Madison Rotary Foundation History
Written by David Mollenhoff, June 14, 2000
In 1918, just five years after the club’s founding, our predecessors began a remarkable mentoring program for underprivileged boys. They took these boys under their wings, invited them to club meetings, and helped them in any way they could. As Rotarians got to know these boys they realized that many needed to go to vocational school or the university but couldn’t afford it. Consequently, the club set up an education loan fund that was so successful and satisfying that leaders expanded it to young men and women. At the same time, club leaders saw a growing need to make grants for other charitable purposes. This was the embryo idea that led to the creation of the Madison Rotary Foundation in August, 1932. The opening balance was about $3,000.
During its early years the foundation struggled, first from the effects of the Great Depression and then from the need to focus club energies on home‑front projects during World War II. In the early 1950s club leaders began to revitalize the foundation, but finding acceptable ways to get members to contribute required many years of experimentation.
* In 1956 members began the practice of making memorial contributions when member died. This method raised small amounts of money very slowly.
* From l956 to 1958 the club tried auctioning off a prize butchered steer, a practice that began the tradition of an annual fundraiser. The idea raised much more money, but it failed to get all club members to contribute.
In l966 the club increased monthly dues by one dollar, half of which went to the club foundation. That concept finally got everyone contributing every year, but once again it failed to produce much money.
* In l967 club leaders proposed a major fundraising program, an international horse show at the Dane County Coliseum. The event required members to sell $100 worth of tickets and work at the show. The event made a significant profit and was continued for a second year, but it turned out to be far more work than anybody imagined. That realization led to two watershed decisions in 1969: (1) to discontinue fundraising events; and (2) to begin an annual voluntary fund drive, the “check book” method we still use today.
In spite of all this work, in 1970 the foundation fund stood at just $125,000, a fact that dramatized the limitations of growing the foundation with memorial gifts, events, and an annual fund drive. Conspicuously missing were larger gifts and member bequests. Up to this point, the foundation had received only one large gift, a 1961 bequest for $50,000. Then in l973 and l980 the Madison Rotary Foundation received two large bequests, $500,000 and $188,000, respectively. With the help of these large bequests, the foundation corpus passed $1,000,000 in l980. During the 80s and 90s, 20 additional club members or their surviving spouses made large gifts and bequests to the foundation. A list of their names appears in the foundation annual report.
With the help of these gifts and bequests, the Madison Rotary Foundation has grown into a major force for community betterment. With assets now totaling more than $10 million, the foundation makes annual grants totaling about $500,000. With this money we improve the lives of countless people. Talented, service minded high school graduates secure four‑year scholarships, more than 3000 seniors exercise every week, dozens of community organizations serve more people more effectively, poor people in the Amazon basin receive medical care, and much, much more.
As we look to the future, we must remember that member gifts and bequests will continue to be the primary means of growing the foundation. In fact, the vision of foundation creators was that many members would make major gifts and bequests. We cannot say that we have achieved that part of their vision, but with the help of generous members, we can clearly see the potential if many of us remembered the foundation with our gifts and bequests.