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Back to Archives | Back to February 2010 Contents 

IACP Foundation: Starting a Police Foundation—Lessons Learned

By Dennis Butler, Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Department, Ottawa, Kansas, and Pamela D. Delaney, President, New York City Police Foundation, New York

The Foundation column is hosting a series of guest authors for several articles covering topics related to establishing and running police foundations.

aving a local police foundation support a department’s efforts has developed into a practical opportunity for all departments. In the past, many chief executives felt that a police foundation was only for big cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta.

While the first police foundation was formed in 1971 to furnish funds, equipment, services, and other resources to the New York City Police Department, communities of all sizes have been successful: Los Gatos, California, with 64 officers; Amherst, New York, with 154 officers, and Ottawa, Kansas, with 26 sworn officers are looking to their foundations to provide valuable assistance.

These municipalities prove that communities everywhere can successfully establish and benefit from a foundation. The Ottawa, Kansas, Police Foundation illustrates the steps one chief followed to achieve his goal.

The Building Block

Over the years, the Ottawa Police Department has enjoyed an incredible level of community support. The most impressive community outreach program is the department’s summer D.A.R.E. camp that has operated continuously for 25 years. Funding for purchasing supplies and paying fees is provided through a combination of public and private support with private donations sent directly to the police department and deposited into a checking account.

Although the checking account is audited each year as part of the citywide audit, a better arrangement for handling the funds was needed. Police chiefs and their agencies must guard against the perception of any possible impropriety. A priority was making the donation process and management of these funds as transparent as possible.

In addressing the best method for making this change, the concept of establishing a police foundation was put forward. Police foundations are able to accept public contributions designated for police department projects. If properly structured, the foundation can be a not-for-profit organization, and the public donations can be tax deductible. The transparency offered by foundations in financial management and the tax break for the donor make a foundation a win-win situation for everyone.

Obtain Stakeholders Buy-In

Establishing a foundation involves several steps. Most critical is discussing the concept with the city manager or mayor, depending on the form of government. Ensuring elected official support before expending too much effort on an idea that may not gain traction is important.

Once this support is received, governing bodies should be briefed in order to receive their endorsements. This sounds fairly easy, but there may be places where not all of the public officials are willing to support a police foundation. Moreover, don’t forget to inform your own employees of these plans as well so they understand and embrace the concept.

The Right Board

Identifying the right persons to serve as foundation board members is crucial. Board members need to be well respected in the community, known for their charitable and philanthropic work, willing to contribute their time and resources, and able to make contacts and convince others to get involved. Name recognition is essential, since the community must be able to recognize the board members’ names, the companies they own, or where they are employed. If the right people are chosen for board positions, the foundation will have the advantage of instant credibility within the broader community.

The Right Mission

Any police foundation must begin with a clear mission, a commitment to transparent governance, and strong values. Steps taken in these early stages will have a profound impact on the foundation’s long-term health.

With the help of a local attorney, the Ottawa Police Foundation was incorporated in the state of Kansas in May 2009. Existing D.A.R.E. funds were transferred to the foundation, and the old checking account was closed. The board identified new program activities and launched a Web site, The foundation held its first formal fund-raiser in December 2009. Donor gifts have already increased. The stakeholders are optimistic that the foundation will strengthen the department’s ties to the community, enhance its ability to provide quality services, and improve its ability to pursue advanced technology and training.

Lessons Learned

The experience in Ottawa illustrates the key points in determining if a foundation is right for a community.

  1. Decide how a police foundation can be adapted to meet needs, whether the community or department is large or small.

  2. Identify the need as the first step in crafting a clear and compelling mission statement. The mission in turn helps to win the support of political and community leaders.

  3. Research existing models to understand what works where and why and set realistic goals.

  4. Assess community resources for sources of support. Ottawa’s existing strong community–police relations was an asset.

  5. Seek the endorsements of the political leadership starting with the mayor or city manager.

  6. Find a respected business, social, or philanthropic leader to drive the search for a strong board.

  7. Select an attorney who knows non-profit governance for guidance through the legal steps.


Articles and information on the role and responsibilities of nonprofit boards can be accessed at Financial information about specific foundations and nonprofits is available at To learn about the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability, go to Most police foundations have their own Web sites. Information on city police foundations can be found at New York,; Los Angeles,; Atlanta,; and Washington, D.C., ■

IACP Police Foundations Section

The IACP has created a Police Foundations Section to promote networking and the exchange of ideas and best practices among police executives and police foundation professionals.

The section’s objectives are to do the following:

  • Conduct regular professional activities, conferences, and meetings to encourage networking among police foundation professionals, law enforcement executives, and business leaders

  • Provide a trusted source of information on establishing and developing ethics and operations for police foundations

  • Provide timely and relevant research of common interest

  • Provide a basis for discussions on establishing standards and best practices for police foundations The October 2009, IACP Police Foundations Section meeting in Denver, Colorado, offered several panels, presentations, and discussions on issues relevant to police foundations. Over 60 law enforcement agencies, police foundations, and other organizations were represented.

The IACP Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization established to solicit, receive, administer, and expend funds for law enforcement–related charitable and educational purposes. Donations may be tax deductible; please check with your personal tax adviser. The foundation’s federal tax ID number is 54-1576762.


From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 2, February 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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