With the generous support of Oregon Country Fair volunteers and Fairgoers, and through our tax-exempt designation, the Fair continues to carry out our original philanthropic intention: building community and helping others. Our very first event in November 1969 was a fundraiser for an alternative school. Fifty years later, the Fair has put into motion three grant-giving programs and produces non-profit events like Culture Jam, an eight-day teen arts camp that serves more than 50 youths each summer. We are proud to say that the Fair has donated over $1.5 million back into the larger community.
Philanthropy: The Roots of the Oregon Country Fair
In 1969, in an orchard outside of Eugene, a benefit was held for the Children’s Community School. This event, called the Renaissance Fair, grew into the Oregon Country Fair. In the decades since, the Fair has been true to its roots in philanthropy and community support.
The Fair has long held a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status reflecting and mandating our non-profit purpose. Philanthropy is fundamental to the Fair’s ability to host the event and grow, while reinforcing the Fair’s vision for the world and educating the larger community about that vision. It helps the Fair extend its sense of community and create harmonious relationships with its neighbors and beyond. And philanthropy provides the means to develop programs beyond the Fair event that are consistent with the organization’s non-profit purposes and deeply held values.
OCF Funding Programs
In the early years, Fair philanthropy was direct and fitting for the scale of giving. Fair family submitted suggestions of organizations to support and the Fair’s profits were distributed among the selected recipients. The Fair was a faithful supporter of like-minded cooperative, community-based organizations. That spirit has continued throughout the years – and matured as the Fair has matured.
With finite dollars available to meet many funding requests, the Fair family, led by its Board of Directors, created three vehicles to deliver philanthropic support. Each program has its own democratic decision-making processes and purposes reflecting the Fair’s mission:
- Board of Directors Donations: Throughout the year, the Fair’s Board of Directors makes financial donations from a dedicated fund. These grants support a wide range of organizations addressing issues important to the OCF family of volunteers and fairgoers.
- Bill Wooten Endowment Fund: Named for a late founder of the Fair, this annual grantmaking cycle supports youth-centered arts, environmental and social justice projects in West Lane County. Endowment grants tangibly represent the Fair’s gratitude to our neighboring communities and celebrate Bill Wooten’s commitment to collaboration and community-building.
- Jill Heiman Vision Fund: The late attorney Jill Heiman was instrumental in establishing the Fair. Her work led to the purchasing of the OCF land and to obtaining our non-profit tax-exempt status. Jill’s vision for Fair philanthropy lives on through the Vision Fund, which makes grants to Lane County, Oregon non-profits active in an annually selected focus area such as environmental protection or basic human needs.
The Oregon Country Fair/Veneta, Oregon Partnership: Exemplifying the role of philanthropy is building the Fair
We are so pleased that a significant portion of Oregon Country Fair philanthropic support has gone to projects in the Veneta/West Lane County region. The grants reflect the Fair’s appreciation for our home community, and that appreciation runs both ways.
“At a time when local governments and public schools are pinching every penny…its encouraging to see that an organization can still dedicate funds to small arts programs in our community that might otherwise be under-funded or go away entirely…with community partners like the Oregon Country Fair still willing to make an investment, things are still looking good for Fern Ridge.” — West Lane News
Over the years, the Fair has built a mutually beneficial relationship with our neighbors and enjoys a solid niche in the Veneta community. Our funding of local projects has played a major role in cementing that relationship and represents our commitment to fulfilling our responsibility as a member of the community. We’re neighbors and partners.
Philanthropic support for Veneta area non-profits has come from all of the major Fair funding vehicles: Board of Director Donations, The Jill Heiman Vision Fund, and the Bill Wooten Oregon Country Fair Endowment Fund.
The Endowment Fund has played the largest role in our funding, with 100% of the Fund’s annual grants dedicated youth-centered project in West Lane County. These annual grants fund arts education in the schools as well as summer and after-school programs. Grant projects often combine the arts with exploration of cultural diversity or environmental themes. Several funding cycles have supported collaborations that have produced permanent art installations by youth at the local library and skate park.
Philanthropy was the catalyst that began the Oregon Country Fair, has been essential to developing its long-lived success, and will provide opportunities that further its mission into the future.