What Kinds of Public-Private Partnerships Do We Want?

By Laura Wolff,  Acting Executive Director, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation

At this time last year, many Philanthropy New York members and grantees were taking advantage of the first campaign season in 12 years with open races for all the citywide offices, to focus public attention on critical policy issues and inform the thinking of the City’s next leaders. Now that we’re several months into the new Administration, it is time to consider how we reposition ourselves for this new era.

As staff and board members of foundations and corporate giving programs, we are often sought out by government officials and nonprofit leaders to discuss potential partnerships. Particularly at times of transition, we—and Philanthropy New York – often initiate these conversations, eager to share our knowledge and ideas in the hope that they will be useful and influential.   Yet, while we want to be loved for our minds, others, not surprisingly, are often more focused on our more tangible assets and are disappointed when we decline to simply write a check.

However, I believe that resistance to public -private partnerships in which foundations serve as “ATMs” for government agencies is not primarily a question of philanthropic ego.  Rather it reflects justifiable concerns about achieving sustainable change, as well as the appropriate role of each of the three pillars in the civic ecosystem: not-for-profits, philanthropy, and government. Given each sector’s purpose and relative resources, the normative configuration of roles should be government partnering with philanthropy in supporting nonprofits to administer services and programs that advance the public good (rather than government and nonprofits both seeking money from foundations). In addition, foundations can be constructive partners to government by serving as conveners and sources of information about local needs, potential nonprofit partners, relevant research, best practices and experts in a field. Continue reading ‘What Kinds of Public-Private Partnerships Do We Want?’

Beyond Grantmaking: Foundations as Impact Investors

Judith Rodinmargot brandenburg pic

By Judith Rodin, The Rockefeller Foundation and Margot Brandenburg, the Nathan Cummings Foundation

For the General Service Foundation, created and endowed by Clifton R. Musser and his wife Margaret Kulp Musser, it was the younger members of the family who pushed the board to match its investments with the foundation’s values. The board recruited Imprint Capital, a San Francisco-based impact advisory firm, to manage the 10 percent of the endowment that it earmarked for impact investing – a number that grew to 26 percent in just a short time.

If they could invest all of it in impact investing, they would, General Service Foundation Executive Director Lani Shaw told us for our new e-book “The Power of Impact Investing: Making Markets Work for Profit and Public Good.”  But like many other foundations integrating impact investing into their strategies, they had to make tough decisions to balance their desire to make impact investments, many of which are locked up for 5-7 years, with a need for liquidity to meet annual payouts.

This is just one example we provide in the book of foundations who are leading on impact investing. The uptake of impact investing among philanthropies is driven by two coalescing forces. First, the realization that philanthropists, even combined with governments, don’t have the resources to solve the world’s pressing problems alone – we must also harness private capital. Second, leaders of philanthropy see that impact investing can be another valuable tool in our arsenal, in addition to (but not in place of)  grantmaking to achieve impact objectives. Continue reading ‘Beyond Grantmaking: Foundations as Impact Investors’

The Perpetuity Debate

John Hoover

By John Hoover, Senior Vice President, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies

PNY convened four foundations whose boards had considered the question of spending down. But by most accounts, this conversation skewed to an unbalanced degree toward the argument for perpetuity, and in so doing was a disservice to the philanthropic community and the issue in general.

The represented foundations included:

  • Edward W. Hazen Foundation, founded in 1925 continues in perpetuity spending approximately 5.4% of its assets in 2012 while earning 10.9%.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation, founded in 1913 continues in perpetuity spending approximately 4.9% of its assets in 2012 while earning 8.8%.
  • The Altman Foundation, founded in 1865 continues in perpetuity spending approximately 5.6% of its assets in 2012 while earning 10.5%..

Spending down is a healthy issue for donors and Boards to consider. But alongside the points covered by these foundations, there are significant points of clarification to consider: Continue reading ‘The Perpetuity Debate’

Perpetuity, continued


By Tony Proscio, Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy 

At a recent panel discussion organized by Philanthropy New York billed as ‘The Case for Perpetuity,” on the rationale for perpetual foundations, one member of the audience taking careful notes was Bruce Trachtenberg (you can see Bruce’s summary of the session here). A foundation veteran who for many years led the Communications Network, the trade association for foundation communication officers, Bruce has a knack for viewing issues from unexpected angles. So it was no surprise when he came away from the perpetuity discussion with a take somewhat different from everyone else’s.

He sums it up in a blog post on the Communications Network’s web site. In brief, he asks why every foundation that plans to operate in perpetuity shouldn’t have “some obligation to explain why.” (He means a moral obligation, of course, not legal.)

The question turns current practice on its head. These days, it’s the time-limited foundations that seem constantly pressed to explain why they have chosen  to sunset. Case in point: The last Foundation Impact Research Group (FIRG) of the semester here at the Sanford School featured two trustees of the John Merck Fund, Olivia H. Farr and George Hatch, explaining why their foundation has chosen to close in less than a decade. (A video of the session is here.) They explained that the time limit allows them to work more intensively on their focus areas (developmental disabilities, clean energy, environmental health, and regional food systems) and that it injects an element of urgency and self-scrutiny that they feel would otherwise be lacking.

Their careful elaboration of their decision, the factors that led to it, and the way it affects their work was more thorough than one usually hears. But in one respect it was fairly typical of statements from time-limited philanthropies: It was a conscious defense of doing something contrary to the norm.

I’m intrigued by Bruce’s question: Why shouldn’t the norm be just as painstakingly dissected and defended?

At the moment, all the trendy discussion is about time limits. There’s good reason for that — the great majority of limited-life foundations are creatures of the last few decades. They’re doing something relatively new and, as yet, not widely understood. But there is no reason why the choice for perpetuity should be treated as merely obvious and self-evident, a kind of default position that can leave it seeming unimaginative and passé.

Consciously or not, every foundation makes a choice between the two approaches. And perpetual foundations continue making it, year after year. Everyone would benefit — not least the boards of the perpetual institutions themselves — from hearing a detailed justification for preserving a permanent endowment, articulated just as forcefully as the John Merck Fund’s case for the opposite choice.

This is reprinted from the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society’s blog. 

From Boston to New York: Is a More Just City Possible?

Kevin 2

By Kevin Ryan, Program Director, New York Foundation

On April 2 and 3, Neighborhood Funders Group hosted From Boston to New York: Is a More Just City Possible?, a two-day learning tour that focused on the promise of both cities’ new mayoral administrations to be more transparent and accountable, and to develop strategies that bridge the income gap between the wealthy and the poor. More than 40 grantmakers joined us for the tour, as well as over 40 organizers, activists, community residents, developers, and public officials who presented their strategies to create a more equitable urban agenda for transportation, affordable housing, land use, and community benefit policies.

There were countless wonderful, provocative, and informative moments during the learning tour. Below are five points that resonated most with me:

1. Cultural displacement – When discussing the impact of low-income migration from communities that are experiencing gentrification, one of the key underlying impacts is cultural displacement. Some of the community groups that participated in the tour describe this displacement as a loss of cultural institutions, programs, and heritage. As higher income residents move into these neighborhoods, longtime residents can sometimes feel unwelcome in their own communities. This subtle but very real occurrence is an unfortunate but often ignored result of gentrification.

2. Intersection of arts, culture, and social change – Several community organizations pointed out that arts and culture is a key component to keeping community members, particularly youth, involved in organizing and advocacy campaigns. These activities were often overlooked for their important role in building and strengthening community engagement.

3. Funder patience – Grantmakers typically provide time-limited (1-3 year) grant commitments when it often takes much longer for community organizations to develop, implement, and fully incorporate community transformation strategies. While understanding that grantmakers are often pressured by their boards and executive leadership to demonstrate specific impacts and outcomes on very complex and deeply entrenched inequities in the short term, several community organizations urged grantmakers to push back against these artificial timelines and to fully invest in community change strategies for the long term, allowing grantees the opportunity to experiment and test their strategies. For example, it has taken more than 13 years for Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition to negotiate an agreement for the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory. Funding through the key phases, this process helped the Coalition staff this campaign. Also, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has experienced several ebbs and flows in its revitalization work over the past 25 years. Without long-term support for the organization as it faced these challenges, Dudley Street may have closed its doors.

4. The relationship between developers and community residents is challenging but possible – We learned that the Chinese Progressive Association in Boston was continuing a long term fight to pressure the Tufts University Medical Center to pay its fair share of taxes to support new affordable housing development in the community. At the early stage of this process, Tufts has not come to the table to negotiate, but the association Right to the City Boston and other neighborhood organizations are determined to continue their fight for these critical resources. In contrast to the Chinatown example, the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance and the Kingsbridge National Ice Center negotiated a community benefits agreement. The community-based negotiating team and the developers were able to identify key shared values to ensure that the community and the developers achieved some equitable standards. The community benefits of this development including a fund to support free ice time for community groups, jobs for community residents, and free space in the Armory for other community activities and meetings. Their negotiation is a great example of how community members and developers can create place-based projects that benefit a broad range of stakeholders.

5. Nonprofit leaders need technical support on community development issues – The language of community development and land use processes can be dense and complex. Many community-based organizations have created sophisticated and strategic organizing and advocacy campaigns that require a deep knowledge of processes. Although a few leaders have become well versed on these issues, grantmakers could provide more support for training, research, education, and peer learning opportunities.
For those who attended the Boston-New York learning tour:  What were some of the things that you took away from the tour?  Please send us your thoughts, observations, photos, and comments.

Read more about the tour, including the organizations we visited with and their work, here.

Read this blog post on the New York Foundation website. And on Neighborhood Funders Group’s blog. 

Why Philanthropy Should Help Strengthen Community Colleges


By Nicole Rodriguez Leach, Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation

Research shows the increasing importance of the post-secondary credential to one’s ability to participate in the labor market in this knowledge economy. It is predicted that in our not-too-distant future, over 60% of jobs in the U.S. will require one. However, a fully supported path, with high-quality opportunities and experiences along it, toward a degree is not available to all. A large swath of students are left ill-prepared to enter the 21st century global workforce.

What are the best opportunities for philanthropy to build accessible onramps to the pathway to post-secondary success in both college and career for all?

Over recent years, policymakers, educators and philanthropy have increasingly highlighted the challenge of maintaining a college educated workforce in the U.S. Across the country, high school graduation and college enrollment rates are up but college graduation rates remain dismally low. Attention at all levels has turned to preparing young people to succeed in college. Some of the most promising work in this area is being done in New York City, particularly in its community colleges – institutions that reflect the diversity, assets and challenges of the city and neighborhoods they call home. As the entry point for many students – both nationally and locally – to higher education and the labor market, community colleges have a tremendous impact on the social and economic fabric of families, communities and society at large. Continue reading ‘Why Philanthropy Should Help Strengthen Community Colleges’

Why Should Your Foundation Continue to Exist?

by Bruce S. Trachtenberg, Advisor, Communications Network

The idea of time-limiting foundations seems to be gaining more traction. As counterpoint, a recent Philanthropy New York program asked: “What Is the Case for Foundations Living in Perpetuity?”

PNY gathered a group of three leaders of foundations whose boards had recently revisited the question of spending down or spending out at higher levels that would eventually lead to diminution — Lori Bezahler, President, Edward W. Hazen Foundation, Michael Myers, Senior Policy Officer and Director of Centennial Programming, The Rockefeller Foundation and Jane O’Connell, President, Altman Foundation – to better understand the rationale for existing in perpetuity. They were joined by moderator Tony Proscio and fellow panelist David Morse, Chief Communications Officer for The Atlantic Philanthropies. Continue reading ‘Why Should Your Foundation Continue to Exist?’

About Our Blog

This is a forum for Philanthropy New York members to discuss issues affecting our sector and the practice of philanthropy.

Share This

Bookmark and Share

Philanthropy New York on Twitter


October 2016
« May