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September 11th Changes Everything

The last thing that Jennifer Borg, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of North Jersey Media Group, needed in her 60-hour work week was the added responsibility of establishing and administering a non-profit arm of her family's publishing and printing company. From time to time, we would discuss the possibility of setting up a foundation but frankly, we didn't want to be in the fundraising business, the 39-year-old explains. Our family has always been extremely generous, not only in terms of dollars but also in sweat equity. Between her father, Malcolm, third-generation chairman of the board, her brother Stephen, president of North Jersey Community Newspapers (the company's weekly division), her mother Sandy and herself, Jennifer estimates that they sit on no fewer than eleven boards of directors.

Not to mention that the process of establishing a 501(c)(3) organization is, as she puts it, highly regulated, requiring, among other things, certification from the state in which it is incorporated as well as from the IRS. In the long run, we felt it was more cost-effective for the company to write a check than it was for us to go through the hassle of establishing a non-profit foundation, Borg admits.

But then 9/11 happened and they no longer had a choice. Thomas E. Franklin, photographer for the company's signature newspaper, The Record, snapped the award- winning image of three firefighters raising the American flag amid the rubble of the twin towers and, overnight, it became a global symbol for the indefatigable American spirit. The paper was besieged with requests, not only for reprints but also from its readers who wanted to donate cash to aid the victims. We weren't set up to handle tax-deductible contributions, Borg says.

Scrambling, Borg contacted the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a non-profit organization created in 1979 for the development and improvement of communities throughout the state, and set up a donor-advised Disaster Relief Fund, becoming one of the first in the world to establish a fundraising vehicle for the victims of 9/11 and their families. From September 12, 2001 until about six months later when the North Jersey Media Group Foundation received its official status, the Community Foundation of New Jersey handled the thousands of donations Communications Manager Bill Campanali estimates they received, ultimately transferring, according to Borg, $1.2 million, raised from readers throughout the country as well as from the North Jersey Media Group employees and families. To date, the Disaster Relief Fund, under the auspices of the North Jersey Media Group Foundation, has donated almost a half-million dollars to assist the families and victims of September 11th.

Technically speaking, Borg could have elected to leave the funds under the auspices of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, but doing so would have meant relinquishing some control. Although the donor can make recommendations as to where the money is to be distributed, these recommendations are subject to approval by our board of directors, Campanali explains. Because it had a large company behind it, it made sense for the North Jersey Media Group to establish its own foundation with its own board to oversee the funds.

Having done so, Borg now finds herself in the position of advising others who might be contemplating a similar step.

First of all, the process needs to be easier, she laughs. I wouldn't recommend doing this without a lawyer since there are federal as well as state regulations. Then there is the internal administration of the foundation that requires the creation of a mission statement, bylaws, officers, a board of directors, grant applications, a selection committee and an auditor to keep the books. There is a lot of formality, explains Borg.

Not to mention some soul searching. We determined we wanted to be able to give money directly to the people who need it, and they are frequently the ones who fall through the bureaucratic cracks, Borg elaborates. They also decided to concentrate their efforts locally, to make a difference in the lives of North Jersey residents.

Sandra Borg serves as the foundation's chair. I knew my mom would be better at identifying local causes because of her community involvement and my dad asked to specifically distance himself because of his position in the company, Jennifer explains. Her brother is vice president and she is the secretary/founder. The president and treasurer of the newspaper group also are officers. The three family members make up the board of trustees. The board meets formally twice a year and informally all the time. Borg estimates that on average she spends about ten hours a week on foundation business and she, like everyone else involved, contributes her services. I wish I had more family members who I could use as resources, she laughs.

And was it worth it? Absolutely, she says emphatically. Creating the foundation helped us organize and strategize our giving, forcing family discussions about what was important to us as individuals versus what we would support as a foundation. Although she now finds herself in the infancy stages of soliciting funds (by law, to maintain a public charity, one third of its money has to come from the public), she is 200 percent passionate about her hands-on involvement in helping her company's constituency.

There is no doubt that the impetus to set up this foundation came from the community, Borg says. Had 9/11 not occurred, there would be no foundation.

 

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