Mainers urged to endow towns in their wills

Posted Jan. 08, 2010, at 7:39 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A report released Friday urges Mainers to consider including their towns and cities in their wills, thereby helping to create “community legacy” endowments to fund economic development projects.

Maine has the oldest average age in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As Maine’s baby boomer population ages, an estimated $29 billion worth of personal wealth will be transferred to the next generation over the next decade.

Seeking to replicate similar initiatives in other states, Maine Rural Partners on Friday launched a campaign encouraging Mainers to “count their communities among their heirs.”

Mainers could do that by writing into their wills donations to community endowments focused on the economic development priorities of local residents. Such investments are even more important at a time when local and state government as well as nonprofits are struggling financially to meet basic needs, much less invest in economic development, supporters said.

“There are a lot of people who don’t consider themselves wealthy but who have something they would like to leave to their communities,” said Bill Lucy, president of Merrill Bank and a board member of Maine Rural Partners, a nonprofit organization focused on economic development in rural areas.

The report, titled “Realizing Maine’s Worth,” estimates that such locally driven community endowments could have $74 million in the bank by 2020 if Mainers directed 5 percent of the wealth they plan to pass onto the next generation to endowments instead. By 2035, the value of those endowments could reach $230 million.

“You don’t have to be a Carnegie or a Rockefeller to be a philanthropist,” added Laura Young with the Maine Community Foundation, which oversees more than 800 charitable funds worth in excess of $200 million.

As part of the initiative, community endowment pilot projects have been launched in three communities: Rockport, Unity and Strong. The experiences of the pilot communities then will be incorporated into an endowment “toolkit” for other towns.

The “Legacy Rockport” program, which recently was incorporated, grew out of the town’s comprehensive plan and will focus on a variety of projects, ranging from upkeep at the Rockport Opera House to purchasing development rights to protect land.

“We are looking at the things that make Rockport Rockport, such as the Opera House, our harbor, our parks,” said Town Manager Bob Peabody.

In Unity, the initiative will be focused on the local agriculture, land conservation and other priorities identified by townspeople. Unity Barn Raisers, a local group focused on redevelopment efforts, as well as Friends of Unity Wetlands and Unity College, are leading the effort.

As an example, those involved in the report pointed to Montana where businesses and individuals have donated more than $100 million to local endowments since a charitable endowment tax credit was passed in 1997.

Three dozen people, including economists, nonprofit representatives and town officials, helped with development of the report.