Donor Spotlight

Donor Spotlight

Jo Ellen Diehl Yeary | Generosity rooted in pride, remembrance, dedication to home

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The philanthropic gap within Appalachian Ohio has long been a fundamental impediment to our ability to remove barriers and create opportunities. Knowing that changing the philanthropic landscape would empower our citizens and communities to create opportunities today and across future generations, the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio was founded in 1998 by a passionate group of leaders.

They understood a regional approach would be necessary to ensure every community in Appalachian Ohio received philanthropic support.

How We Got Here 

Unlike many other foundations you might be familiar with, FAO started in a nontraditional way, without the spark of a large trust or endowment. Instead, FAO began like many things in Appalachian Ohio – because a group of people recognized a need in the community.

This need became clear to leaders across the region as they saw more and more nonprofits, schools, and communities seeking grant dollars and support to their collaborations. They were looking for the same opportunities that were available in other areas of the state and wondering where they could find these precious resources in and for Appalachian Ohio. When local leaders identified this need – this philanthropy gap – they went to the State of Ohio with an idea.

With the partnership of the State of Ohio and then Governor Bob Taft, an extraordinary challenge grant was issued by the State. For every dollar the early leaders of FAO raised from the region and beyond, the State would match each one up to $1 million. With this encouragement and support, early Foundation leaders and partners raised over $1 million, earning the state matching challenge grant dollars for our initial operations.

With that initial investment, the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio launched in 1998 and we began our work of creating opportunities for the citizens and communities of Appalachian Ohio by inspiring and supporting philanthropy. Our humble beginnings, however, often presented challenges for the Foundation and our ability to make transformational investments to support those nonprofits, schools, and communities that spurred us forward in the first place.

One of the unique characteristics of community foundations like FAO is their sustainability. Fees charged for asset management are used to cover administrative and fundraising costs, providing donors with a great sense of security about the way the funds they give will be managed across generations. But without the traditional large trust or endowment in place from the outset, FAO was raising nearly all of our administrative dollars every year.

In 2014, this reality led the Foundation to issue our IPO – Initial Philanthropic Offering. With the visionary leadership of many “shareholders,” we set a goal to raise $100 million dollars in new philanthropic resources over the Foundation’s next 15 years so we could focus on the philanthropy gap that inspired our start. Just five years later, we had already returned $80 million.

Through this outpouring of support, we’ve been able to create a new goal for the next twenty years: $1 billion in philanthropy. This new goal might sound lofty — almost as lofty as our $100 million goal sounded in 2014. But with a new $10 million matching grant from the State of Ohio that effectively doubles gifts to FAO endowments and our I’m a Child of Appalachia Fund, we are well on our way.

The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio’s beginnings reflect the hard work, humility, problem-solving skills, and willingness to help our neighbors reflected every day in the people of our region. Much like an Amish barn raising, the Foundation would not exist without the vision, collaboration, and investments of so many who are excited to see what can happen when we grow the resources that lead to a region abundant with possibilities.