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The MCCF helps maximize charitable giving, connecting donors' passions with types of giving that are the right fit for them.

Featured Article

The Philanthropist Next Door

Unsung Donors Impact Our Communities, Leaving a Life-Changing Imprint

Credit for the practice of modern philanthropy often goes to the ultra-rich. From the Gilded Age of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller to the Tech Age of Bill and Melinda Gates, donating millions through foundations is an American tradition with visible, far-reaching impacts most private citizens could never affect on their own. As a result, many families think making a philanthropic difference is out of their reach, but the numbers prove otherwise.

In 2020, the largest source of charitable giving in the United States came from individuals, just like it has for decades prior. Last year alone, individuals accounted for 69 percent of total giving, equaling more than $324 billion. (Giving USA 2020) As it turns out, philanthropy is not the exclusive realm of prominent foundations, profitable corporations, and the extremely wealthy. On the contrary, average citizens with moderate income are by far the most generous.

In 2019, only 19 percent of charitable donations in America came from foundation grants, and only four percent came from corporations. In community after community across the country, this local-scale philanthropy is unfolding all around us. It comes from people who are ever-present and in tune with the needs of their hometown. It is your neighbors who shoulder it, neighbors like Brent Wunderlich.

In addition to being the Vice President of Strategic Operations Initiatives at McKesson in The Woodlands, Brent Wunderlich is a past chairman of The Conroe/Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce and serves on several local boards. Like many of your neighbors, Brent has a young family. His three-year-old son and five-month-old daughter provide relateable daily fire drills. He isn't famous, but he has worked with the federal government since operation "Warp Speed" to oversee its distribution of Covid-19 vaccines across the nation and beyond. He has opened his wallet but is not comfortable being called a philanthropist. "I feel I'm pretty generous with my time, but philanthropist? Nah," Wunderlich says.

The numbers put up by unsung individual benefactors like Wunderlich may, on their own, seem modest or a bit humdrum. Six out of ten U.S. households donate to charity an average amount of between two and three thousand dollars in any given year. (Philanthropy Roundtable) That is not enough to get their name put on a building or professional sports field, but often it is just enough to cover everyday essentials for a charity in need. Their generosity's sheer density and intimacy can leave a deep, lasting, and even life-changing imprint on the community. You may not realize what they support, but you'd likely miss it if the support were gone.

President and CEO of the Montgomery County Community Foundation (MCCF), Julie Martineau, says that many of the nonprofit requests her organization receives are for funds to empower their day-to-day operations. Last year the Christian Legal Aid Society asked for money to access legal software and DocuSign to help it facilitate adoptions. At the same time, the Montgomery County Woman's Center sought funds for new cameras to improve the security system that protects the 800 victims of domestic assault who seek shelter there each year.

Filling these needs might be considered small acts of charity, but you never know when small acts will turn into philanthropy. Sometimes, it happens when an entire neighborhood comes together to console one of their own and ends up strengthening community bonds for decades to come. When Cort Martin died in a vehicle crash in 2000 during his senior year at The Woodlands High School, people in the Creek Pines neighborhood where he grew up lit their homes and supported a scholarship fund in his memory--a kindness that touched his family deeply. Now every December, people drive through Panther Creek and admire the vividly green "Tangle Bush Lights" that illuminate the long winter nights, most without knowing the catalyst behind it. Yet, their charitable donations are still used to grow the fund Cort's parents created. Each year the scholarship MCCF helped them establish is awarded to a student in need at Lone Star College, Montgomery.

Wunderlich, who now serves on the board, first became involved with the MCCF after the sudden death of his first wife. He was searching for a way to honor Michala, who was a first-year 5th-grade teacher at Coulson Tough Elementary, when she suffered a brain aneurism that instantly ended her life. After dabbling with a different career path, Michala was energized by her choice to teach and had just finished using more than $1000 of her own money to outfit her new classroom, trying to create a comfortable, stimulating space.

In his grief, Brent wanted to honor Michala and help other first-year teachers excited to create the perfect learning environment for their students. A friend with a financial planning background advised him to see if this area had a community fund to guide and provide administrative assistance for those wishing to plan and grow funds that sustain long-term charitable goals. Wunderlich found MCCF, which helped him create the Michala Wunderlich Memorial Endowment to Benefit Coulson Tough School. The experience sent him down a path of community involvement. "It's a lot, but the way I look at it is it keeps you plugged into the community. You meet some great people, like-minded and otherwise."

Small gifts accumulate in powerful ways. Offerings from individuals, groups of community donors, or local foundations culminate to make daily existence a little bit better. The more shoulders that share it, the less it feels like a burden. "You don't have to have a zillion dollars. You just have to have the willingness to say, where am I going to put my dollars," Wunderlich says. "I'm not 70 years old, I'm not at the end of my career, I'm not retired, and there is a way to be involved even from that standpoint."

However, knowing how to go about it can be daunting whether you want to be charitable, philanthropic, or both. Established in 1983, MCCF is a public, nonprofit fund that helps people maximize their charitable giving using various donating methods. "Our whole mission is uniting donors' passions with their legacy," Martineau says.

Whether your passion is large or small, a one-time contribution or continuous engagement, the MCCF seeks to find the right fit for all. Its offerings include Field of Interest Funds, Designated Agency Funds, Unrestricted Funds, and Donor-Advised Funds. You can contribute to existing funds at any time in any amount, or if you're able to meet the higher threshold of $15,000 over five years, you can set up a fund of your own.

Wunderlich's Designated Agency Fund is just one of over 55 endowment funds worth $10 million that MCCF manages. Thus far, the income from these funds has allowed MCCF to make impactful grants and scholarships of almost $2.5 million in support of numerous nonprofits, local students, and long-term disaster recovery grants for area residents.

"There is always need and folks who can use the extra hand," Wunderlich says. A very modest donation can be game-changing to a nonprofit or a program they are trying to administer. And as Montgomery County continues to grow, the need for neighborhood philanthropists is sure to grow with it.

  • Brent Wunderlich created  the Michala Wunderlich Memorial Endowment to Benefit Coulson Tough School with the help of the Montgomery County Community Foundation.
  • The MCCF helps maximize charitable giving, connecting donors' passions with types of giving that are the right fit for them.
  • Julie Martineau, president and CEO of MCCF
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