K.C. Belitz

Just look at the weather forecast for later this week and it’s clear that winter’s on the way. With that knowledge comes the realization that we are quickly counting down to the end of another decade.

For the Nebraska Community Foundation, one of the action items that comes with that milestone is an update on the Transfer of Wealth Study, last done in 2011. I’m sure most haven’t heard of the “TOW Study,” but really this is something you should know about.

NCF commissioned the first TOW Study in 2001 and actually Nebraska was the first place in the U.S. to study the intergenerational transfer of wealth (money moving from one generation to the next) by county. What the study uncovered is that Nebraska has astonishing wealth, and in this case “astonishing” means $603-billion! That’s the amount of wealth that is transferring from one generation to the next by 2060 in our state.

The numbers were equally surprising on a more local basis. In Platte County, the number is $7.75-billion. Butler County is $2.365-billion. Colfax County will see $2.26-billion transfer. In this region (Platte, Colfax, Butler, Polk, Nance and Merrick counties) it adds up to $19.445-billion being passed down just from the current generation! Look at that number and it becomes apparent that we don’t have a lack of resources.

So, if we have that type of resource, what then is the challenge? Not surprisingly, the challenge is to capture some of that wealth to benefit our hometowns. Traditionally, very little of that resource has gone to impact the future of our place. What the NCF network is doing in big-picture terms is raising awareness that we can all help our hometown and showing examples that prove it can make a difference! The Transfer of Wealth Study is one of the tools we use to do that, coupled with success stories from small towns across the state.

NCF does not make the case that everybody should give everything they own to their place. In fact, the rule-of-thumb is that communities should try to capture a modest 5 percent of the transfer of wealth. If that were accomplished in Platte County it would mean an endowment of $387,000,000! Think about that - just shy of $16,000,000 coming back to Platte County every year forever to build community capacity. Now that’s difference-making on a big scale.

The numbers are all relative, but equally impressive in all the surrounding counties. Bottom line, we have the wealth available to make a difference it just needs to be mobilized and used effectively. And there is some sense of urgency because this isn’t going to happen forever. The high point of this transfer is happening now in most local counties and the rest aren’t far behind. For Platte County the high point is reached at the end of the next decade. If some of this resource isn’t retained in greater Nebraska now, it will, for the most part, be gone forever.

I’m excited to share the update to the Transfer of Wealth Study after the next census is complete and new data is generated. But whether the totals go up or down, there’s no question the numbers will be big and that means the opportunity (and risk) will be similarly sized. In Platte, Butler, Boone, Madison, Colfax, Nance, and lots of other counties, volunteers are hard at work today telling this story and making the case that sustaining our hometowns is possible if existing assets are put to work. Because of them, at the end of the next decade we’ll be able to report not just the big numbers related to wealth transfer but also some impressive figures related to wealth capture. And that’s going to mean lots more Nebraska hometowns achieving their dreams!

K.C. Belitz is the chief operating officer of the Nebraska Community Foundation.

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