It all began back in 1986, when a legal battle ensued over control of Beryl Buck's $435 million charitable fund. The San Francisco Foundation had been managing the Ross, California native's trust and tried to void a stipulation in Buck's will that the money would only be spent in Marin County. You see, Marin County is one of the wealthiest counties in America.
The Marin Community Foundation (MCF), born in an out-of-court settlement, received all the Buck funds. One stipulation was that MCF must comply with ongoing probate court supervision to ensure that the money was used to benefit Marin residents exclusively.
It took 25 years, but MCF has finally proven that it doesn't need big brother watching any longer. "We had had no real problems with any of the audits or accountings," said the court-appointed Special Master, Gary Strankman. "It appeared we were at a point where the court supervision was no longer required.” Strankman went on to say that MCF never attempted to violate Buck's will at any time during his 12-year tenure as Special Master. The only time it was ever discussed was after 9/11, when most foundations were sending money to New York City. Yet even then, MCF stayed true to the donor's wishes and kept funds close to home.
Since its inception, MCF has restricted its Buck-funded grantmaking to the county borders. Following in the Bucks' footsteps, more than 300 individuals, families, businesses, and community groups have established funds, many of which are approved for distribution in other regions of the United States and throughout the world. Under MCF's 2010-2014 Strategic Plan, Buck funds have been going toward four Marin-specific strategic initiatives and nine community grant areas. In total, Buck Trust money has funded $750 million in Marin County grants (Read Marin Community Foundation: Bay Area Grants). Grantmaking priorities in Marin County are as follows:
- Affordable housing
- Closing the educational achievement gap
- Reducing climate change
- Ending the cycle of poverty
- Arts education
- Public engagement in the arts
- Access to open space by underserved residents
- Legal services to low income residents
- Integrating immigrants
- Improving community health
- Providing services for the elderly
- Protecting the county's ecosystem
- Fostering social justice and interfaith understanding
The court-ordered supervision cost MCF an estimated $240,000 each year. Strankman said, "It should be a matter of celebration that I and the court feel that now the authority should go back to the people of Marin, who should have had it in the first place except for all this court business that got in the way."
"It's a big, historic day for us, for sure," added MCF President, Thomas Peters.