By Cindy Mindell
HARTFORD – Many Greater Hartford residents have benefited from the work of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving without even being aware of the impact of the non-profit philanthropy. From Riverfront Recapture and the New England Air Museum to the Hartford Public Library, Hartford Stage, and Harriet Beecher Stowe House, the foundation has helped strengthen a long list of cultural, human-services, and educational beneficiary organizations.
That list began to take shape in 1936, when a $982.52 grant was awarded to the Watkinson Library, a research facility that was originally part of the Wadsworth Atheneum and still exists as part of Trinity College in Hartford. Twelve years later, the foundation allocated $27,500 to Hillyer College in West Hartford toward the purchase of a new campus site on Bloomfield Avenue, which became the University of Hartford.
On the cusp of its 90th anniversary, the foundation manages more than 1,000 charitable funds and has allocated $589 million in grants to organizations throughout the 29-town Capitol Region – north to Enfield, east to Tolland, south to Rocky Hill, and west to Canton.
Among the grantees is Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS), which provides counseling, education, and community support to residents of the area, regardless of race or religion. JFS was among the first three recipients of the foundation’s General Operating Support Grant Program, created in 2013 to be used at the discretion of each non-profit to support ongoing activities and organizational stability, as outlined in its strategic plan.
The program came in response to the reticence of donors – a phenomenon experienced by many philanthropic organizations – to give money that keeps a non-profit’s lights and heat running, and not applied to the “front lines” of the organization’s work.
“The [three-year] General Operating Support grant has been life-changing for our organization,” says Anne Danaher, executive director of JFS. “We now have the means and stability to do what we do well. It has made it possible for us to ‘dream big’ and strategically approach each challenge. Our ambitious strategic plan emphasizes innovative and cost-effective programming, technology advances and community engagement. For the first time, we have the capacity to grow our outreach and fundraising programs, which will ultimately help us to sustain these efforts. Very few foundations truly understand the value of general operating support, and the Hartford Foundation has led the way, as they do with many initiatives.”
Over Danaher’s 28-year tenure, JFS has been the recipient of other grants, as well as professional development and technical support. Through the foundation’s Community Wealth Collaborative program, JFS worked with consultants for eight months to learn how to develop a program that would be a model of social entrepreneurship. As a result, JFS created its Care at Home LLC program, which Danaher says would not have happened otherwise.
“One of the things that the foundation does very well is to act as a ‘convener’ for the non-profit community,” she says. “So in addition to the amazing support and training that they provide to us, they also provide opportunities for all of their funded partners to join discussions about trends in the non-profit field, like changing or emerging needs. This is part of what makes their 90th anniversary significant to us at JFS. For the Jewish community, we are all grateful for the leadership and vision that the Foundation provides to all communities in our region.”
Like other community endowment foundations, the Hartford Foundation is built on three pillars: the donors who seek to put philanthropy into action, the grantees who seek assistance to achieve their respective missions, and the foundation’s managed investments that help fill the gaps and needs in the community.
Because these foundations tend to be wide-ranging and behind-the-scenes in their fundraising and grant-making efforts, their work is often less understood than their impact. As part of its 90th-anniversary milestone, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving wants to make the public more aware of how much good is going on in their midst.
“We are reemphasizing the definition of philanthropy, ‘love of humankind,’” says Nancy Benben, vice president for communications and marketing. “People are philanthropists all around us, engaging in kindness, goodness, and generosity. It exists everywhere; we want to shine a light on it and raise it up.”
CAP: JFS Board President Merrill Mandell (left) and JFS Executive Director Anne M. Danaher.