Using philanthropy to forge strong family and community bonds

Our fund provides us the opportunity to come together and thoughtfully reflect as a family on the giving that we do.

Nancy Clayton and Brad Collins. Photo: Kathleen Cei

When New Haven architect Nancy Clayton and her husband, Brad Collins, founding principal of a New Haven-based strategic communications firm, decided to create a donor advised fund at The Community Foundation, they had multiple reasons, and multiple objectives.

For Nancy and Brad, the flexibility offered by a donor advised fund was key.

"Our fund provides us the opportunity to come together and thoughtfully reflect as a family on the giving that we do," says Collins.

"We like that we have the option to recommend grants each year to different nonprofits. And, that as our interests change, we can easily direct grants to different organizations. We also like that we have the staff of The Foundation to turn to if we want information on an issue or an organization."

"Ten years ago, when we created the fund, our children were very young," recalls Clayton. "As they grew older, we used The Great Give® as an opportunity to introduce them to the idea of supporting organizations that did something they thought was important. Each year, our daughters would select a few of the nonprofits that would receive donations. One year, they decided we should give to Columbus House because they knew that one of their preschool teachers —someone they had really liked — had taken a job there. They liked what Columbus House did, but it was the connection to their teacher that mattered most."

Like their daughters, the couple's criteria for giving has matured over the years; and their interests have changed.

"When our children were really young, we focused more on healthcare issues," says Collins. "We had become aware that "little" things often became big obstacles to successfully accessing care, and wanted to have some small impact there. As our daughters grew older, we began to focus more on education and supporting enrichment opportunities."

Supporting organizations that offer children hands-on, arts- and play-related activities is important to Clayton. She recalls how inspiring it was when she discovered a passion for art in her youth, which ultimately led to a career in architecture.

"Our children have enjoyed summer camps and school-year classes at Creative Arts Workshop and the Eli Whitney Museum; and we want to help make those same opportunities more available to other families," says Clayton. "We hope that our support helps instill a sense of curiosity and possibility in more children, so they can expand their thinking about what they can choose to be when they grow up."

Though it may be a long way off, the couple looks forward to the day when their daughters, rather than participating in the family's giving decisions, will make the decisions.

"They may want to support the same things, or they may have very different interests and decide to make different kinds of gifts, but it will be something they can do together. We want them to pick things they really care about, and to be passionate about what they support. It doesn't have to be what we're interested in."

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