R&D lab – Tapping new assets

By Todd Cohen

With new wealth flowing, and trillions more expected in the pipeline from children of the Depression to the Boomers, a national grantmakers group is backing local incubators looking for ways to tap those assets.

“We’re funding R&D laboratories for philanthropy,” says Albert Ruesga, former director of New Ventures in Philanthropy.

Launched in 1998 by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers in Washington, D.C. – which has 28 regional members — New Ventures has handed out more than $6 million to 32 coalitions throughout the U.S.

Those coalitions have raised another $3 million locally and involved more than 300 groups to promote and support philanthropy.

“It’s very important for the sector to invest in itself,” says Ruesga, who on Oct. 1 became vice president for programs and communications at The Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C. “If you want to grow the philanthropic pie, it really takes an investment.”

The projects that New Ventures backs focus on donors and are not skewed to any particular form of philanthropy.

“We want to help donors find the right way to give for them,” Ruesga says.

New Ventures targets two big hurdles to giving – a “knowledge gap” among new philanthropists, and the time that newly wealthy people need “to be thoughtful and to explore options and be more deliberate about your giving,” he says.

In the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, New Ventures gave $165,000 in 1998 to the Triangle Community Foundation, which aims to triple the region’s philanthropic assets to $3 billion by 2017.

The foundation, which has raised $1.9 million to support its Catalyst Project, already counts $229 million in new philanthropic assets – more than double the increase it had hoped to generate by 2002.

That includes $136 million in current or deferred assets committed to 42 new private foundations, plus $93 million in current or deferred assets committed to 243 funds at the foundation.

The foundation figures it has raised $697 in new assets for every $1 it has spent promoting philanthropy through publications, videos and work with entrepreneurs and professional advisers.

“We think we can do it by reaching out to those individuals and entities who control or influence the wealth of the region,” says Shannon St. John, the foundation’s president.

Last summer, New Ventures gave the foundation another $65,000 to help existing philanthropists do a better job.

The focus will range from helping philanthropists define their family values and philanthropic goals to developing their philanthropic strategy and improving their effectiveness.

The four-year Baltimore Giving Project, launched in 1999 by the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, has raised $900,000, including $425,000 from New Ventures, to help close the philanthropy gap in a state that ranks fifth in wealth but 44th in generosity, says Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, director of the Baltimore Giving Project

The initiative targets blacks; entrepreneurs, corporations and high-tech firms; the next generation of wealth inheritors; women; and professional advisers.

Teaming up with Associated Black Charities of Maryland, for example, the group has launched the African American Philanthropy Initiative to plug blacks into charity.

The initiative includes a print and online toolkit with information about philanthropy and guides for giving, as well as a national newsletter for black philanthropists that has 800 subscribers throughout the U.S.

Baltimore Giving also has helped tech entrepreneurs launch two projects. One, a social venture fund, aims to expand a pilot effort in which employees of five firms mentor middle-school students in the workplace. The other, a partnership with the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, is building a Web site to serve nonprofits in the region.

The initiative also has helped start two women’s giving circles, launched a family philanthropy roundtable and developed a Web-based tool for professional advisers.

The Hartford-based Connecticut Council for Philanthropy also aims to narrow the philanthropy gap in a state that ranks first in per-capita income and wealth, but has been one of the less generous.

“People became aware of the fact that we were a very wealthy state but weren’t pulling our weight compared to other states in the country,” says Nancy Roberts, the council’s president.

The council in 1998 launched the Connecticut Giving Project, which aim to “change attitudes and behaviors,” she says.

In 1999, for example, the council launched a statewide chapter of the national Leave A Legacy program that promotes using wills to support charity.

“That can lead you to an adviser or nonprofit, and then we can talk about planned giving and lifetime giving,” Roberts says.

Now in its third year, she says, the Leave A Legacy program has helped boost membership for the Connecticut Planned Giving Council, and has enlisted 700 of the state’s roughly 4,000 nonprofits.

“It’s helping boards understand why they should have endowments and think about strategy,” Roberts says.

Connecticut Giving, which is getting $100,000 a year from New Ventures for three years, plus another $50,000 in 2002 to strengthen ties with professional advisers and business groups, also has held a series of philanthropy seminars and teamed up with professional associations.

The Connecticut Bar Association, for example, last summer mailed a letter to its 11,000 members describing its partnership with Connecticut Giving and encouraging them to work with their clients to contribute to charity through wills and estates.

The overall goal, Roberts says, is to get people to begin to think about long-term giving, and then provide the continuing philanthropic assistance they need.

“It’s a lonely journey,” she says. “If you can engage them sooner on that journey, they don’t feel they’re alone on this.”

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