Chronicle of Philanthropy Letter to the Editor: Community Fund Plans to Keep Providing Operating Support

To the Editors:

While my fellow board members and I are delighted that philanthropy in Brooklyn is attracting national attention, your articles “Community Funds Ask People From Diverse Walks of Life for Priorities” and “Brooklyn Fund Pauses Giving While It Consults Residents” (March 23) fell short of presenting the full picture of the role that community foundations can play in their home communities and what we are aspiring to do in Brooklyn.

Chiefly, the articles mis­characterize key changes under way at the foundation. We are not “sitting on $60-million in assets”—a figure that represents the current size of our institutional endowment, not money available to us to spend—nor do we necessarily believe that “grants for oper­ating expenses ... might be put to better use elsewhere.”

Community foundations across the country, both large and small, are pursuing bold initiatives focused on resident engagement, research, advocacy, and collaboration that are generating exciting new methods of fueling community strength and transformation.

For the Brooklyn Community Foundation, not yet five years old but growing quickly under the new leadership of our president, Cecilia Clarke, we hope to be as intrepid and innovative as our vibrant community demands.

We understand that to truly have an impact in a place as large and complex as Brooklyn—a city of 2.6 million—our ambitions should be akin to those of the Cleveland Foundation’s “muscular” $2-billion in assets.

Further, in no way do we intend to move away from investing in nonprofits’ strength, sustainability, and infrastructure by forgoing general operating support.

Building a foundation for such a sizable and complex place will take years, if not decades.In fact, we hope to be driving far greater support to Brooklyn nonprofits by growing our donor services through personal funds, giving circles, and other channels we feel will be of particular value to donors here.

Because of our early stage, we can be nimble and take risks—but we know, most important, that to be successful our work must stem from the voices and ideas of our community members.

Between January and June of this year, we are speaking with nearly 800 residents about challenges and opportunities in Brooklyn as part of our Brooklyn Insights engagement initiative—ideas that are informing the entire future work of the foundation.

It is an uneasy privilege to be able to put our day-to-day activities on hold as we carry out Brooklyn Insights.

However, these dynamic and honest conversations have yielded incredible moments of collective visioning. We are so grateful to the many nonprofit leaders and practitioners at the center of these dialogues, sharing their challenges, their optimism, and their ideas for Brooklyn’s future.

While our business model is predicated on growing the foundation’s assets, that isn’t the end game. Our goal is to make connections and inspire philanthropy that ignites community-led change. Strong nonprofits and engaged residents are integral to resilient communities.

As we mark the centennial of community foundations, we here at Brooklyn Community Foundation hope to replicate the successes in the field but also to break the mold.

We know that we need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that our strategic vision is in step with the daily reality of our diverse audiences. We have our work cut out for us, but it is a thrilling endeavor aligned with a unique moment in Brooklyn’s ascendance.

Alan Fishman
Chairman, Board of Trustees
Brooklyn Community Foundation
Brooklyn, N.Y.