Investing in Austin

Published 4:35 am Sunday, March 24, 2013

—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.

Austin Area Foundation continues promoting community groups

From helping to feed hungry children to sponsoring concerts, the Austin Area Foundation has had a growing role in the community for a decade.

This spring, as AAF marks its 10th year, a growing pool of managed assets assures the community-supported and funded foundation will continue its work into the foreseeable future.

Like other community foundations, AAF provides a vehicle for individuals and families to leave a legacy for the people of their town. Donations and bequests given to the foundation are managed for investment income and the proceeds of the investments returned to the community in the form of grants.

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Although it has been operating for nearly 10 years, AAF had its genesis even earlier.

“It was about 1999 that I had heard of other community foundations and wondered why Austin’s didn’t have one,” said Mike Ruzek, AAF’s chairman and a trustee since the organization’s inception.

With seed money from the Blandin Foundation, AAF formed in April 2003. Unlike many community foundations which consolidate their assets with others, AAF is independent.

AAF’s grants to community organizations have grown steadily, along with the value of the funds it manages. From $5,769 in 2007, the total grants awarded reached $15,000 in 2012 and is expected to be about $17,000 in 2013.

The Mower County Historical Society is using an AAF grant to help preserve historical photographs.

With AAF funds, “We upgraded our print scanner to a more robust scanner that can do a larger format,” Historical Society Executive Director Dustin Heckman said. “It’s really been great to work with the Austin Area Foundation.”

From the perspective of donors, AAF offers a means to leave a gift that will benefit the community for many, many years. The Qual family of Austin made a $500 gift to the foundation in memory of family members Jim and Bob. The investment income goes annually to Mower County ARC to support its programs.

“I’m very happy with the whole idea,” said Alice Qual. “And with the way the Foundation has worked for us.”

AAF also assists with community projects by serving as an umbrella, of sorts, under which other organizations can operate to avoid the time and expense of getting their own federally recognized non-profit status. The Austin Dog Park and Veterans Memorial projects have taken advantage of AAF’s administrative services in that manner.

The Foundation’s Austin Legacy Endowment is valued at $529,000, but that’s only a start toward what the foundation board hopes will become a much larger asset pool. Ruzek noted that the community foundation in Grand Rapids, Minn., which started about 10 years before AAF, has $11 million in managed assets. AAF’s goal, for now, is to reach $3 million in assets, a benchmark that would allow it to employ a full-time director to help further boost growth — and further boost service to the community.

“In a nutshell, our mission is that we enhance our community through charitable giving,” Ruzek said. “We work through donors to achieve their goals and intentions.”

More information on AAF is at


2012 AAF grants

• Matchbox Children’s Theatre’s production costs for Pinocchio $1,000

• Paramount’s card access reader $500

• Austin Symphony concert sponsorship $2,500

• Mower County Historical Society’s large-format scanner $1,200

• Children’s dental health “Happy Smiles Kits” $1,200

• Summerset Theatre production funding $1,000

• MC Advocacy Classes $1,500

• Austin Community Band operational costs $700

• Freedom Fest 2013 events and activities $1,000

• St. Olaf’s backpack program, and weekend food bags $1,000

• Mower County Humane Society’s cages for cats and kittens $1,000

• PRC fridge for Catherwood Home $650

• Cornerstone Church’s car repair for single moms $750

• Arc Mower County Scholarship Funds $1,000