OPINION: Foundation pays sweet dividends

George Mathewson

In the early 1970s Stanford University researchers conducted what became known as the marshmallow test.

A child seated at a table was offered a choice – eat one small marshmallow right away or wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows.

Surprisingly, follow-up studies done years later found a correlation between the test and the life success of the kids who took it. The four-year-olds who could wait for a reward went further in school, posted higher SAT scores – they even had a healthier body mass index.

The uptake: delayed gratification comes with its own rewards.

The marshmallow experiment came to mind recently while perusing the financial statements of the Sarnia Community Foundation.

Unlike most charitable organizations, which spend the money they get quickly on various good causes, foundations are all about delayed gratification.

Sarnia’s foundation began in 1983 with a $25 donation. Since then it has continued to bank its gifts, most less than $100 and coming from all walks of life.

A portion is returned annually in the form of community grants but the principal – and this is key – is allowed to build and accumulate. With prudent investment and $300,000 more in donations last year, the Foundation’s endowment has blossomed into a nest egg worth $3.2 million.

A decision made 30 years ago to save for the future is beginning to pay huge dividends. Last year, for example, the Foundation and its collection of funds allowed special needs students to attend summer camp and improved the math skills of children with learning disabilities.

It helped volunteers add benches and play structures at Kenwick on the Lake, bring new doctors to the community, get drunk drivers off the road, launch a new music program and open a centre where mental health clients and their families support each other.

It also provided scholarships, computers, a jazz festival and hundreds of soup kitchen meals each and every month.

In fact, 37 organizations benefitted from Foundation grants in 2014.

Best of all, the principal remains intact so there’s much, much more to come.

In 1990 the government of Norway started banking the surplus wealth of its oil and gas industry. Today it sits on top of a $1-trillion pension fund, or about $200,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation.

Alberta tried something similar in 1976. But subsequent provincial governments starved the Heritage Fund for contributions and raided it to satisfy immediate wants.

The Sarnia Community Foundation and its volunteer board is following the Norwegian model, and deserves thanks for quietly, and with little fanfare, enhancing the social fabric of our community.

It has delay gratification because it understands that, in the end, two marshmallows are always better than one.