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Creating a Lasting Charitable Legacy

The modern-day history of Santa Catalina Island dates to 1919, when chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. acquired a controlling interest in the company that owned the land. In 1972, son Philip Knight Wrigley and daughter Dorothy Wrigley Offield established a nonprofit organization, the Catalina Island Conservancy, to protect and restore the ecological grandeur and natural habitat of the island, which is located an hour off the coast of Southern California. By deeding 42,000 acres of wildland to the conservancy, Wrigley intended that it remain forever in its natural state and be shielded from intrusive commercial encroachment. He was also adamant that the land remain accessible to the general public.

To accomplish these goals, an endowment was created to help sustain operations, which is combined with donations and earned income. In 2006, the conservancy engaged Capital Group Private Client Services to help manage and grow the Wrigley Fund Endowment and other conservancy accounts. Today, the conservancy operates as a 501(c)(3) charity overseen by President and CEO Tony Budrovich and governed by a 14-member board of directors. 

Alison Wrigley Rusack, granddaughter of Philip Wrigley, serves as chair of the conservancy benefactor members, a group that works with the directors. Together with Budrovich, they make up the leadership of the organization, whose mission — to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of  conservation, education and recreation — reflects the founder’s intention. Wrigley Rusack is also vice chair of the board of the Santa Catalina Island Company, which manages commercial operations on the island.

Catalina’s natural beauty belies the huge behind-the-scenes effort that goes into its care. The conservancy handles tasks that are grand in scope — maintaining the fragile ecosystem and restoring native plant and animal populations — and others, such as road maintenance, that can be more routine. Whatever the duties, many circumstances are entirely unpredictable and their solutions complex. The conservancy researches and implements cutting-edge, scientific practices in its conservation work as well as unique wind, water, solar and green options aimed at sustainability.

“Catalina Island is like a small country,” Wrigley Rusack says. “You need to have a plan for what might come your way. If there is a torrential downpour, a drought, an earthquake, we have to be ready for anything.”

Maintaining a legacy over time requires work and careful planning.

The conservancy’s longevity underscores the myriad challenges involved in sustaining a philanthropic legacy over time. Many charitably minded people establish foundations that are intended to endure long after their deaths. But not all succeed, partly because of the difficulty in creating entities with the financial and logistical foresight to stand the test of time.

One of the primary lessons Wrigley Rusack has learned is the importance of promoting a shared vision and sense of purpose. Communicating with benefactor and board members, donors and the greater community guides decision-making, she says.

“We have to explain why we’re doing things the way we do them,” Wrigley Rusack observes. “Everyone can go back and look at the minutes [of a meeting] and see the accomplishments. But we want them to really understand our thinking and the process we have gone through to reach our sometimes difficult decisions.”

That outreach extends to the next generation because — just as Wrigley Rusack did herself — children often assume leadership of the organization. As a young girl, Wrigley Rusack spent many evenings listening as her family discussed the issues affecting Catalina. In retrospect, she realizes those conversations instilled an emotional attachment to the island that she and her husband, Geoff, have tried to pass along to their three sons.

“My grandfather and father would talk about what was going on with Catalina and what the issues of the day were,” Wrigley Rusack recalls. “As I got older, I started to absorb the conversations and understand the importance of what they were doing.”

In terms of financial matters, it’s essential to make sure the endowment is managed prudently and with an eye to the future, Wrigley Rusack insists. As with all nonprofit clients, Capital Group Private Client Services works with the Conservancy to help to identify an appropriate investment allocation based on the organization’s spending objectives, provides regular updates and discusses future strategies.  

One of the more common challenges among nonprofits, Wrigley Rusack believes, is striking a balance between staying true to the ideals of the founder while adapting an organization’s approach and practices to changing times. As the conservancy celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, it has responded to shifts in, among other things, culture, environmental preservation techniques and government regulations. Flexibility is vital, she says. Budrovich agrees.

“The stage has been set for the organization’s next 45 years, and it’s an exciting challenge,” he says, adding that a critical component of the conservancy’s success is that the family remains engaged in the work, supports the mission and helps to keep the organization financially sustainable.

“Sometimes nonprofits, particularly those started by family foundations, get in the mindset of ‘My great-grandfather always did it this way and if we don’t do it that way then it’s not in keeping with the founder’s intention,’” Wrigley Rusack observes. “But it’s possible to take that too literally. We strive to always remember and honor the past, but to understand that doing something exactly as it was done in 1972 may not make sense today.”

Through it all, Wrigley Rusack, Budrovich, the leadership team, staff and volunteers work diligently to ensure that the conservancy lives up to the ideals set by Philip K. Wrigley.

“It’s wonderful, but it’s a huge responsibility and you feel it,” Wrigley Rusack says. 

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