Upcoming Transition in the Chautauqua Foundation

Geof Follansbee

In January 2020, the Chautauqua Foundation will be undergoing a transition when the majority of the Foundation staff will become employees of Chautauqua Institution.

The Chautauqua Foundation is a nonprofit establishment, independent from the Institution. It is responsible for philanthropic funding of the Institution, its programs and facilities.

As part of the planning that went into Chautauqua Institution’s new strategic plan, 150 Forward, the Foundation’s board of directors and Institution leadership reexamined the current structure of how these organizations work in cooperation with one another.

“We began to have discussions about whether the development operation, the fundraising team, was better situated in the Foundation or the Institution,” said Geof Follansbee, vice president of development and CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation.

To help achieve the objectives of 150 Forward, the majority of Foundation operating costs, which have been annually charged against the endowment funds held by the Foundation, will become part of the Institution’s operating budget. This will alleviate the burden placed on endowment funds and, over time, increase the growth and payout of those funds to support Institution programming, thus growing endowment revenue.

Prior to 1991, development office employees were employed by the Institution. In 1991, a decision was made to move that same staff and its operating costs to the Foundation. While considering another switch, the board of directors decided to bring in professional assistance.

“Approximately 14 months ago we hired a firm to come in and look at how well our development program was staffed,” Follansbee said. “They were not evaluating the people we had, but simply assessing what was our structure and did it make sense.”

The firm advised a three-year plan for an expansion of the development office. This plan also corresponded with the ambitious goals of the new strategic plan that Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees approved in May.

“(The consultants) were quite clear that they felt our lack of investment in development was limiting our ability to raise money,” Follansbee said. “Investing more would provide a return over and beyond the cost of the investment. With that, they recommended that the development team move back to the Institution.”

Philanthropic support to the Chautauqua Fund and capital projects will be directed to the Institution beginning in January 2020. Gifts to the endowment will continue to be held by the Foundation for investment. These gifts will then be made available to the Institution according to the spending policy established by the Foundation’s board of directors.

By ramping up staffing leading into the summer season, with the understanding that the Institution would be assuming operational costs in 2020, “the Foundation board agreed to make that investment to allow us to move forward in 2019,” Follansbee said. “We laid out a plan for a multiyear staging of additional investment into our development program.”

Growing and diversifying revenue, philanthropic revenue, in particular, is a goal within 150 Forward. To help reach this goal, the Foundation’s board of directors, in collaboration with the board of trustees and Institution President Michael E. Hill, have made investments in staff resources to secure the philanthropy necessary to achieve the goals of 150 Forward.

“I’ve spent more time managing the office than I have fundraising,” Follansbee said. “We could benefit from more of my time fundraising and working with President Hill on development activities and we could benefit from some other fundraising resources.”

Follansbee is confident this transition will benefit both the Institution and the Foundation.

“In terms of our day-to-day responsibilities we’re going to be doing the same work; we’re going to be doing it better,” Follansbee said. “We will significantly expand our fundraising horizons and our success.”
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The author Marianna Moore

Marianna Moore is a rising senior at the University of Missouri. She is studying journalism with a concentration in strategic communication. She interns as a writer for the university’s Office of Student Affairs and previously interned as a social media manager with Mizzou International Experience. In her free time, Marianna likes to volunteer at the Central Missouri Humane Society and enjoys writing poetry.