The Nevada Community Foundation began with seed money from mobster/philanthropist Moe Dalitz, and now it’s revived courtesy of entrepreneur/philanthropist Alfred Mann. Somehow that’s so Las Vegas.
The foundation is not commonly known in Las Vegas, outside the philanthropic world.
Two of its founders — former United Way of Southern Nevada President Garth Winckler and philanthropist Gard Jameson — explained the origins and mission, while current board members Maureen Schafer and Michael Morrissey shed light on current operations. None of the four has met Mann, who recently donated $70 million.
Winckler shared the funniest story, one that explained how such a foundation could be helpful.
“Moe was getting hit to give a lot of money away to lots of different people. We floated the idea to create an endowment,” Winckler said.
Eventually $500,000 was donated to United Way after Dalitz died. But first the money had to be transferred into a trust before his death, which involved United Way opening up a Swiss bank account for the transfer of $1 million in securities, half designated for United Way, half for other entities.
He vividly recalled when the time came to sign off in 1979: Dalitz paused for about three minutes — which is longer than it sounds sitting in a room with a mob guy, even a reformed one — before he said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Winckler, who put the package together, remembered it proved such a huge tax write-off for Dalitz, the onetime bootlegger who went legit in Las Vegas, his accountant said he might want to consider giving more.
After Dalitz died in 1989 at age 89, Winckler and others decided a separate foundation would be best, so the Nevada Community Foundation was formed and started with Moe’s money.
Co-founder Jameson explained the foundation was modeled on hundreds of similar community foundations across the country that handle endowments for the community’s benefit. “During the four years I was chairman, between $2 million to $5 million a year was passed out to the community,” he said. The Thomas and Mack families, as well as others, made donations to the foundation.
He compared the community foundation to Switzerland, kind of in a neutral zone to benefit everybody. Run by professionals, it serves as a philanthropic adviser, handles the Internal Revenue Service requirements and provides objective information to donors.
Morrissey, a current board member for the past half-dozen years, said the foundation has been low-key during that time “because we’ve really never had a whole bunch of money to give away.” Everyone interviewed agreed Mann’s $70 million will make a big difference to the foundation.
The IRS documents for 2010, the most recent available on Guidestar, showed the foundation had $1.8 million in contributions and assets of $22.7 million.
That year, it gave out 39 grants totaling $1.2 million, and many were in the $10,000 range. The only organizations to receive grants surpassing $100,000 were the Greater Las Vegas Inner-City Games, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the Nevada Public Education Foundation, the Public Education Foundation and the Rape Crisis Center.
Sometimes the donor directs the grant in a particular way, sometimes the donor asks the foundation for advice. Mann’s passion is medical research. But it’s not public whether he will be a hands-on guy directing the grant money or someone who relies on the foundation for advice.
Donors pay a negotiated fee for that advice and those services, said Schafer, the foundation chairwoman. “We’re a reputable organization, a great stewardship of funds.”
For example, if Crazy Cat Lady Like Me wanted to set up a trust for felines, the foundation would help me find where Crazy Cat Lady money could be best used and aid with the IRS reporting. Or if I wanted to turn over my vast fortune to the foundation, they would use it for community needs. Hopefully, they would make sure my hard-earned money didn’t go to one of those fraudulent veterans organizations, like one just uncovered in Florida.
Jameson hopes Mann’s donation will encourage other wealthy Las Vegans to invest in Las Vegas. “I could name 10 billionaires in our community who have not really asserted themselves in this community,” he said. “Some do their own things, but they’re not part of the larger conversation of where resources need to go.”
If Mann’s example sparks other billionaires and millionaires to invest in community needs, then it’s more than money he has given to Las Vegas. It’s leadership by example.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.