An Unlikely Case for Planned Giving: Grafton, Vermont
By Mark Hefter, Esq., Associate Vice President of Planned Giving, American Technion Society and President-Elect, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater NY Chapter
I receive a graphic lesson in the power of gift planning several weekends per year from an unlikely source – the village of Grafton, Vermont. My wife and I have been visiting Grafton since we discovered it by accident on a trip to New England 30 years ago. Grafton’s people once earned a hard living farming, cutting trees, quarrying rock or milling wool. By the mid 20th Century, Grafton was a dying town, farmed, logged and mined dry.
By 1960, the world appeared to have left Grafton behind and all-but forgotten. One person who didn’t forget Grafton was Dean Mathey. Mathey, a wealthy financier from Princeton, NJ, had spent a couple of summers in Grafton as a child. The village and its surroundings must have left a profound impression. With the help of a cousin who remained in Grafton, Dean Mathey established and provided initial funding for a private foundation in 1963. Mathey died in 1972, and he left his residual estate to the foundation as additional financial support.
The Foundation’s mission since its founding has been to “promote the vitality of Grafton and Vermont’s rural communities through its philanthropic and educational programs and its subsidiaries whose operations contribute to these endeavors.”
Southeastern Vermont remains a rural community to this day, a place where prosperity comes hard, if it comes at all. The Foundation has been instrumental in rebuilding and revitalization of Grafton and the surrounding area and was the guiding force behind the restoration of the Grafton Inn in 1964. The Inn today provides luxury accommodations, and its restaurant is an exemplar of locavore and slow food cuisine.
A year later, in 1965, the Foundation revived the Grafton Village Cheese Company. Today its produce wins international awards for excellence and is sold and eaten throughout the United States.
The Foundation also owns a considerable portion of the real estate in and around Grafton. It has restored many of the historic homes in the village to their original splendor and also worked to permanently conserve the historic, recreational and natural character of much of the land around Grafton, whether on its own or through partnerships with land conservation charities.
Today, as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding, the Foundation, has an endowment of over $65 million, which it uses to the continuing benefit of Grafton and other rural communities in Vermont. In addition to granting several million dollars in support of rural communities throughout the state, the Foundation operates several farms, businesses, historic exhibits, recreational facilities and museums in and around Grafton.
None of these institutions would exist without the Foundation’s energy and support. Their scholarship program has helped thousands of students from Grafton and the surrounding area attend college. They also fund annual conferences to explore critical issues that help shape public policy in Vermont.
Last winter, my wife Rebecca and I were snowshoeing at the local ski center, operated by the Foundation. About a half an hour into our walk, Rebecca stopped, turned to me and asked, “Do you think Dean Mathey knew how much joy he’d be bringing to people like us when he planned his estate?”
It then struck me that everything we enjoy about Grafton- the wonderful inn and tavern, the world-class outdoor center, the nature museum, the town itself-would not exist-in its current form at least-without the generosity of Dean Mathey. We are the beneficiaries of his vision fifty years later.
I am sure there will be other beneficiaries, both residents and vacationers, fifty years from now.
When talking about creative charitable giving, it is easy to get lost in its complexity-rates of return, tax consequences, or legal and financial issues. We tend to forget that each of us has the power to be a “Dean Mathey”- to leave a permanent legacy, transform lives across generations and leave the world a better place than when we found it.
Rest assured that regardless of one’s immediate financial goals- to increase current income, to provide for heirs, to save taxes, or to turn unproductive property into working capital, the lasting benefits of planned giving are the permanent legacy each of us has the power to create, the power to turn our dreams and visions into reality, and the ability to positively impact our own lives and the lives of those not yet born.