Forward Thinking

Emmy Stuebing considers how to carry her commitment to community into the future

For Emmy Stuebing, it’s true that charity starts at home. Although born in Red Deer, most of her family hails from Edmonton, where they’ve been deeply involved in the city’s local organizations. Stuebing says that thanks to her family’s dedication to giving back to the community, it’s something that has always come naturally to her. Her grandfather, Ralph Loder, was a proud supporter of the Citadel Theatre, and served on its board of directors until his death in 2012. “To me, it was just part of what you do as a human being and as an adult,” she says. In fact, Stuebing has spent her entire adult life giving back, first as a member of the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Alberta participating in the group’s numerous charity drives and events, and then as a professional fundraiser, volunteering and working for charities and non-profits.

The former executive director of the Alberta Emerald Foundation, Stuebing is now the associate director of fund development atthe Edmonton Public Library, tasked with raising $10 million for improvements to its downtown branch. She’s also thinking about the future, and how she can continue to support the causes that matter most to her.

There is a widely held misconception that endowment funds are reserved for wealthy families that have large sums of money to invest. Endowment funds operate by investing an initial gift. The earnings then allow for a percentage of the endowment to be granted each year while enabling it to grow and continue to give in perpetuity.

They’re saying, ‘Hey, she’s young, she’s not super rich; if she can do this, maybe I can too.’ I’m happy to be an example of what you can do.

Stuebing, a self-described “professional volunteer,” says she hardly falls into the class of people that she would generally perceive as having their own endowment fund. But Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) emerging funds are changing that perception. Rather than expecting a large contribution up-front, emerging funds give donors up to 10 years to raise $10,000 in capital. Once the fund reaches $10,000 it can begin granting.

Kathy Hawkesworth, ECF’s director of donor services, says that people are surprised and delighted to learn how simple it is. “So often ‘endowment’ is equated with great wealth. People appreciate that they can have a lasting impact by growing a fund over time.” Stuebing, who had worked with Hawkesworth in her years in fund development and during her time at the Emerald Foundation, was thrilled by the idea.

Stuebing realized that she was already donating hundreds of dollars a year to various charities around the city, and that the amount required to start a fund – it works out to about $85 a month – wasn’t substantially more than she was already giving. As a gift to herself, and the community at large, she decided to launch her own fund in time for her 30th birthday, asking friends and family to contribute rather than buying gifts. She named it the Emmy Stuebing Family and Friends Fund and set up recurring monthly donations to reach her goal. When she got married a couple years ago, rather than registering for gifts, Stuebing and her new husband asked friends to contribute either to their honeymoon fund or to her endowment.

She reached her goal last spring, at 38, a year and a half ahead of schedule. “When I think about things that I’m proud to have accomplished, this is certainly one of the things that I take great pride in,” she says. Choosing the recipients for her first disbursement was a thrill, and she split the $400 between the Edmonton Public Library and Theatre Network, – which recently lost its home when the historic Roxy Theatre burned down in early January – where she’s a board member. “It’s important to me to put my money where my mouth is. That way, when I ask others to donate, I can say ‘join me,’ rather than ‘please give.'”

Stuebing has represented her own fund as passionately as she has the not-for-profits she’s worked for as a fundraiser over the past 17 years. Hawkesworth says that Stuebing has been “a great ambassador” for her own fund by encouraging friends and family members to contribute. But she’s been an ambassador in another sense as well, by inspiring others to start their own endowment funds. Stuebing says that several of her friends and acquaintances have asked her to put them in touch with ECF. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, she’s young, she’s not super rich; if she can do this, maybe I can too.’ I’m happy to be an example of what you can do.”

Perhaps most exciting to Stuebing is the idea that even years after her death, she can continue to help the causes that matter most to her. ECF will manage the fund according to her wishes in perpetuity, donating to the organizations that Stuebing supports now, or others with similar missions. Stuebing recalls the portrait of her grandfather that hangs in the Citadel Theatre in memory of his service. “I love my family’s bits of legacy. Mine’s different, but it’s meaningful to me,” she says. “It’s one way of making a stamp that says ‘Emmy was here.'” While Stuebing will doubtlessly continue making an impact on the community as long as she lives, being able to do so even beyond her own lifetime is a gift.