With a donation that cements a local philanthropic partnership and sharpens its focus on grant making in Lancaster County, the High Foundation has given $65 million to the Lancaster County Community Foundation for a new donor-advised fund.

The High Foundation staff and board will continue to make final decisions about how grants are made from the new fund, but say they hope to benefit from the knowledge and input of the community foundation’s 12-member staff. The High Foundation’s executive director is its only staff member.

“It doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to be moving the High Foundation forward, we are. But it’s going to be on a tandem basis in partnership with the community foundation,” said S. Dale High, chair of the board of the High Foundation and chair emeritus of the High Companies.

High said the expertise of the Lancaster County Community Foundation can continue the High Foundation’s focus on strategic giving meant to inspire long-term change, not just address short-term needs.

“Philanthropy is a difficult thing,” High said. “You can do damage with philanthropy that’s ill focused. If all you’re doing is creating entitlement and dependency, that’s not a move forward. You have to find ways to come alongside and be a catalyst, help empower, enable and support.”

The High Foundation donation is the largest-ever one-time gift to the Lancaster County Community Foundation, which for 2020 reported $141 million in net assets in its audited financial statements.

“This High Foundation fund is an investment in the future of Lancaster County,” said Tracy Cutler, executive vice president of the Lancaster County Community Foundation. “We can’t sit here today and know what it’s going to look like in 50 years or 75 years, but what we can be is sure that this investment and these dollars will continue to catalyze and influence change.”

Lancaster County focus

High Foundation is a philanthropic nonprofit organization that is funded by members of the High family, owners of the High companies — High Industries, High Real Estate Group and their affiliates. Dale High’s father, Sanford, began the Lancaster-based firm in 1931 with the founding of High Welding, which became High Steel Structures.

Today, the High companies have about 1,900 employees — two-thirds of whom are employed in Lancaster County — and annual revenues of $660 million.

The High Foundation and the Lancaster County Community Foundation have a long history of working together on projects. High Foundation has been a presenting sponsor of Extraordinary Give, the Lancaster County Community Foundation’s one-day fall giving extravaganza that last year raised $13.4 million. Dale High also served as board member and board chair of the Lancaster County Community Foundation from 2002 through 2006.

While the High Foundation would have continued to make grants with this money on its own, doing it now through the Lancaster County Community Foundation locks up the funds to be used exclusively in Lancaster County since the community foundation’s charter directs giving here.

“Our mission is we contribute to communities where High has a business presence,” said Robin Stauffer, executive director of the High Foundation. “Lancaster County is not the only community we contribute in, but we are directing these dollars to Lancaster County.”

Sam Bressi, CEO of the Lancaster County Community Foundation, said he hopes the gift from such a prominent philanthropic family can inspire others to set up their own legacy funds at the Lancaster County Community Foundation.

“If you’re connected to Lancaster County --and no matter what level of resources -- we can help you leave a legacy,” Bressi said.

Dale High echoed that sentiment, saying the possibility of encouraging others to consider setting up legacy funds focused on the long-term future of Lancaster County was a major motivation for transferring the $65 million.

“We can’t have that same impact only in funding our own private foundation,” he said. “It doesn’t send the same signal in terms of, ‘Hey, here’s a path you might want to consider.’”

The most recent IRS Form 990 filing available for High Foundation is from 2019, and shows $60.7 million in total assets. Without directly answering the question of how much money the High Foundation has left after the $65 million donation, Stauffer said it will continue to be funded so it can operate as a strong, grant making organization on its own.

Dale High reinforced that commitment, saying “we absolutely intend to contribute to the High Foundation and continue it as a separate, strong foundation. … We certainly have some plans in place to make that happen.”

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