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Orillia's Community Foundation was born with $20 and a dream

'It has taken 24 years, but we are incredibly fortunate to be an overnight success,' joked Jim Dykes, noting the foundation's portfolio is now at $15 million

It’s said that great things come from small beginnings. The success of the Community Foundation of Orillia and Area (CFOA) certainly proves that.

There are more than 180 Community Foundations across Canada. The concept is simple: a locally run, public foundation that builds and manages permanent endowment funds for local charities, from charitable donations.

From 1999 to the current day, the CFOA portfolio has grown from just $20 to over $15 million. That’s quite a success story.

Jim Dykes, Pat Campbell, then of Casino Rama, and Ken Koyama, then of The Packet & Times, were the driving forces behind the creation of the CFOA back in 1998. 

“In 1998 I was listening to an interview on CBC Radio with the executive director of the Community Foundation of Toronto," recalled Dykes. "I had never heard of community foundations before, and it was a pivotal moment in my life.

"The concept is so simple and so impactful for a community to take care of itself in perpetuity,” explained Dykes.

“That very night was the Leacock Medal for Humour Dinner at Geneva Park. I am afraid I bored everyone at the table with my excitement for a Foundation for Orillia and area, to the point where Jamie Laidlaw or Daphne Mainprize (I can’t remember who) emptied the bread bowl on the table, put a $20 bill in it, passed it to me and said, ‘There you go – you have your seed money – go open a Community Foundation!’”

The rest, as they say, is history.

The trio convinced the City of Orillia and Casino Rama to match donated funds that they sourced from the community, and the CFOA office opened in 1999 with Deborah Wagner as the first executive director.

Growth was slow at first, as most people had never heard of the concept; awareness and understanding needed to be built in the community.

As Dykes said, “It has taken 24 years, but we are incredibly fortunate to be an overnight success.”

Many community leaders, all volunteers, stepped forward to join the board and help to build this important Orillia charitable mainstay.

Two who have done a lot for the CFOA in more recent years are Mike Gordon and Chris Hazel, current president and vice president of the board, respectively.

Gordon joined the CFOA Board in 2010, Hazel in 2013. Since this dynamic duo joined, growth has been, as Hazel enthused, “like a hockey stick!”

The two, with the rest of the CFOA board, beat the bushes and contacted anyone and everyone in Orillia and area they felt needed to be aware of the CFOA. They attracted large donor-directed funds from people in the community as well as managed funds from different charities in town.

Ten years ago, they came up with a game-changing idea: get rid of the CFOA office and paid executive director position and outsource the administrative work to the Orillia Area CDC office and staff.

“They have the staff with the skills we need, including administrative, bookkeeping, computers, etc. but at a fraction of the cost of keeping our own office and staff,” Gordon explained.

In 2021, while the value of the endowment funds continued to soar, the CFOA administrative costs were at a record low of .2% of the endowment funds’ value.

In 2021 alone, the CFOA managed to attract $3.3 million in new funds. This, despite a difficult pandemic year for so many.

In 2022, the CFOA granted $425,000 to more than 150 charities in Orillia and area. Because the investment fund value is so high, the investments generate a high rate of return, 12.8% in 2021. The primary investment managers for the CFOA are Connor, Clark & Lunn.

“The best thing about what we do,” said Hazel, “is we never touch the investment amounts. All the charitable grants come out of the investment income, so that money and more, can be granted in perpetuity, freeing the charities up to provide services, instead of having to spend valuable time fundraising.”

Gordon concluded, “It’s simple math. If you normally give $500 a year to charity you would just need to donate $10,000 in your will to the CFOA to keep that donation going. My dream is for people locally who donate annually to charity to think about leaving a chunk of money in their will to the CFOA, so their
annual donation can go on forever.”