When Benson-area farmer Robert Sonsteng left $1 million of his estate to the Benson Area Community Foundation and the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) late last year, it blew Chuck Koenigs away. Chuck is the secretary-treasurer of the Benson Area Community Foundation.
“It’s unbelievable,” Chuck said of the gift. “It’s very unusual. It’s very thoughtful.”
Mr. Sonsteng’s estate totaled $9.5 million, with a significant portion of the estate being dedicated to charitable causes after his passing, Chuck says.
SWIF’s role in the gift was focused on providing Mr. Sonsteng’s attorney with information and ensuring sound management of a portion of the estate gift, which will be managed as an endowed fund by SWIF and coordinated by the Benson Area Community Foundation, says Liz Cheney, SWIF Director of Community Philanthropy.
The Benson Area Community Foundation is one of 24 affiliate partners operating under the auspices of SWIF’s 501(c)(3) public charity status. With the Sonsteng gift, the Benson foundation now has two donor-advised funds. Interest income from each of these endowments will be used to provide grants to the Benson area community twice each year, Chuck explains.
Over the past 10 years the Benson Area Community Foundation has distributed about $80,000 to grant applicants who hail from the greater Benson area school district, which encompasses about 400 square miles and includes about 7,000 residents, Chuck says.
The Sonsteng estate gift will increase the amount available each year in community grant awards from about $11,000 to $50,000, depending on the rate of annual interest return.
Areas of interest for the Benson Area Community Foundation have focused on the arts, humanities, community education, parks and recreation, Chuck said.
“We see gifts like this as an integral part of what we do – help our small communities retain wealth that was earned here,” Liz said of SWIF’s role in encouraging and managing endowments for affiliate partners. “Doing this helps ensure the vitality of our communities now and into the future.”
Liz says giving donors the choice to support their communities is an area of growth and opportunity for the SWIF region.
This recent Sonsteng gift to Benson community is transformative on more than one level, Chuck says, as the foundation board is now discussing how to best serve the community given the increase in available resources.
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