About this Assessment
The New York Community Trust was founded in 1923 and today is the third-largest community foundation in the U.S. Created to “promote the well-being of mankind and primarily of the inhabitants of the community comprising the City of New York and its vicinity, regardless of race, color or creed,” the Trust’s founders envisioned the public charity as a vehicle for public good, with specific benefit for disenfranchised and vulnerable communities. With a total of $2.4 billion in assets and $144 million in annual giving, the Trust houses more than 2,000 charitable funds and three-quarters of its grant disbursements are recommended by donors. Including its two regional subdivisions in Westchester and on Long Island (founded in 1975 and 1978 respectively), the Trust employs 48 staff. In its 95-year history, there have been three long-time presidents of the Trust: Ralph Hayes (1924-1967), Herbert West (1967-1990) and Lorie Slutsky (1990-present).
Its adaptive and collaborative approach has enabled the foundation to respond to changing community needs, including the terrible scourge of HIV/AIDS, as well as to unforeseen emergencies such as 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy. The staff demonstrates a strong commitment to ensuring that Trust-held dollars benefit communities of color, those living with poverty or disabilities, LGBTQ residents and other marginalized New Yorkers. While funding service delivery improvement is the primary vehicle it uses to achieve this, other important tools are: funding advocacy to improve systems, particularly through the foundation’s numerous funder collaboratives, and nonprofit capacity building.
The Trust can build on these strengths to achieve even greater progress for New York City in a number of ways. In particular, the Trust can be a true public leader, not just within philanthropy and the nonprofit sphere, but among all sectors of the city, by providing deeper support for community organizing, especially among communities of color, by more creatively engaging donors and by being a more visible advocate for an inclusive, equitable New York.
Lisa Ranghelli and Caitlin Duffy conducted the assessment of the New York Community Trust.
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Key Finding and Recommendations
Continue the Trust’s strong commitment to underserved communities; effective partnership with grantees; and leadership role as a convener of funders, nonprofits and other community stakeholders.
Background: The Trust is committed to investing in underserved communities and equity. Nonprofits praise Trust staff for their expertise, thought partnership, open and honest communication, accessibility and responsiveness. Grantees want more opportunities to connect with other funding sources and like-minded nonprofits.
Stakeholder quote:“The degree of partnership we have had from the Trust has been outstanding, with staff deeply engaged in learning about our work, serving as thought partners, being available for discussions, and connecting with other stakeholders to move our initiative forward. We would like to see this continue.”
Increase funding and capacity building to smaller, more grassroots, community organizing groups and organizations led by people of color.
Background: The Trust funds service delivery improvement and advocacy as the primary tools for changing systems and also sees a limited role for community organizing in its grantmaking.
Stakeholder quote: “I would utilize an equity lens and look at grants and make concrete conversations about how many organizations they support that are led by people who are the majority of our city.”
Strategically provide general support grants to equity-oriented nonprofits and make further progress to increase multi-year funding. Free up program staff time to engage and convene more grantees and nonprofits.
Background: The Trust provides single-year project funding through its competitive grants and also offers capacity building. More than one in three grantees seek multi-year core support to bolster their long-term capacity and effectiveness.
Stakeholder quote: “Provide adequate general operating funds over multiple years to help organizations strengthen and improve internal operations and capacity. … Multi-year funding to help organizations achieve greater impact given that many nonprofits work with the hardest to serve populations.”
Take a stand more often and use the Trust’s bully pulpit when it is clearly in the best interests of underserved communities in New York.
Background: The Trust has initiated many effective funder collaboratives on key issues in the city and often convenes grantees to foster shared learning and collaboration. The foundation works effectively with local government, but rarely uses its bully pulpit to take positions on behalf of marginalized communities.
Stakeholder quote: “I think I would consider convening grantees, staff and even board members and other funders around specific issues to encourage working together or other joint actions that could move common issues.”
Explicitly articulate a unifying vision and values statement for an equitable city. Improve communications tools, including the website, to more effectively convey how the Trust’s goals and strategies align with its vision and values.
Background: The Trust’s strategies are well informed and broad enough to respond to emerging needs. However, it has not effectively communicated how these strategies add up to an overarching vision for the city, which results in confusion among many stakeholders about what it stands for.
Stakeholder quote: “I'm not sure how strategic they are. I’m not sure what constraints they may be under in terms of being very highly focused and strategic. ... I don’t really know that much about them, don’t really know what they are doing and what they are capable or not capable of doing. If I had to change one thing, I’d start by improving their external communications, so that we really understand how they see their role and [share] what is their strategy.”
Explore and test out more creative donor engagement strategies and foster more connections and cooperation among donors, other public grantmaking charities and nonprofits.
Background: The Trust creatively directs funds from bequests and conducts annual appeals and learning opportunities for donor advisors to respond to changing community needs. Yet the foundation’s donor engagement is not particularly robust nor does it foster connections with Trust grantees.
Stakeholder quote: “[I would encourage the foundation to] play a greater role as a convener of grantees, peer organizations, donors and other stakeholders to explore avenues for collaboration/coordination, marshal awareness and funding resources to shared, priority issue areas, etc.“