Download History of the Community Foundation

Chronological History

Early 1900’s

1914: The first community foundation formed in Cleveland, Ohio, by banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff. Mr. Goff had a vision to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a permanent endowment. Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust’s resources would accrue. And thus, formed the first community foundation.

1919: Within five years of the founding of the Cleveland Foundation, similar foundations sprang up in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Buffalo.

1921: Over 30 community foundations formed in the United States representing most major cities.


The Tax Reform Act of 1969 introduced new legislation and regulations that provided community foundations with new tax advantages not afforded to private foundations. Finalized in 1976, the new regulatory advantages spurred foundation growth as communities across the United States began to see the potential benefits in having publicly “owned” permanent endowments.


“How will Washington County remember us?” asked Merle Elliott, a businessman and community leader. This question began the need and interest of creating a community foundation. Mr. Elliott described a community foundation as “a permanent institution that will serve our community for many generations to come.” Describing the benefits of giving to a community foundation verses giving directly to a nonprofit organization, Mr. Elliott said, “In survival mode, it’s easy for an organization to invade its pot of money to pay for operating expenses. But a community foundation commits to the notion that it won’t be invaded…When money comes to us, we’re responsible for it, and it doesn’t get used except for the way intended. If you give to a community foundation, that money will be there.”


Early 90’s: The idea of a community foundation in Washington County gained local commitment and enthusiasm. Michael G. Day, a local elder law attorney with training in estate planning, became a catalyst to help the effort stay on track. Mr. Day began speaking to local groups and clubs as well as meeting privately with key individuals to ask for their support and help.

Mid 90’s: A number of key people clearly understood the benefits of a community foundation and urged Mr. Elliott to move forward. One of these key players was John M. Waltersdorf, president of Tristate Electrical Supply Co., and chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee. In 1995, Mr. Day filed the articles of incorporation with the state of Maryland, and the Community Foundation of Washington County MD, Inc. became incorporated on November 3, 1995.

1997: Although almost a decade had passed from conception to birth, the Community Foundation finally launched in November 1997 during National Community Foundations Week. Mr. Elliott became the first chairman of the board. The new Foundation had nearly $100,000 in assets at the time and planned to make grants to local nonprofits once its unrestricted endowment reached $500,000.

1998: The Foundation granted almost $19,000 to 32 local nonprofit organizations during its first year of operation. The Foundation also had assets of $200,000.


2000: The People’s Choice Awards began as the Foundation’s signature event. This annual event honors Washington County’s volunteer heroes.

2001: The Maryland Community Foundation Association formed and accepted the Community Foundation of Washington County MD as a charter member.

2003: The Community Foundation established its Unrestricted Grants with an initial amount of $25,372 awarded to five nonprofits.

2005: The Foundation partnered with the John M. Waltersdorf Family and the Richard A. Henson Foundation to provide a $5 million, one-to-one match to funds raised by the participating nonprofits in the challenge. The Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign would ultimately inject $10 million into the efforts of 16 local nonprofits over the next five years.

2007: The Community Foundation celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first grant. In just 10 years, the Foundation had grown from $9,000 in contributions and $0 in grants, to nearly $3 million in contributions and $733,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations. The Foundation also held a total of $13.6 million in invested assets. The Foundation introduced IMPACT, a publication to showcase the success of the Foundation in its first ten years and to highlight the annual report. As a result of its success, IMPACT has become an annual publication released during the month of November.

2008: The Mary K. Bowman Historical and Fine Arts Trust dissolved and turned their assets of $1 million over to the Community Foundation to manage. Their advisory board remains intact to continue the granting process.

2009: The Foundation hires Mason Investment Advisory Services and adopts a new investment allocation model.


  • Collaboration with the United Way of Washington County began the creation of the first Strategic Community Impact Plan (SCIP), a long range strategic plan to improve the quality of life in Washington County.
  • The Community Foundation lost a true champion and benefactor when John M. Waltersdorf passed away at the age of 84. In total, Mr. Waltersdorf contributed over $6.5 million and helped establish over 20 funds at the Community Foundation.
  • The Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign ended, raising more than $10 million for endowment, which resulted in over $500,000 a year in future operating capital for the 16 participating nonprofit organizations. These annual grants will provide services, programs and scholarships to the nonprofits’ clients and members.
  • The Foundation saw its best single year of investment performance in its 13-year history with assets totaling $18.3 million and grant awards totaling $887,000.

2013: The Community Foundation hosts the first Washington County Gives, a 24-hour web-based, fundraising promotion for area nonprofits to help raise operating dollars for their organization. This event raised almost $170,000 for the participating nonprofits. The Foundation also surpassed $25 million in assets.

2014: The Community Foundation began Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, in conjunction with five other funders, with a goal of mailing one book per month to 1,500 low-income children from birth to five. The new Washington County scholarship website launched as a clearinghouse for students.

2015: The Foundation saw the creation of 36 new funds and introduced Endow Maryland, which allows Washington County residents to claim a 25% state tax credit when they create or contribute to an unrestricted community endowment fund or field of interest fund at the Community Foundation. In 2015, 21 donors either contributed to a pre-existing fund or created their own fund through this program.


  • Responsive grants equaled $125,130, putting the Foundation’s total grants over $1 million since the program’s inception 13 years ago.
  • The fourth Washington County Gives raised more than $400,000 in online donations, matching dollars and prizes for 73 participating organizations. This year’s event included a Celebration with more than 200 people and additional prizes for the nonprofits. 
  • The annual People’s Choice Awards, honoring individuals and nonprofits in the community who have made a difference in Washington County, were revamped to include four awards: the new Nonprofit Shining Star Award, the new PCA Nonprofit Award, the Rising Star Award and PCA Volunteer Award.


The Community Foundation of Washington County MD now holds more than 300 funds with $38 million in assets. It has distributed more than $19 million in grants and scholarships.