Jeff Yost: Unrestricted endowments prepare Greater Nebraska for the future

Humans have a penchant for looking far ahead. Ask a room of kids what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll quickly discover just how creative we can be when it comes to envisioning our future. Along the same lines, if you ask members of a community about their dreams for their hometown, you’ll leave with a long list.

The tricky thing about the future, though, is that it hasn’t happened yet. Even with the most meticulous planning, events undoubtedly unfold in ways we can’t quite foretell. But if the unexpected is to be expected, we have ways to prepare.

At Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF), we believe an unrestricted endowment is one of the best tools to prepare your hometown for whatever lies beyond the horizon. Consider it like a retirement account that generates investment income for your community year after year. That “unrestricted” part is key—it means it isn’t designated for any specific use or project, making it a source of funding for whatever dreams residents can imagine. Because the principal remains untouched, it grows with every gift—and so does the annual payout. The volunteers overseeing an unrestricted endowment account (known as a fund advisory committee in the NCF network) have the freedom to spend the funds in ways that they determine will fulfill its mission. That flexibility allows hometowns to maximize their community-building efforts.

Unrestricted endowments held by NCF community-based affiliated funds (CBAFs) now total $67 million, double the total five years ago. Today, 50 CBAFs have payout of at least $10,000 per year—a milestone at which affiliated funds can really be catalysts for growth. Sixteen CBAFs now have payout of at least $50,000 per year. Throughout our network, affiliated funds use their payout for a variety of purposes, whether it’s starting something new, saving something important, or adapting to the future—often all the above.

For places like Boone County, that means investing in early childhood education and after-school learning. In Diller, they’ve created a Youth Serviceship Camp aimed at developing future leaders and inviting them to give back. Every year, dozens of NCF communities host paid college interns who return to their hometowns for the summer with fresh eyes and big ambitions.

Others are focused on adults and seniors. Nebraska City’s CBAF has long supported non-traditional scholarships. Brown County has made a multi-year commitment to help fund its local nursing home. Perkins County is supporting English language learners who are new to the area.

Many NCF communities are investing in the unique assets that define their place. Butler County made significant investments in the Bone Creek Agrarian Art Museum. Red Cloud is supporting heritage tourism related to Willa Cather. Valley County is nurturing a thriving local arts community. Columbus supported a state-of-the-art children’s museum that will draw visitors from miles around to the City of Power and Progress.

In some cases, affiliated funds have relied on their unrestricted endowments to assist in times of need. Calamus Area Community Fund (CACF), benefiting Garfield and Loup counties, prioritized lasting impact and forward-thinking grantmaking with a $100,000 pledge to help rebuild storm-damaged infrastructure at Nebraska’s Big Rodeo in Burwell. The event is a massive tourism draw and an essential economic development driver for the region every year. To make the pledge, CACF used its 2024 unrestricted endowment payout, along with other sources of funding. Volunteers with the Keith County Foundation Fund utilized their endowment payout to prevent their communities from losing dedicated emergency medical services. By granting money toward vehicles for a new county-operated service, they helped play an important role in keeping their neighbors safe.

We are at an opportune moment in time to build unrestricted endowments across Greater Nebraska. Nebraska Community Foundation’s 2021 Transfer of Wealth Study, an update of similar studies in 2001 and 2011, found that $950 billion will change hands between generations through the next 50 years. In just a decade, the number is still staggering—$100 billion. If Nebraskans allotted in their estate plans even 5% of that $100 billion for their hometowns, it would mean $5 billion reinvested in Greater Nebraska. Just imagine what our communities could achieve with that level of generosity.

That’s the impetus behind the Five to Thrive campaign. An unrestricted endowment is an ideal home for that 5%, as it will remain in a community for years to come and, alongside other gifts, help generate ever-increasing annual earnings. Those earnings become our hometowns’ dream capital.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to bettering our hometowns, but an unrestricted endowment is an all-purpose funding source. Further, it’s a statement about your belief in your community’s future. By giving to your local unrestricted endowment, you’re telling your neighbors, friends and family that you have faith that your hometown will continue to be a place future generations of Nebraskans want to call home.

More News

All News

Hometown Intern – Maggie Buettner

At Home in Greater Nebraska – Adam Vetter

Join our 2020 planned giving marketing challenge!