South Dakota Bar Association

South Dakota Bar Association

It was on the golf course that a meaningful partnership between the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) and the South Dakota Bar Association (SDBA) first started. The year was 1994 and Tom Barnett, president of the SDBA, was enjoying a round with friend Bernie Christenson, the first president of the SDCF, when Christenson mentioned joining forces.

Christenson suggested that SDCF would not only be a great resource for members as they worked with clients to fulfill their charitable goals, but also the most efficient way to get it done. “He told me about all kinds of people who didn’t have a lot of money, but wanted to leave a legacy and that really resonated with me,” recalls Barnett. “I knew this was a partnership that was good for us, and great for South Dakota.”

The efficiency of SDCF also impacted Barnett, who recalled his time as an attorney and the challenges that cropped up when well-meaning people left small amounts of money to charitable causes in their wills. “There would be an older couple who died and they would leave a little money for the high school,” he says. “But it would only be about $300 a year. After you do the accounting and legal work, it cost you $500 to award a $300 scholarship.”

But SDCF solves that problem—allowing seemingly small gifts to have a big impact. “They would have been a lifesaver for me back then,” he says.

Barnett’s first conversation with Christenson has since turned in to a long-term partnership that has grown over the years. SDBA started an endowment at the South Dakota Community Foundation, and SDCF has a presence at the association’s annual conference. The work—and collaboration—is increasingly important, Barnett says. “We are literally living in the biggest generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. The boomers and the older generation have a much greater interest in philanthropy.”

SDCF is a valuable estate planning tool for the association’s members. “In this day and age, it’s very difficult to manage a trust unless it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars and the cost of administration isn’t eating it up,” he says. “It just makes giving out of reach for so many people.”

But SDCF opens the door for people of all financial backgrounds to give. It is leaving a wake of generosity in the community. “It is giving, and knowing, that your grandchildren will see the fruits,” he says.

We like to think that we’re making a difference and it goes on and on. Because of the work we do together, it will now, 30 years from now, and even longer.
— Tom Barnett