DOWNTOWN — The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce has created a foundation aimed at helping local nonprofits with their missions while expanding educational programs and scholarships for students.

“A lot of the things we do are to make a difference in the community and the foundation will help us make a greater impact,” said Chamber President Laurel Rosen.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Foundation, officially approved as a 501(c)3 in August, is still in its infancy. Members of the chamber are working collaboratively to develop a strategy and identify programs that need funding, Rosen said.

Its mission is to “enhance the greater Santa Monica community through education and other community benefit programs that improve and enrich our city.”

Susan Inwood, an investment manager by trade and co-chair of the foundation committee, said one of the first areas the foundation will target is financial literacy by working with WISE & Healthy Aging to educate seniors, as well as the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to target students who will soon be establishing their own bank accounts and may be already receiving offers from credit card companies.

“We’re trying to work in conjunction with existing organizations to broaden the scope of their programs and raise funding to help them do that,” Inwood said.

Another goal is to increase the number of scholarships awarded to graduating seniors and enhance the annual job fair at Santa Monica High School.

Chambers of commerce creating foundations is relatively commonplace, said Steve Snyder, vice president of chamber relations for the California Chamber of Commerce. In a survey of chambers across the state, Snyder said 36 percent had nonprofits, some more than one.

“Most use them for educational programs, second was scholarships, a third was community betterment activities and the fourth was community leadership and development programs,” Snyder said.

Creating a foundation is recommended, Snyder said, because it gives chambers another weapon to raise funds. They offer more flexibility and are more attractive to those looking to make donations. The chamber itself is classified as a trade organization by the IRS, which means donations to the chamber are not tax deductible as charitable contributions like they would be with a 501(c)3.

Rosen said more information on initiatives will be released in the coming months.

“The main thing is to get more of our members engaged in the community where they work and spend much of their time away from home,” she said. “It’s important to give back.”

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