CommUNITY Philanthropy, NOW

Read the remarks made from Foundation CEO Will Ginsberg at The Foundation's annual donor luncheon

By Dotty Weston-Murphy, CAP® / May 26, 2017

Remarks of William W. Ginsberg
President of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
The Foundation's Annual Celebration of Donors
New Haven, Connecticut
May 24, 2017

[Welcoming statement to guests]

Here in this community, our philanthropy is fundamentally about the things we do and aspire to do together; the things that enrich life in Greater New Haven, the things that support those in need in Greater New Haven, the things that bridge the differences that might otherwise divide us here in Greater New Haven. Community philanthropy is like a mirror that reflects what we have in common, what we treasure, and what we believe in; it is in that sense one of the best and truest reflections of ourselves.

Yet this year, so many of the things that we as a community have chosen to prioritize over the years and over the decades through our philanthropy are at risk. Community as we practice it in Greater New Haven - an inclusive, forward-looking, and optimistic sense of community - is under siege. And so perhaps it is fitting that we gather today in a different kind of location here at the head of New Haven Harbor, where we have a vantage point that offers a different view of our City. For this is a different time, a time of new and unforeseen challenges, a time when more than ever our commitment to our community is being tested.

Let us resolve today to meet this test head-on. As the words of the late Barbara Jordan, quoted on page 4 of the 2016 Report to Our Community, remind us, the very notion of a community depends on the actions and the commitments of each of us as individuals.

Over the last six months, The Foundation has stepped up our listening game. We have listened to community residents, listened to our donors and to local nonprofit leaders, listened to our colleagues and friends in philanthropy around the country, and to other important national voices. The annual report that you have at your place quotes a number of those voices, both well-known and less so. And as we've listened, we have heard from all corners that the work of community is imperiled and that the work of community has never been more important.

We have embraced this message. Indeed, it squares with what we are feeling, thinking, and observing. That is why, for The Foundation, the watchword for 2017 is community, now more than ever.

Community, now more than ever is not a statement of despair but is rather one of determination and urgency. It is not a political statement. If these words are a statement about resistance, they are about resisting disconnection, as Courtney Martin says in the quotation near the front of your Foundation's 2016 Report to Our Community. For The Foundation, not surprisingly, these words are all about community. They are our way of saying that what is urgently needed now is a recommitment to the values that connect us to one another, to this place of ours, and to our common destiny.

Let us look, for example, at health care, long a leading philanthropic priority for our community. Year after year, The Foundation provides more grants to support the health and wellness of our community than in any other area because health has always been the leading priority of our donors. For years, we have honored the intent of our donors by working to close the persistent and pernicious disparities in health outcomes between city and suburban residents and between minority and non-minority residents. And for two decades, through New Haven Healthy Start, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, our work in this arena has started with our work to support the youngest and most vulnerable in our community. Today, as you can see in the materials at your place, new Federal policy directions and deep State budget pressures threaten to reverse the progress that has been made in recent years in achieving greater health equity.

Or let us look at immigration, a strategic priority of The Foundation since 2014 because of our strongly-held belief that immigrants - whether documented or undocumented - are essential to the growth and vitality of our community. As Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame has said: "immigrants get the job done." But now, the environment has turned against our efforts and we are on the defensive. Six months ago, we were working to help children of undocumented immigrant parents to achieve legal status through a Federal program called DACA - deferred action for childhood arrivals. Today, the focus of our immigration grantmaking is to help immigrants to know their rights and to provide the legal and humanitarian support that may be needed if and when our community sees stepped-up Federal deportation proceedings. The contrast could not be more stark.

On June 20, The Foundation is hosting a donor briefing on immigration. I hope you can join us.

These are just two examples of changes in Federal policy direction that strike at the heart of our long-standing priorities. I could just as easily be talking about the new Federal direction on criminal sentencing and how it relates to our work on re-entry, about efforts to roll-back and stifle the progress made by women, and how they stand in direct contrast to all that our Community Fund for Women & Girls has long stood for, or about the attacks on the credibility of the press in the context of The Foundation's decade of support for local nonprofit news.

And for that matter, I could just as easily be talking about the new Administration's proposed 2018 Federal budget, released May 23 - a budget that The New York Times says contains "unprecedented cuts to programs for poor and working-class families." It is a budget proposal that would reduce discretionary non-defense spending to the lowest level as a percentage of the Federal budget since before the Great Society programs of the 1960s.

For all this, the urgency of this moment for many organizations in our community is as much or more about what is happening at the State level as it is about the directions being set in Washington. Put directly: State budget deficit projections are reaching numbers never seen before, and whatever budget is ultimately adopted this year and for future years surely will involve a very different role for the State in ways that will profoundly affect life in our community. For the State government, this is a long-overdue time of reckoning.

One of many examples of where the decline in State support has been felt and will continue to be felt in the arts. The arts have long been a priority for our donors and for The Foundation because of the role they play in bringing our community together. We see this all across our community: each day on Audubon Street at our neighbor arts institutions, in collaborations between arts institutions and area schools, in Dixwell, Fair Haven, and the Hill during the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, through one of our small emerging creative arts organizations, or on an opening night at a world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre. Yet so many of our arts institutions are overly dependent on the State. While a study commissioned by The Foundation in 2015 showed that the sector is leaner and more efficient today than it was pre-recession, State cuts are producing a growing and deeply worrisome sense of financial vulnerability and resulting artistic limitation.

The Foundation learned just this morning of another unfortunate example of the impact of the State budget crisis. The MOMS program, a proven innovative intervention to combat depression among poor young mothers in New Haven that was developed at the Yale School of Medicine, was to be expanded city-wide through a State-supported pay for success financing. Almost $5 million in private philanthropic capital had been committed from sources all around the country and abroad, including funding from The Foundation and local donor partners, based on the State of Connecticut's commitment to repay the private investors with modest interest if the project proved successful. The State's up-front investment of as much as $11 million was intended to demonstrate success at a scale that would save the State many times that amount over time. On May 23, the State informed the partners and investors that it was pulling out of the transaction.

For all that I have said about policies and budgets, this now more than ever moment is really about something much more fundamental: the tenor of these times. In 2017, the prevailing vision of the American community is one that pits people against one another, that appeals to resentments rather than sympathies, demonizes rather than inspires, and is grounded in a mythologized past rather than in future opportunity. As Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the ADL, has said, "We've never really seen anything like this before. Hate crimes are on the rise. Intolerance is on the upswing." I would add that what we are seeing is the antithesis of the inclusive, forward-looking, and optimistic sense of community that we in Greater New Haven hold dear and that I spoke of a few moments ago.

We are seeing the Newtonian equal and opposite reaction, too. The people of our community, like so many across this country, are standing up for community values. Activism is on the rise - we see it in marches, vigils, and rallies. We see a fighting spirit in the way people are supporting issues that are on the front lines, such as refugee resettlement. IRIS's Run for Refugees was amazing this year. And since last fall, people's need to connect has been palpable in a whole new way; in gathering after gathering convened by The Foundation, people talk about how pleased and comforted they feel just to be with others who share their commitment to our community.

I will admit to pondering whether the energy level we have felt in these early months of 2017 can be sustained. I think it's too early to tell but we are trying to read the signs. One such sign is our annual Great Give, which was held three weeks ago. It was a great success, with terrific numbers: more than 11,000 gifts from more than 8,000 donors contributing nearly $1.3 million to local nonprofits over thirty-six hours, including numerous younger "next-gen" donors and donors who gave to organizations they had never supported before. Smaller organizations as in past years did particularly well. And yet…what didn't happen was a quantum leap forward from the 2015 and 2016 Great Give numbers. I will admit that I had hoped that the energy and commitment we feel in 2017 would translate into significantly higher levels of Great Give giving. Perhaps our community does not yet fully see how different and how challenging this new environment really is.

I hope that these specific examples underscore what I said before: that our vision of community is imperiled and that the work of community has never been more important. The Community Foundation faces this extraordinary moment in time with a sense of all that is at stake and with a sense of marching into uncharted territory. We do so with an optimism borne of our faith in our community and what it stands for.

The challenge of this time is not one of how we replace reduced government funding. Philanthropy cannot do that, and following that course will dissipate the impact of our dollars. Of course, we will continue funding important programs, and even harder decisions loom not only for The Foundation but for all of us as to priority-setting in this time of resource constraints. And in addition, The Foundation needs to focus on how we can build the capacity for innovation among local nonprofits as they respond in new ways to the pressures they will be under.

Even beyond our support for nonprofits, the tenor of these times demands that The Foundation continue to invest in building a community that is informed, knowledgeable, welcoming, empathetic, and connected. The alternative is to fall victim to what is happening around us and to turn against ourselves.

To do this, The Foundation will continue our listening. Following the advice of one of the Foundation donors quoted in the Report to Our Community, we are committed to listening that isn't just talking to ourselves, but that is instead a genuine dialogue across the breadth of this community including with those who may have different perspectives on the issues of the day.

Some of The Foundation's best work in recent years has been our Convenings, events where we have brought the community together to promote increased understanding of and empathy for others' perspectives. This is an important precursor to facing tough challenges as a united community. Building stronger relationships across traditional dividing lines are only becoming more important. As another of our donors quoted in the annual report said, "big ideas come from connections and relationships."

The Foundation's work on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion over the last five years - work at the staff level, work involving the staff and the Board, and work in partnership with other local institutions such as Yale Divinity School - have positioned us well to take on the challenge of building those connections and relationships. What Robert F. Kennedy said more than half a century ago is still true today: the "answer to the intolerant man is diversity."

And, as Henry Louis Gates has reminded us, it is the knowledge that lights the path toward tolerance. Community knowledge - a shared understanding of our challenges and opportunities - is one of the most potent tools for bringing our community together. This is why we continue to see our community knowledge work as a priority. continues to be the best source of information about local nonprofits. The 2016 Community Index and the Community Progress Report that was derived from it say so much about what we can do, should do, and must do as a community. And The Foundation's investments in the local, on-line nonprofit press create shared understandings each day that advance community cohesion over the long term.

The Foundation is looking outward as well, stepping up our engagement on public policy issues. This past year, we joined approximately one hundred other community foundations large and small from all across the country in a lobbying effort called the National Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative. We are now working to expand its work beyond tax law to a broader array of policy issues. In the same spirit, The Foundation this year joined with more than 200 other foundations in signing a letter prepared by Grantmakers for Immigrants and Refugees that reaffirms support for immigration in the face of executive orders issued by the New Administration in January.

The future of our community will depend on more than how we manage scarcity and counter threats. At a time when much of the divisiveness that we see in American life today can be traced to the widening inequality in society - inequalities of wealth, of income, and of opportunity - our community needs a positive vision of shared opportunity that can itself be a powerful cohesive force; we need a compelling new vision of economic growth and education working in alignment to create broad-based opportunities across the socio-economic spectrum. The Foundation believes our community can turn such a vision into reality, that our bioscience sector and our growing innovative digital technology companies provide the powerful engine for growth in our region.

That growth can translate to opportunity for the next generation of our community's young people if they have the right education and skills. New Haven Promise, The Foundation's partnership with Yale University, is the linchpin. Last year, with this thought in mind, The Foundation renewed our multi-year commitment to New Haven Promise, which remains our largest single grant.

The Community Foundation is determined to play these roles in helping this community to meet the challenges of this time, and we believe that we are well-positioned ourselves to do so.

My reasons for saying this start with our Board of Directors. This is an extraordinary group of eleven community leaders - extraordinary for their commitment to the community, to this institution, and to one another. They bring their own leadership perspectives to the table and they lean in to understand different perspectives and to hear different voices. They bring both their hearts and their heads to the Board table. Board members and staff work together to understand the changing dynamics of our community so we can put the community's endowment to work in the most impactful ways. It is a great privilege for me to work with and for this Board.

[Call out Board members]

The Foundation is well-positioned because we continue to enjoy the confidence and support of this community's donors, without which of course we could do nothing. Gifts and organizational transfers to The Foundation totaled more than $23 million in 2016, including approximately $12.7 million in new gifts. Gifts from living donors exceeded that of the previous year but total gifts were somewhat lower last year than in 2015 because bequests were down. We love our Nettie Dayton Circle members, and our goal is to wait as long as possible for their bequests.

Over the last year, The Foundation added new ways for donors to work with The Foundation. Specifically, we have enhanced our donor-advised fund offerings. It is now possible for a donor advisor to have new monies contributed to their fund managed for investment purposes by their own investment advisor. As this end of our business grows, we are looking forward to working even more closely with the local investment community here in Greater New Haven.

The Foundation's business is changing in many other ways as well. In particular, I do want to draw your attention to the list of Foundation mission-related investments that are included in the 2016 Report to Our Community on page 54. Mission-related investments, or MRIs, are direct investments by The Foundation in local projects or organizations - nonprofit and for-profit - that are designed to produce social benefit in addition to some level of financial return. Several years ago, with the approval of our trustee banks, The Foundation set aside a small portion of our endowment for MRIs. We have been successful not only in deploying our MRI funds into worthwhile local endeavors but also in leveraging these investments by bringing other funding partners to the table.

Donor-advised funds and MRIs are but two examples among many of how The Foundation's work is changing. Indeed, looking back over the last half dozen or so years, it is remarkable how The Foundation has grown and changed: becoming a community knowledge center, a registered investment advisor, a mission investor, a partner with local investment professionals, a proactive strategic grantmaker, a community leader on efforts like New Haven Promise, a center of nonprofit capacity building, and the producer of The Great Give®. In 2017, and over the 2017-19 period, management is very focused on re-shaping the institution to ensure that we have the infrastructure, the controls, the processes, and the staff needed to play all of these roles excellently even as we do our business in new ways and broaden our reach in the community.

[Thank Foundation staff]

Ultimately, of course, the community now more than ever is a call to support the wonderful nonprofits that do the work of the community in Greater New Haven - to support them today as we build the endowment that will support them far into the future. Our community is blessed with an extraordinary array of nonprofits led and staffed by extraordinarily dedicated and talented individuals. The Foundation is privileged to work with many of these organizations in many different ways.

Last week, at our all-day Board retreat, The Foundation made our first-round decisions on our 2017 responsive grants. 122 applications were before us requesting a total of more than $9 million in multi-year grants; 57 passed muster and were moved forward for more detailed review while 65 applications were denied. Ultimately more will be denied, and many applicants that are funded will receive only a fraction of what was requested. As in all years, demand for funding outstrips supply and much of the much-needed work in our community will go unfunded.

But this is not like all years. Now more than ever, the work of these nonprofits is desperately needed. Now more than ever, the support of this community's donors is desperately needed. And so, now more than ever, we urge your support and we urge you to help us convey this message to the broader community.

Please consider giving directly to the organizations you support or give through If you prefer to give through The Foundation, we have set up a new Community Now More Than Ever Fund to receive donations that will be granted out in 2017. The fund has already received its first gift from one of our donor advisors who wish to see her contribution added to the resources that will support our responsive grantmaking.

I will conclude with a quotation from Timothy Snyder, who is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale and one of the world's foremost authorities on 20th Century totalitarianism. In his 2017 book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, lesson #15 is "Contribute to Good Causes." Professor Snyder writes: "It is gratifying to know that, whatever the course of events, you are helping others to do good. Many of us can afford to support some part of the vast network of charities that one of our former presidents called ‘a thousand points of light.' These points of light are best seen, like stars at dusk, against a darkening sky."

Our 2017 annual report begins with that quotation and concludes with an image of points of light set against a darkening sky over the Quinnipiac River. So while our sky may be darkening, let each of us resolve today to be among those points of light.

Thank you all again for all you do, and for being with us today.