Our Stories

Beyond the Money

How the Community Foundation made a difference in one family’s giving

In the beginning, it was the tax benefits. Forsyth County residents Brett and Rachael Johnson initially created a family foundation through the Community Foundation because their CPA Greg Hayes recommended it – as a tax planning strategy. But what’s made them big fans of the Community Foundation goes far beyond tax benefits. 

“Once we began learning even more about the Community Foundation we realized how actively they are working in the community. It quickly became much more than just a financial benefit [to us] since they really were a community partner,” Brett Johnson said. “We’ve been introduced to many people from many different nonprofits and our eyes have been opened to causes – causes, people and organizations we would not have known about otherwise.”

Since opening their fund at the end of 2018, the Johnson’s have wholeheartedly embraced the Community Foundation and are helping introduce their Forsyth community to the organization. 

“We are really passionate about bringing the Community Foundation’s successful model across the river,” Rachael said. “We see the long-term benefit that it can have to the nonprofits and organizations we have here.”

In fact, in the fall of 2019, the Johnson’s hosted singer/songwriter James Casto of Home By Dark – also a nonprofit fundholder at the Community Foundation – for an evening of music, food and sharing the Community Foundation’s story with friends and colleagues. 

“We love that there is so much support for Gwinnett nonprofits, especially since I grew up in Gwinnett,” said Rachael. “When we went to our first Good2Give Celebration, we were really inspired by all the nonprofit stories that were told and the impact being made. We kept asking each other – ‘do we have this in our county? Do we have that in our county?’It was very eye opening for us and we just really want to see the same thing happen here in Forsyth.

“We are heavily involved in giving to our church, but one of the great things about being part of the Community Foundation is that our eyes have been opened to the different needs in the community that the church may not be reaching.”

The Johnson’s, who own Vertical Earth, a civil construction company, also have four children – Mary Blakely, Emily, John and Josh – and want to teach and model for their children the importance of giving back.

“We give because it’s part of our faith and because, growing up, we also saw our parents helping other people and giving to their churches,” Brett said. “Now, being part of the Community Foundation has inspired us to look outside the box and also teach our kids about why we’re giving to this, or hosting that, or volunteering here.”

Speaking of volunteering, the Johnson’s are heavily involved in their local Fellowship of Christan Athletes chapter. In fact, sports are what helped change Brett’s way of thinking about giving. Several years ago, Brett took a week off to volunteer at an Upward basketball summer camp.

“It was the first time in our married life that I had ever known him to take work off to volunteer,” Rachael said. “I believe that was when our giving of our time, money and talents really started to become a priority..”

For Brett, that week changed his perspective.

“I realized there’s more to giving than just donating money. Out of time, talent and treasure, I had probably neglected the first two,” he said. “So it opened my eyes that while money is one way to give, it’s not always the only way to give.”

Today, Brett is the board chair for their local FCA while Rachael serves as the softball and tennis team’s character coach and is a campus representative. They are also both actively involved in their church, Mountain Lake Church in Cumming, and with Pastor to Pastor Training (P2P), an international pastor training initiative.

“We’re thankful for the opportunity to give and for the impact that the Community Foundation has had on us,” Rachael said. “The Community Foundation really is a great giving tool –  our donor advised fund operates as a charitable checking account that’s growing with interest. It’s just a great mechanism to have in place to be able to give like we already were, but smarter. It’s helping us give more intentionally and will also allow our kids to participate [in giving] as they get older.”

How the Johnson’s gave appreciated assets and created a win/win

“We owned 11 subdivision lots in Paulding County, DeKalb County and Henry County that we had bought coming out of the recession. Through working with the Community Foundation, I discovered we could give appreciated assets into our fund. I was already planning to make a charitable donation in 2019 but, instead of making a cash donation, I was able to donate the appreciated assets, which alleviated the gain on those. If I had had to sell them outright, I would have had to pay taxes on them. Instead we were able to give the entire balance and get a tax write off.” Brett Johnson