Success Story: Taos Community Foundation

“COVID – these are strange times,” mused Taos Community Foundation Director Lisa O’Brien. “It seems apparent by now that things are not returning to where we were six months ago, so what is going to be the new normal and how will we move forward through it?”

As director of Northern New Mexico’s “platform for giving,” O’Brien spent the spring and summer mapping TCF’s path through myriad stopgap measures to meet the needs of the community. Between O’Brien and her dedicated team – all working remotely – emergencies such as food pantry shortages, shelter overflow and access to behavioral health services were met with timely and effective actions.

“It was clear we were in unchartered waters and yet we knew we had a role to play in response,” said O’Brien. Relying upon the sweeping expertise of its board of directors, staff and volunteers, she said, “We were successful in developing new operational policies while managing the flood of calls requesting assistance.”

By the end of the summer, TCF felt comfortable turning its attention to recovery and long-term community resiliency efforts.

“As with any situation there is always a bright side,” O’Brien noted. “One such example is how networking and partnerships flourished throughout the region,” with TCF providing leadership.

The Fund for Taos was established by TCF in early March and was designed to provide unrestricted and immediate funding to organizations requiring emergency COVID action. The fund received over $600,000 in mostly individual donations, “from $10 to $25,000,” said O’Brien. “The number of small donors, in particular, who responded to the call is a tribute to the incredible depth and generosity of our community. Small donations create great wealth.”

Today, management of the Fund for Taos is overseen by TCF’s board, but advisement from over 20 community members is relied upon. There are six new committees who meet monthly and review grant applications in six areas: housing, education, nonprofit support, food systems, arts and culture and behavioral health. 

“Committee members review applications and provide funding recommendations to our board of directors.   The work of these committees is extremely valuable to our making well-placed grants,” noted O’Brien.

TCF has also reinforced the strength of its three primary COVID response partnerships. The Enchanted Circle Community Organizations Active in Disaster (EC-COAD) has been a “game-changing coalition of talents coming together with a collective message and goal of meeting unmet needs in our community,” according to O’Brien. 

The foundation’s partnership with both the New Mexico Coalition of Community Foundations and the All-Together New Mexico Fund (established under the vision of the office of the governor) continues to support nonprofits in moving forward within the confines of the new normal.

“These are all lessons learned, ones that made an enormous difference at the beginning of the pandemic and will continue to influence the manner in which we move forward,” said O’Brien.

Former board member Andrea Szekeres “termed out” of the position earlier this year, after having served the maximum number of three-year appointments but remains wholeheartedly dedicated to the work of TCF, she said.

“When I moved to Taos I knew I wanted to get involved with a community foundation because I knew such an organization would have its finger on the pulse of the community and its needs,” Szekeres recalled. “During the initial COVID-related efforts the foundation was able to execute rapid turnarounds on assistance requests, which was remarkable by any standard and a tremendous support for those in need here.”

More generally, she noted, “I have watched TCF over 20 years grow in its strength as an anchor and leader of the community, creating charitable initiatives and coordinating efforts across the region and the state.”

Indeed, TCF has doubled its assets in the last four years and is now managing over $14 million in charitable funds.

“We are a strong organization that provides financial and charitable services to our community,” O’Brien explained. “By pooling the charitable funds of both individuals and nonprofit organizations (now numbering approximately 150), we are able to grant funds in many different ways. It is the return on these investments that go back into the community.” 

The foundation has granted over $1 million annually for the last three years.

“Approximately half of our holdings are restricted; that is, spending is specific to a nonprofit organization, or an individual or family-advised fund. We serve as a trusted partner either with gifts today, or with legacy gifts established as part of estate planning,” O’Brien continued.

“When you make a donation to TCF, you determine where and how it will be spent and every cent of your gift will follow those instructions,” she explained. The operating revenue of TCF comes either from support earmarked for that specifically or from administrative fees as set by fund agreements.

“As we pursue recovery there will be continuing needs requiring thoughtfulness and strategic leadership.  We’ll need to make things happen quickly and efficiently, while wisely apportioning available monies. We’re confident that, with the knowledge, stability and depth of our staff and board, we’ll continue to uphold the trust of the community,” O’Brien concluded.

“After all, philanthropy is a leap of faith.”

Lisa O’Brien is joined by Thomas Buckley (Director of Finance), Helen Forte (Director of Community Impact), Traci Chavez McAdams (Director of Philanthropic services) and Jennie Begley and Lisa Tringali (Program Associates).

The present board of directors includes Adriana Blake, Dr. Catherine Collins, John Hamilton, George Jaramillo, Dave Lambert, Vernon Lujan, Ben Maddox, Dennis Manzanares and David Norden.

Taos Community Foundation is located at 115 La Posta Road, Suite A, Taos, NM 87571. To learn more about it and the ways you may give, visit taoscf.org or call (575) 737-9300.

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