How the Coast Guard Foundation Works

Image Gallery: Flight A Coast Guard helicopter runs a simulated rescue. See more pictures of flight.
Image Gallery: Flight A Coast Guard helicopter runs a simulated rescue. See more pictures of flight.
Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

The Coast Guard is the smallest and most unsung of the five armed services in the United States. But its function is just as important now -- and maybe even more so -- as it was when it was founded in 1790 by then Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. To sum up the function of the Coast Guard as "guarding the coast" doesn't paint the full picture. The men and women of the Guard are charged with much more than that.

The 47,000 members of the Coast Guard initially started out as customs law enforcement officials. Their duties were expanded just a few years later to include their main role as the keepers of vigilance along the nation's coastlines. That tradition holds true today with more than 360 ports and 95,000 miles (152,887 kilometers) of coastlines under the Guard's collective watchful eye [source: Coast Guard Foundation]. This vigilance allows for safe passage for both military and civilian ships. Every cruise ship, cargo barge and fishing boat has the Coast Guard to thank for the ability to safely earn a living at sea, the Great Lakes or interior waterways.


Additionally, if any of these vessels encounters an emergency at sea, it's the Coast Guard that will be on the scene performing search and rescue operations. Every year the armed service saves more than 5,000 lives and recovers $2.5 billion of property that would have otherwise been on the ocean's floor.

The Coast Guard also responds to more than 23,000 oil and hazardous waste spills each year, yet its role in environmental protection goes largely unnoticed [source: Coast Guard Foundation]. You also may not realize that it's the Coast Guard that sends out ice breaker ships to keep frozen waterways safely passable and open for commerce. In fact, each year the ice breakers make possible more than $62 million in trade for the Great Lakes alone. Finally, the Coast Guard works in concert with law enforcement agencies to help prevent drug smuggling, confiscating more than $2 billion per year in illegal contraband.

The Coast Guard, like all of the armed services, is accounted for within the military budget of the United States government. But because of budget constraints and legalities, many quality of life and educational programs can't be paid for with tax payer dollars. Enter the Coast Guard Foundation. This civilian nonprofit works with private and corporate donors to help "enhance the education, welfare and morale" of Coast Guard members and their families. We'll talk about how they do this on the following pages.


Coast Guard Foundation Support

A Coast Guard helicopter at work
A Coast Guard helicopter at work
Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

Founded in 1969, the Coast Guard Foundation (CGF) has been working with Guard members and their families for more than 40 years. It's a nonprofit organization governed by a board of 100 trustees and within that group, a 30 person board of directors. The operation's headquarters are in Stonington, Conn., and it only requires a staff of 10 civilians, plus a lot of volunteer hours, to meet the foundation's objectives. You may notice that only civilians work for the foundation. While it supports a military armed service, it isn't technically associated with the Coast Guard.

Each year the Coast Guard Foundation, through its private and corporate donors, contributes more than $4 million on average to the help support Coast Guard members and families [source: Coast Guard Foundation]. How exactly does the foundation provide support? The list is long and wide-ranging. It works with eight different scholarships to provide ongoing educational opportunities for Guard members, as well as the children of active service members. It also has various programs to help further education, raise awareness of Coast Guard accomplishments, provide for the fitness needs of active duty members and much more.


Here is a list of some of the projects the Coast Guard Foundation tackled in 2008 and 2009:

  • Carried out a public relations campaign tied to the search and rescue efforts of the Guard
  • Set up an e-commerce site to help fund some of the CGF programs
  • Raised funds for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
  • Awarded 16 scholarships to children of active duty members (in total, the Foundation provides scholarships to 73 dependent children in college)
  • Through the "Books for Boats" program, provided gift cards to Coast Guard cutters to help stock ship libraries
  • Distributed calling cards to members stationed in the Middle East
  • Established the Family Disaster Relief fund to help families of members lost in the line of duty
  • In 2005 and 2006, distributed more than $1 million to 250 member families affected by Hurricane Katrina

This is just a taste of what the CGF does to help maintain the morale, fitness and education of Coast Guard members. Why is it important to have an organization like the CGF? Anne Brengle, CGF president says it best:

"The culture of the Coast Guard is to turn away from public recognition. [They] protect us, guard us and rescue us, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Here at the Coast Guard Foundation, we see our job as 'rescuing the rescuers,' through a range of programs and support systems. It is very rewarding to be here for the men and women of the Coast Guard, and especially their families, when they need us most."


The Evergreen Fund

A Coast Guard boat keeps watch over American waters.
A Coast Guard boat keeps watch over American waters.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

One of the ways that the Coast Guard Foundation (CGF) helps support the men and women who keep watch over our shores is through the Evergreen Fund. This fund addresses health, wellness and recreational needs that aren't provided for within the military budget. Many of these initiatives are small efforts, but each has an impact and collectively, the Evergreen Fund has serviced all nine national districts and more than 250 Coast Guard units. From 2002 to 2007, The Evergreen Fund placed more than $2.5 million worth of equipment in Coast Guard facilities [source: Coast Guard Magazine].

Here are a few examples of the small projects that can make a big difference in the quality of life of Coast Guard members and their families:


  • A Coast Guard station received a grant to modernize its training facilities
  • A station opened a learning center with a laptop, projector and Rosetta Stone language software
  • Support Command Boston received funding to purchase College-Level Examination Program exam manuals
  • Air Station Washington, D.C., installed a new portable basketball court in its temporary facility
  • Several playgrounds built at Coast Guard housing complexes
  • Outdoor lighting installed on the athletic courts for the San Diego, Calif., unit

These smaller initiatives are easier to accomplish, and then make a big difference in the health, wellness and morale of Guard members and their families. Not everyone is lucky enough to get stationed in San Diego. Many of the locations of Coast Guard stations are remote with difficult conditions. The projects that the Evergreen Fund and Coast Guard Foundation undertake each year go a long way in ensuring that the active duty members of the Coast Guard are best able to do what they do best -- look out for the American people.

The foundation accepts donations in the form of cash, stocks, corporate matching gifts, estate gifts, tribute and memorial gifts and even boat donations. That's right, if your boat qualifies, you can donate it to be used in training activities, Coast Guard Academy intercollegiate sailing competitions and auxiliary safety patrols. Like all donations, this is fully tax deductible for the fair market value of the boat. The CGF also accepts donations for specific scholarship funds as well as the Evergreen Fund. More information about supporting the Coast Guard Foundation can be found at their Web site,


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "About the Coast Guard." 2010.
  • "Coast Guard Foundation Fund Provides Valuable Equipment." Coast Guard Foundation Magazine. May 1, 2007.
  • General Information for All Scholarship Opportunities." 2010.
  • "Supporting the U.S. Coast Guard." 2010.
  • "What is the Coast Guard Foundation?" 2010.
  • "Why are private funds needed for a government organization?" 2010.