“We are here to inspire people to give,” said Carl Little, Maine Community Foundation’s director of communications and marketing, of its annual Inspiring Philanthropy event held at Hannaford Hall in the Abromsom Center of USM.

As a capacity crowd filed into the auditorium below, eager to hear the event’s keynote speaker, Nell Newman, talk about organics as a form of philanthropy, upstairs there was a small and quiet private reception, welcoming Newman to Portland.

“I’m speaking about looking at organics as a philanthropic gift to the environment,” said Newman, co-founder and president of Newman’s Own Organics. “I got my degree in human ecology at College of the Atlantic, and I think I’ve come full circle… buying organic is a philanthropic gesture not only to the environment that we live in, but to humanity. It’s a form of support, and that’s what philanthropy is.”

For more than 30 years, the Maine Community Foundation’s mission has been a simple one: to work with donors to improve the quality of life here in Maine through philanthropy. What began as a ten-dollar gift to establish the foundation back in 1983 has evolved into an endowment worth more than $350 million today.

“We’re really about impact,” explained Little. “We want charitable dollars to make a difference, and we have three goals following our work. Education, specifically getting children through college; leadership… to move Maine forward; and place, or supporting the things that create vibrancy in a community and make it thrive.”

Anna Marie Thron, who was chatting with board members Wendy Wolf and Peter Mills, who is also executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, has a donor-advised fund with the foundation.

“I gave money to the foundation and the foundation invests it,” she said, explaining one of the ways the foundation works not only to invest its donor money, but also to redirect it back into the communities and organizations that need it most. “I can give grants to any nonprofit I want.”

The Maine Community Foundation has awarded more than $180 million in grants since its inception, and manages more than 1,400 different charitable funds set up by donors, who then can disperse their funds as they see fit.

“We’re looking at healthy communities and healthy forests,” said Rob Riley, president of Northern Forest Center, who was joined by Sandra and David Dixon, a retired foundation board member. “We’ve received support from the foundation for a number of different strategic initiatives.”

Anna Roosevelt, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, is new to the board of the foundation. She was joined by fellow board member Dighton Spooner, senior associate director of career planning at Bowdoin College, and Sharon Hanna of Cumberland.

“I retired to Maine and then found this wonderful job at Goodwill,” said Roosevelt. “It’s an exciting social enterprise. We focus on jobs and help people prepare for, secure and sustain good jobs. Goodwill is not your typical thrift store… it’s a unifier in the community, and that’s one of the things that really drew me to the foundation.”

Rosalyn Bernstein, a past chair of the foundation, who was joined by past board member Mert Henry, commented on the act of philanthropy in general.

“I always say I’ve gotten more out of it than I put into it,” she said with a smile.

It’s a shared sentiment.

“I usually talk about organics, not so much about philanthropy. It’s a different tack,” said Newman, taking a moment to recall her father and his philosophy about giving back. “‘Whatever you do,’ he said, ‘please don’t put my name on a building.’ He had a very humble attitude about it… he didn’t want to attract attention, he just wanted to give money away.”

Inspiring philanthropy indeed.

For more information about the Maine Community Foundation, please visit www.mainecf.org

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:[email protected]