|Bonnie Cashin modeling one of her designs.|
“As an investment advisor in the City, I was long familiar with The New York Community Trust but had no first-hand knowledge of its services. Then, in 2000, Bonnie Cashin, the iconic designer of American women’s sportswear, died. In a brief will Bonnie named her good friend, Curtis Kellar, a lawyer, and me as co-executors of her estate and directed us to distribute the residuary to qualified charitable organizations.
For us, it was a tall order to make outright distributions so we considered establishing a private foundation to carry out her wishes. Given our professional backgrounds, we believed that we could not only easily manage the foundation but also do it at minimum cost. This would have pleased Bonnie, who in her many years of philanthropy, paid close attention to the expense ratios of charities she was interested in supporting. She would expect no less of us as fiduciaries of her estate.
And there’s the rub. As mortals, Curtis and I realized that in time others would have to take on the foundation responsibility. We were concerned that even reasonable fees for investment management and custody services as well as necessary bookkeeping, auditing, consulting, and tax filing expenses would absorb a fair amount of the income that would otherwise be distributable to charity. Also, we were looking for a way to preserve in years to come the institutional legacy of Bonnie Cashin, and this would be difficult to accomplish with an endless succession of individual foundation trustees.
It happened that in 1988 Bonnie, frustrated with filing innumerable government forms, had turned over to the Community Trust a small fund she had created earlier to encourage innovative designers. Despite its modest size, she was impressed by the attention it received from the Trust’s staff who, she said, “provided service the old-fashioned way, person to person.” So it was probably inevitable that Curtis and I, after performing due diligence, chose the Community Trust as our proxy both to fulfill our fiduciary obligation and at the same time assure Bonnie’s legacy.
Ten years have passed and The Trust has more than lived up to our expectations. We established a donor-advised fund and from it the staff efficiently pays out recommended grants, monitors the status of the recipients, and helps with information about potential grants. The Trust also takes care of all the administrative paperwork and stays on top of the ever-changing legal regulations governing charitable gifts. In addition, its newsletter provides timely and valuable knowledge about the charitable needs in our City’s metropolitan area. Especially dear to my heart, The Trust has taken a conservative, long-term approach in investing the fund and that has been a winning strategy this past decade. And Bonnie would really be pleased to know these multiple services are performed at minimum cost.
At a time of economic distress, when people have lost confidence in many of our institutions, it is heartening to know that the Community Trust continues, as it has for 86 years, quietly helping generations of New Yorkers achieve and perhaps even surpass their philanthropic goals. —Henry W. Grady