Eras, Barberton Community Foundation Edition

Eras, Barberton Community Foundation Edition

What does the Foundation have to do with a Children’s Book?

By Josh Gordon, Executive Director

Another question I get a lot right now is about the Foundation’s endowment – our Main Fund, or the “tree” in The Giving Tree analogy I used in my last column. How big is it, how much can we spend (not as much as you think), etc.

I’m still new in my leadership role at the Foundation, so I love to hear these questions. I also love to research and work on how to answer them well. Part of my initial work overall is to analyze the Foundation, its history and future.

What I discovered is that understanding the Main Fund is the same as understanding the Foundation itself.

The best way to understand most things is to put numbers to them. Since the Main Fund is – by law – to last “in perpetuity,” a timeline seemed like a smart starting point. Rather than generate a timeline designed to capture the past and the unknown of “forever” I chose to focus on what’s happened so far, and what the next 2 stages of the Foundation are.

While still a young 27 years old, Barberton Community Foundation has experienced two clear “eras” so far – an era being a period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.  

Start Up Era

Like anything new, there is always a “start-up” era. The Foundation’s Start Up Era was 1996 – 1999. This era was defined by determining the first board of directors, trying to find a leader and staff, finding a building, and more. It is hard to start up any type of organization as there is a great deal to coordinate. Having been part of 2 start-up organizations, I can vouch for the long hours and grit needed to solve surprise challenges. In addition to typical start-up challenges, determining how to fulfill the initial promises of the Foundation (building a new high school, creating an Active Adult Center) were also mapped out in this era.

Spending Era

The next era in our timeline is the Spending Era, from 2000 (post-Start Up Era) to now, ending this year. The Spending Era is defined by literally paying for the promises that were made to create the Foundation – including the grand total of $58M for the new Barberton High School and $4.7M for the Active Adult Center. A small sample of some additional projects include Foundation Fields, the YMCA, the Barberton Sports Complex, over $2M in grants to Barberton Parks and Recreation, and more. Plus, the Foundation provides funding for a total of 36 scholarships now, most of which are multi-year awards. This is all work the Foundation has done, not even including the funds and scholarships that donors have set up to help with other Foundation-aligned, community-specific needs.

In total, the Foundation has 116 total funds currently and has granted $109M+ since the beginning – so far.

All of that is “part 1” of the Spending Era. Part 2 is about establishing stricter spending constraints.

You may be wondering “why would there be any constraints on spending?”

Because the tough truth is, while all of the spending was worthwhile, it was also very hard to accomplish. The Foundation is not a bottomless pit of money, forever! Though, I’m sure we’d all agree that would be nice. By law the Foundation must have an impact in Barberton “in perpetuity” – meaning, forever.

The result of the Spending Era is the Foundation maximized what was possible to spend on a variety of amazing projects – the tradeoff was not saving any money to build our Main Fund for big, future projects.

The consequence of the Spending Era is the Foundation must spend years building our main endowment back up. And until it is built up, the Board will face hard choices about which projects it is able to support in the community.

What does that mean for the future of the Foundation?

I envision two new eras on the horizon.

The second era is exciting – the Transformational Impact Era! What does that mean? It means this era will have the Foundation positioned to put as much as $7M into the community every single year! That amount of money to grant exclusively in Barberton means we can transform our community in big and exciting ways.

It means it is possible to take on large projects again, to transform what is possible with scholarships (imagine full tuition scholarships!), help the business community (through our partnerships) so businesses can easily expand and grow, support the incredible work of our school district in workforce development, attract more amazing businesses to town, and more. I’m personally excited for the day when these ideas can be the basis of strategic planning. 

To have that much money available to grant and invest in the community, our Main Fund would need to be around $250M. This is the price of becoming transformational.

As of Q1 2024, we are only at $94M. We can only spend a small percent of that.

Based on the numbers, it is clear that we aren’t ready for the Transformational Impact Era to begin. We need to prepare for it.

That means our next era is the Build Up Era. To be in a position to be transformational, we need to build our Main Fund up to the level required to do that job. There is still money to grant, scholarships to be handed out, and plenty of good to be done. We will deliver as much as we can.

We must also understand that the Build Up Era will be defined by doing as much as we can, which may not be as much as everyone hopes for. We may face some hard, unpopular choices.

The possible criticism is worthwhile to endure if transformational impact is possible on the other side. It will take discipline, grit, and creativity to ensure that the Foundation continues to make a difference in the lives of our residents now, and forever. It is a challenge. But our team, and our board, is ready.

Please keep these questions coming to me! Or tell me what transformational projects you’re excited about – I’m keeping a list. Email me at

In Community,  

Josh Gordon 

Executive Director 

Barberton Community Foundation