Frederick H. Goff, a successful lawyer in Cleveland, had a vision 100 years ago. As the first full-time president of the Cleveland Trust, Goff noticed a troubling amount of wealth become obsolete due to unavoidable legal reasons. Goff set to change this, as it troubled him too see so much wealth locked away at a time when social needs were great. To remedy this issue, Goff created the world’s first community trust, or foundation. The idea was to pool charitable resources of Clevelanders—living and deceased—into a single, permanent trust distributed solely for the betterment of the community. The trust would be run by members of the community for the benefit of the community and would be crucial in altering the belief that philanthropy was exclusive to the wealthy.

Frederick H. Goff

On January 2, 1914, the Cleveland Foundation came into existence, being the sole trustee of the Cleveland Trust Bank. At a City Club of Cleveland meeting 12 years later, Ralph A. Hayes, the director of the New York Community Trust, prophesized how important Goff’s creation would be to the world. He could not have been more right. At the time of Hayes’ speech in 1926, there were more than 55 community trusts in small and large cities across the country. The idea also began to spread internationally, with the establishment of the Winnipeg Foundation in 1921. Now, a century later, more than 1,700 community foundations operate all around the globe.

The Cleveland Foundation celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, along with the honor of being the nation’s first community foundation.

Many organizations have taken the time to recognize this monumental achievement, acknowledging the great impact Frederick Goff’s creation had on the world of philanthropy. The C.S Mott Foundation commemorates the 100th year anniversary with a special website that pays tribute to the Goff’s community trust setting the stage for the Mott Foundation and others. Mott’s website mentions how it took Goff’s initial vision and worked to advance the well-being of the community, as community-based philanthropy has been central to the foundation’s strategy from its conception.

The Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP) owes much to Goff, as the idea of community members working for the betterment of the community is an idea that resonates deeply with our work. Offerings such as donor-advised funds enable members of our community to use their charitable resources to make grants to causes they feel strongly about. Our Teen Grantmaking Initiative (TGI) also uses the ‘for-the-community-by-the-community’ model as the youth involved are members of the community and allocate their grants to address the needs of youth in the community. It is impossible not to appreciate what the Frederick Goff and the Cleveland Foundation accomplished for the field of philanthropy. It set so many ideas in motion, changing the way we practice philanthropy forever.

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