"We make a living out of what we earn and a life out of what we do," he concluded his brief comments.
The foundation is in the final stages of a merger with the Peninsula Community Foundation to become the Silicon Valley Community Foundation -- considered one of the most significant mergers in the history of large community foundations.
Ely, a retired auto dealer and real-estate investor in the Palo Alto area, said he got his inspiration of "giving back to the community" from the late David Packard and William Hewlett, in addition to a long family history of community and social engagement.
He is the grandson of Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, who served as Stanford University's longest-tenured president from 1916 to 1949.
Ely, now in his 80s, retired in the mid-1980s to devote himself to philanthropy and community involvement, primarily through the Community Foundation Silicon Valley. In addition to direct giving and serving as a "role model for many of today's philanthropists," Ely has committed his personal time, serving on the boards of more than 30 community nonprofit organizations over the years.
Ely said the Community Fund began with just $55,000 left over from a Santa Clara County War Chest fund from World War II, becoming the Community Trust of Santa Clara County.
By 1990, the fund under Ely's guidance had grown to about $10 million in assets, and Ely was awarded a T-shirt emblazoned with, "The $10 Million Man," current President Peter Hero of the Community Foundation Silicon Valley recalled. A few years later the fund surpassed $100 million, and Hero said -- being conscious of Ely's admonitions to keep overhead costs down -- offered to send Ely a zero to iron on his T-shirt. He then tossed a new T-shirt to Ely, reading "The $1 Billion Man."
The Community Foundation currently has assets of about $919 million as of its most recent financial report. When combined with the Peninsula foundation's $625 million, the total assets will approach $1.5 billion.
How those funds will be used was explored by Emmett D. Carson, the man named president and CEO of the combined foundation as of Nov. 1. The formal merger -- approved by unanimous votes of the two boards on July 12 -- is pending federal and state approvals as a new nonprofit organization.
Carson until last week was head of the Minneapolis Foundation for the past 12 years. He is known internationally as an expert on community foundations and has written more than 75 articles on philanthropy and social justice. Under his leadership, the Minneapolis Foundation grew from $186 million in assets to more than $600 million.
He said the best community foundations of all sizes around the world share a single characteristic, regardless of the type of problems their communities face.
They "are busy intersections where people of diverse racial, cultural, social and economic backgrounds, different beliefs and interests and from all sections of the economy share ideals and pool their resources to address common problems aimed at making the community a better place," Carson said.
But he said the "least-used tool" is a "convening and public voice" that goes beyond giving grants and raising funds.
He said foundations have a "moral obligation and responsibility to share what they think they have learned," and to "use its cash and its cachet."
While foundations cannot speak out on every issue any more than they can give grants to every organization, on key issues facing the community "expressing an informed point of view does not make an institution partisan, ideological or political," he said, eliciting applause.
He added that he has the "freedom of not knowing what has been tried and failed before."
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