His $35 million planned gift to the Community Foundation tripled the organization’s unrestricted assets and created endowments for four organizations. The Community Foundation continues to honor William Quarton and his spirit of philanthropy with the William Quarton Heritage Society, recognizing those who have established an endowed fund or will make a planned gift. This growing group of local philanthropists now stands at more than 250 members.
In the fall of 2009, the Community Foundation learned that Joseph Kacena had gifted more than $5 million to support several nonprofits in Cedar Rapids and Chicago. More importantly, Mr. Kacena specified that 39 percent of that contribution be designated for the Community Foundation’s unrestricted funds.
In the summer of 2010, the Cedar Rapids community lost a great friend, philanthropist and leader with the passing of William Whipple. Bill was the first honorary director of the Community Foundation and along with his wife Gayle, were members of the William Quarton Heritage Society. Mr. Whipple’s life gifts and estate gift created funds at the Community Foundation of $7 million – the second largest gift in the history of the Community Foundation.
The Community Foundation’s first grants were made in the early 1950s with particular emphasis on children, education and the arts. After becoming a public foundation in 1992, and as assets grew, the types of grants continued to broaden to include the environment and health. During this time, the Community Foundation funded a wide variety of needs including existing programs, new programs and capital expenses.
In 2001, grant programs formalized to specific purposes. The formation of an unrestricted fund provided support for new programs, while other funds supported successful programs and funded organizational development needs. The Community Foundation now provides funding for innovation, sustainability and capacity-building to support a vibrant Linn County.
Today, the Community Foundation distributes $12 million annually to over 500 nonprofit organizations. These grants are perhaps most notable in times of disaster. After the devastating floods of 2008, the Community Foundation provided $15.8 million in recovery funding. The COVID-19 Disaster Response Fund, established to minimize the impact of the virus in our community and to address human service needs for vulnerable populations, distributed nearly $400,000 in grants to 43 nonprofit organizations.
In August of 2020, a derecho swept through the Midwest, destroying some 65% of Linn County’s tree canopy and damaging virtually every building. The Disaster Recovery Fund granted more than $1.9 million to local nonprofits serving those who were impacted by the storm.
Outreach and Growth
The Community Foundation continues to grow in order to provide greater support and leadership to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists in Linn County.
In 2005, the Community Foundation expanded its impact and reach by establishing the Linn County Nonprofit Center (now the Nonprofit Network). That same year, the Community Foundation partnered with the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to develop and lead Fifteen in 5, a county-wide community planning process and the Community Foundation’s first step into broader community convening and planning.
In the years following the floods of 2008, the Community Foundation remained central to the community’s recovery and preparedness discussions and activities. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) named the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation the Outstanding Foundation of 2012 for our support of flood recovery efforts. In 2016, when a second flood threatened the community, the response from the Community Foundation cemented its commitment to disaster preparedness and recovery.
The Community Foundation has also served as conveners for initiatives involving reading proficiency, summer learning innovation, regional planning, and micro-lending for small businesses. Our community leadership efforts leverage our resources with others to support crucial community initiatives to create change.
In 2019, the Community Foundation identified racial equity as a vital piece of the effort to build a vibrant community. Since then, staff and board members have engaged in a continuous process of learning how to create a more equitable and just Linn County. This commitment has culminated in revised Vision, Mission & Values, as well as the implementation of a Grantmaking Equity Statement. The Community Foundation remains committed to the health and wellbeing of our community and strives to create a vibrant and inclusive Linn County where all people thrive.