Not the usual nonprofit | AspenTimes.com

Not the usual nonprofit

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The top staffers at General Service Foundation admit that the grant-making group’s name is not very sexy, nor is it likely to attract the attention of local nonprofits looking for a funding source.

But that’s OK, because GSF is not in the business of making grants to local organizations. Instead, its mission is to grant funds to nonprofits in a select array of national and international programmatic areas, such as reproductive rights, human rights and democracy, and a new initiative that the foundation calls “building progressive voices” in Colorado. The foundation used to be involved in Western water issues, but that ended recently, according to Executive Director Lani Shaw.

Since the organization does not give nonprofits in the valley money, one might wonder why it is based in Aspen, when high rents have driven many nonprofits to cheaper quarters downvalley.

One answer is because GSF President Robert Musser and his wife, vice president Marcie Musser, live in Aspen.

Plus, Robert’s grandparents Margaret and Clifton Musser, son of an original partner in the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co., began the foundation in 1946 with an initial endowment of about $3,000. The foundation’s name, incidentally, comes from the General Service Co., a former subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser that was in charge of internal fiscal and business matters.

According to a recent article in the Aspen Philanthropist magazine (winter 2006-07), the leanings of the foundation are “pretty liberal,” in the words of Marcie Musser, and the organization’s board at the time boasted five third-generation cousins and seven from the fourth generation.

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The organization has a “very discrete and well-carved-out program areas” that it contributes to, Shaw said this week, explaining that it is a private foundation that used its original endowment as an investment base and makes grants out of the dividends and interest gained from those investments.

According to the organization’s Form 990 tax statements for 2005 and 2006, General Service Foundation had more than $76.3 million in “fair market value” assets at the end of 2006 (book value was $54,852,000), spread among a variety of investment accounts and trusts. The term “book value,” explained controller Bill Repplinger, refers to the value of the asset when purchased, while “fair market value” is the amount GSF would get if it sold the asset at a particular time.

The foundation’s income from investments in 2006 came to more than $4.5 million, and in 2006 it granted $2,132,100 to 91 organizations. The grants actually paid out totaled just in excess of $1.2 million, with promises of future payments to some organizations that came to $1,177,500, plus an “unpaid grants” balance of $275,000, for a total of approximately $2.4 million.

Shaw explained that the 2006 grant year, because so many grants were split into two payment periods, was “not a representative year for us in terms of our grantmaking budget” for reasons she called “technical and complex.”

More typical, she said, was the $2,130,000 in grants that GSF gave out in 2005, and the anticipated $2,960,000 in grants planned for the current year. She said the organization has distributed in the neighborhood of $65 million in grants since it was founded.

Among the recipients of GSF grants in 2006 were such names as the Alliance for Global Justice, the Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos (Mexican Human Rights Commission), the Due Process of Law Foundation, the International Association of Women Judges, Advocates For Youth, Asians for Reproductive Justice, Trout Unlimited, Western Colorado Congress and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, among others.

The recipients work in everything from reproductive rights and “gender justice” to legal aid for Mexicans to globalization issues to campaigns for sweatshop-free goods.

Grant applications these days come almost entirely through the foundation’s website, http://www.generalservice.org, which has an initial screening process to make sure the applicant organization fits with the GSF granting guidelines.

The GSF tax documents show that the organization has 14 trustees on its board, including Robert and Marcie Musser, all but one of whom get no compensation. Zoe Estrin, a trustee who lives in Aspen, performed 15 hours of work per week in 2006 and earned $12,725 for that work.

The organization has five paid employees: Shaw (who earned $121,800 in 2006); Repplinger ($81,803); program director Holly Bartling ($72,292); grants manager Sara Samuels ($62,486); and program manager Renee Fazzri ($54,054). Fazzri’s position was new last year, according to the tax documents.

The organization’s total operating and administrative expenses for 2006 were $1,573,717, compared to $1,375,927 in 2005, and it paid out just in excess of $459,500 to five investment managers handling different parts of the GSF endowment assets.

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