A Modest Grant Amplifies a Life’s Work in Peacebuilding

An inaugural post in FJC’s new series, “Why I Give…And How,” gives voice to some of our most committed and imaginative donors. The author is the Director of Columbia University’s Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights.

By David L. Phillips

I recently made a small grant from my account at FJC to benefit school children in Northern Syria. The grant provides supplies for schools and students, including notebooks, pens, pencils, white boards, teaching materials and visual aids such as maps and social studies materials.

My personal assistance through FJC is part of a broader effort to rehabilitate Syria’s education sector, which was ravaged by war. In 2011, Syrian forces targeted Kurds for being pro-western. In 2014, ISIS killed and displaced thousands. Arabs, Kurds, Yezidis, Christians and Turkmans came under the control of ISIS, which used kidnapping, beatings, rape, torture to terrorize local residents.

The plight of these defenseless victims is reminiscent of my family’s experience with pogroms in Belarus at the turn of the 20th century. Their experience with persecution and flight inspired my life choices and career path.

“Strategic philanthropy, even modest amounts, can help meet the basic needs of students…It won’t stop the war, but it can restore hope and rebuild academic institutions”

Columbia University’s Program on Peacebulding and Human Rights (PBHR), which I direct, studies conflict conditions and recommends ways to prevent violence and hold perpetrators accountable. Iraq and Syria have been my focus for 30 years. In 1988, I interviewed Iraqi Kurds in Halabja who survived Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks. This meeting inspired a lifelong commitment to Kurdish issues, as an academic, a think-tanker, and foundation executive. I’ve also served as a U.S. official, acting as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the State Department during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

I learned firsthand that the U.S. can be a force for good – but not always. In January 2018, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Donald J. Trump, demanding that U.S. troops withdraw from northern Syria and give Turkey’s armed forces free reign. Erdogan views Kurds as surrogates for the PKK, an armed Kurdish group that has been struggling for greater Kurdish cultural and political rights since the 1980s.

The US gives deference to Turkey as a NATO member. If Turkey applied to join NATO today, its application would be summarily rejected because it is Islamist, anti-American, and profoundly hostile to human rights. I’ve been a witness to Turkey’s crimes, providing testimony on human rights violations by Turkey to the U.S. Congress, the British House of Commons, the French Senate, and the European Parliament.

During fact-finding trips to North and East Syria, I saw that many schools were destroyed, targeted directly and systematically. All of the educational institutions were closed down. The only schools that survived benefitted from Turkish protection. However, Turkey’s involvement came with a cost. The Turks forced extremist Islamist practices on the population. “Official” schools function like madrasas, imposing Islamist education and indoctrinating youth.

Many traumatized Syrians experience frustration, despair, and anger. They risk becoming a lost generation. Survivors of torture and gender-based violence need psychosocial care in addition to school supplies.

Providing educational materials is supported through a small grant I made through FJC grant to a local NGO. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”, said Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

“Focusing on public policy is important, but individual needs must not be forgotten”

Through Columbia, I’m also focused on the big picture, providing educators with training on teaching methodologies for children who have experienced trauma, displacement, family problems, and learning difficulties. “One pen” is part of a broader effort undertaken by PBHR to foster stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction in Syria. Focusing on public policy is important, but individual needs must not be forgotten.

Working with educators and students is a small yet practical step to address the plight of Kurds, Yezidis, Armenians, Syriacs and Arabs affected by the conflict in Syria. It won’t stop the war, but it can restore hope and rebuild academic institutions.

Strategic philanthropy, even modest amounts, can help meet the basic needs of students. Linked to enhancing the overall education sector, it can also serve as a model as governments consider their role in peacebuilding. PBHR’s involvement sends a message: The plight of Syria’s children is not to be forgotten. Healing the world starts with one child at a time.

(Note: Donors can support war-affected Syrians through the FJC’s Global Village Fund. Please contact Meghan Hudson at Hudson@fjc.org for more information.)

SAFE is a nationwide initiative designed to help the over 70,000 Afghan humanitarian parolees build a financial foundation in their new neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of International Rescue Committee.

Donor Loan Facilitates Emergency Resettlement of Afghan Allies

An FJC donor has provided a 0%-interest philanthropic loan to help kick-start a $10 million initiative to help newly arrived Afghans rebuild their lives in the United States.  The loan program is a component of Support for Afghan Financial Empowerment (SAFE), an initiative launched by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and their Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) to empower Afghan families as they begin their journey to financial stability and economic security in their new homes across the U.S.

“This status [of humanitarian parole] poses unique challenges for building credit, making it harder for them to apply for rental housing, finance a car, and in some cases may limit access to certain jobs.”

Kasra Movahedi, Executive Director of IRC’s Center for Economic Opportunity

More than 70,000 Afghans have arrived through Operations Allies Welcome, a federal effort to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside us in Afghanistan for the past two decades, as they safely resettle in the United States.  These families have had to endure a challenging, emergency resettlement experience in the midst of a pandemic and an economy still reeling from COVID-19 impacts.

“Unlike newcomers with refugee status, Afghans are humanitarian parolees, meaning they have official permission to enter and remain temporarily in the United States,” explains Kasra Movahedi, the Executive Director of IRC’s Center for Economic Opportunity. “This status poses unique challenges for building credit, making it harder for them to apply for rental housing, finance a car, and in some cases may limit access to certain jobs.” 

SAFE fills this gap by providing small, 0%-interest credit-building auto, education, immigration and personal loans, coupled with financial education and counselling.  IRC has trained a team of financial coaches, native to Afghanistan, to offer these services to any Afghan who arrived through Operations Allies Welcome.

The 0%-interest immigration loans will help reunify families separated by the chaotic military withdrawal. Immigration services are costly, and time is of the essence. Few Afghans have the funds necessary to pay for immigration services, and access to a 0%-interest, no fee immigration loan can be the difference between life and death for separated family members.

“We are honored to use FJC’s boutique philanthropic platform to galvanize support for Afghan humanitarian parolees at this historic moment.”

Donor, Anonymous

FJC has a long history of making loans to the nonprofit sector.  The majority of FJC’s loans are made from the organization’s Agency Loan Fund, a pool of donor capital that is actively managed by FJC staff and is invested in loans to nonprofits earning a floating interest rate of the prime rate plus 3 percent (currently 6.5%).   Donors may also recommend below-market rate loans (also known as program-related investments) using funds in their donor advised fund accounts, on customized terms of their choosing.

“We are honored to use FJC’s boutique philanthropic platform to galvanize support for Afghan humanitarian parolees at this historic moment,” said the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Having resources set aside in our FJC account enabled us to provide CEO exactly the 0%-interest capital source they needed to launch this critical economic empowerment initiative.”

Webinar Recap: Developing a Strategy for Your Giving

Donors large and small can amplify their impact with more intentional, strategic approaches to their philanthropy.  This was the major takeaway from a recent webinar with Lauren Katzowitz Shenfield, founder and principal of Philanthropy Advisors, LLC.  The webinar was moderated and hosted by Sam Marks, Chief Executive Officer of FJC – A Foundation of Philanthropic Funds.

The webinar is first in a series in which FJC, a boutique foundation of Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) and other philanthropic accounts, provides access to expertise from seasoned philanthropic consultants.  As a commitment to making philanthropic dollars more effective and meaningful, FJC allows its donors to pay for limited engagements with philanthropic consultants using funds in their Donor Advised Fund (DAF) accounts.

“The conversation always starts with values, because that underlies the entire practice of philanthropy.”  

Lauren Katzowitz Shenfield, Founder & Principal, Philanthropy Advisors, LLC

Ms. Shenfield’s consultancy works with individuals, families, and private foundations at the intersection of personal, family, and philanthropic goals.  “The conversation always starts with values,” she explains, “because that underlies the entire practice of philanthropy.”  This is true whether she is working with donors who want to begin their philanthropic journey or with long-time donors who have amassed significant assets, the conversations always start with values.

The webinar presented some case studies of client relationships that resulted in more meaningful and effective philanthropy.  These included a family with multiple siblings who needed support aligning their priorities in the wake of a patriarch’s passing, and an individual who benefited from both focus and skill-building in developing a strategy.

Mr. Marks spoke of the way Ms. Shenfield’s practice complements the resources and expertise at FJC.  “Our staff and our board members are always happy to brainstorm and bring our expertise and relationships to our donors,” observed Mr. Marks, “but sometimes donors need a more sustained, strategic engagement, and that’s where you really can add some value.”  

“[We] are always happy to brainstorm and bring our expertise and relationships to our donors, but sometimes donors need a more sustained, strategic engagement.”

Sam Marks, CEO, FJC – A Foundation of Philanthropic Funds

In terms of advice that donors can use to start their journey immediately, Ms. Shenfield suggested that donors:

  • Seek truth – about yourself, your family and others who might be involved.
  • Prioritize – make your plan important in your life, and don’t let it sink to the bottom of your to-do list.
  • Avoid Distraction – engage in a giving practice that draws on your skills and expertise.

Finally, building on her early career as a journalist, Ms. Shenfield recommends that donors start with the “5 W’s”: Who should be involved your giving? What do you care about? When do you want to make grants, in your lifetime or do you want them to last in perpetuity? Where do you want to have an impact?  And why?

Ms. Shenfield’s long history working with FJC includes customized philanthropic solutions for clients.  In consultation with Ms. Shenfield, FJC hosted for several years an awards program on behalf of Anonymous Was a Woman, which provides grants that enable women artists, over 40 years of age and at a significant juncture in their lives or careers, to continue to grow and pursue their work.  FJC also acted as the fiscal sponsor for Toby Perl Freilich,producer of “Inventing Our Life,” a documentary film about the kibbutz movement.

For more, view the full webinar here.  The recording includes the full Q&A session that covered topics such as: the use of DAFs compared with private foundations, impact investing, the mechanics of succession for DAFs, and more.

Participants in training programs supported by the UP Fund: Jeo Tovar, General Assembly graduate; Devon, Alchemy Code Lab graduate; Bill Barber, American Diesel Training Centers graduate. Photos courtesy of Social Finance's "Decade of Impact" report.

Investing in Skill Building: The Career Impact Bond

An FJC donor is putting philanthropic dollars to work by investing in economic mobility for low-income workers. The initiative is called the UP Fund, a $50 million pool of catalytic capital raised by the national impact investing nonprofit Social Finance. The goal of the UP Fund is to help low-wage earners secure good jobs in a changing economy, using a model called the Career Impact Bond (CIB).

Through the CIB, impact investors fund training programs that enable students to enroll free of charge. Students complete their training with the aid of wraparound supports, like an option to finance living expenses. If their salary after the program exceeds a certain threshold, they repay program costs as a fixed percentage of their income, capped at a set dollar amount and fixed number of months. Those who don’t obtain meaningful employment following graduation pay nothing.

“I like how the UP Fund aligns incentives to give people a leg up. Workers looking for better skills and higher paying work, the schools that can train them, and us funding the education are all pulling in the same direction.”

– FJC Donor Ted Huber

Social Finance partners with high-quality training programs that upskill workers and help place them into good-paying jobs. One such program is American Diesel Training Centers, a for-profit training company based in Columbus, Ohio, that offers a short, intensive course to train entry-level diesel technicians, mostly for trucking companies and dealerships. (See the New York Times story featuring this partner here). Another partner is Alchemy Code Lab, which increases access to software development careers for those who have traditionally been locked out. The program also aims to increase diversity in the technology sector, particularly for people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Longtime FJC donor Ted Huber invested in the UP Fund through his Donor Advised Fund account at FJC. “I like how the UP Fund aligns incentives to give people a leg up,” explains Huber. “Workers looking for better skills and higher paying work, the schools that can train them, and us funding the education are all pulling in the same direction. The UP Fund is helping people who otherwise couldn’t afford these training programs.” 

“We’re proud to work with creative DAF sponsors like FJC, who make it easy for their donors to invest for measurable social impact.”

Tracy Palandjian, CEO and Co-Founder of Social Finance

A longtime investment professional, Huber has been interested in supporting initiatives that anticipate recycling philanthropic dollars, providing both social and financial returns. Huber recommended an investment in the Fund via his DAF account, and following approval by FJC’s board committee, the staff at FJC worked with him to execute the investment through Social Finance’s recoverable grant structure. This approach allows DAF account holders to participate in the UP Fund with the same terms as institutional impact investing foundations like Blue Meridian Partners, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and many others.

“The DAF market represents a significant pool of assets already earmarked for charitable purposes—currently more than $170 billion—that largely remain in traditional market-rate investments without a mandate to generate social and/or environmental outcomes,” says Tracy Palandjian, CEO and co-founder of Social Finance. “We’re proud to work with creative DAF sponsors like FJC, who make it easy for their donors to invest for measurable social impact.”

For students looking to sharpen their skills and earn more, the time and expense of training programs can be risky. One of the critical aspects of the UP Fund is that it shares risk among the participants: students, training program providers, and impact investors. As Devon, a participant in the Alchemy Code Lab program, explains, “I was looking for places that had really generous scholarships—something where the funding was significant because there was no way I was going to make that choice without a clear financial path for myself. What was really heartening about the Career Impact Bond was…the safety net. If this all goes wrong, I’m protected.”

F.Y. Eye's recent campaign features portraits by Sol Aramandi of Project Luz, inspiring New Yorkers to vote in the November general election.

Inspiring Voter Participation Through Arts and Media

When the City of New York launched DemocracyNYC, a nonpartisan initiative to increase voter participation and civic engagement, they turned to the city’s vibrant nonprofit and arts community for inspiration.  Among the civic partners that responded to the urgent call to action was F.Y. Eye, a nonprofit media agency that builds campaigns that call people to take action, donate, share, advocate and move their causes forward. “F.Y. Eye was created to democratize the town square,” said Jessica Toledano, Executive Director. “Too often in expensive media markets like New York City, the most important community voices are never heard. F.Y. Eye was created to change that fact.”  

Founded and initially funded by FJC donors, F.Y. Eye has tackled numerous issues including nutrition and food insecurity, workers’ rights, voting, immigrant health services, and participation in the U.S. Census.  Its strategies include creative services to design campaigns, paired with media planning and buying to strategically place its messages in high-traffic locations.

“Too often in expensive media markets like New York City, the most important community voices are never heard. F.Y. Eye was created to change that fact.”

Jessica Toledano, Executive Director, F.Y. Eye

Voter turnout is a particularly daunting challenge.  New York consistently ranks as one of the states with the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. In the 2016 general election, New York State ranked 41st in the country for voter turnout. In the 2018 midterm election, voter turnout increased, but still, less than 50% of all eligible voters participated. 

There was no shortage of voter engagement advertising leading up to the 2020 election. However, most of the ads in high circulation were partisan in nature or offered simplistic motivational messages from big name nonprofits aimed at the general population. F.Y. Eye identified a need for more nuanced campaigns that both provided specifics on how to vote safely during the pandemic, and came from trusted community messengers targeting voters of all backgrounds.

F.Y. Eye’s most recent campaigns have engaged artists and designers who are particularly rooted in immigrant communities.     

In advance of the general election this November, F.Y. Eye engaged Sol Aramandi to build a bi-lingual, portrait-based campaign, encouraging New Yorkers to cast their votes based on issues that affect their communities. Ms. Aramandi’s advertisements have been placed in community newspapers such as El Diario, Bronx Free Press and Brooklyn Times, as well as traditional media spaces around the city such as bus shelters and LinkNYC. Sourced through F.Y. Eye’s Impact Artist Network, Sol Aramandi is a celebrated photographer and activist specializing in portraying immigrant communities. Ms. Aramandi works as a solo artist and the principal of Project Luz, which empowers new immigrant New Yorkers with photography as a tool to explore the city and tell its stories, as well as their own.

“It’s important to us to hire artists for our campaigns that have an organic connection to the communities we’re representing,” explains Calder Zwicky, Programs and Creative Director of F.Y. Eye. “Sol’s portraits express her love and organic connection within this community.”

This most recent campaign builds on work F.Y. Eye launched during the June 2021 primaries to educate all New Yorkers about Ranked Choice voting, through guerilla building projections, diverse artist partnerships and community events. New York City had its highest voter turnout for a primary election in 3 decades during this year’s primary election.

The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures has opened at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library

FJC Donors Celebrate Opening of New York Public Library “Treasures”

On September 24, FJC donors Leonard Polonsky CBE and Georgette Bennett joined New York City’s civic community to celebrate the opening of The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures.  

[UPDATE: view coverage of the Exhibition in The New York Times, “A Cabinet of Wonders Opens Wide” (12/28/21).]

A significant portion of the $12 million grant that made the exhibition possible was generated from the sale of Dr. Polonsky’s and Dr. Bennett’s vacation home in Aspen, CO.  The family fund donated the property to FJC in 2018, which then sold the real estate, generating the proceeds that covered a portion of the grant.  (See our previous story, “Private Home Transforms Public Library”).

“The New York Public Library is an iconic institution with a trove of buried treasures. I’m delighted to help bring them to the surface so that the public can forever share in them.”

Leonard Polonsky, FJC Donor

This permanent exhibition at the iconic 42nd Street branch library showcases over 250 rare items from the Library’s renowned research collections, giving visitors a unique opportunity to see and explore objects and stories that have helped shape our world. 

The objects—spanning 4,000 years of history—represent key moments, movements, and stories. They continue to inspire curiosity, conversation, and a stronger understanding of the past to inform a better future. The exhibition draws exclusively from the Library’s research collections, which contain over 45 million objects including rare books, manuscripts, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, audio and moving image, and more, collected over the institution’s 126 years.

A significant portion of the grant that made the exhibition possible was generated from the sale of Dr. Polonsky’s and Dr. Bennett’s vacation home, which had been donated to FJC.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence
  • Manuscript page of Maya Angelou’s poem I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
  • The set model for the Off Broadway production of In The Heights
  • The stuffed animals that belonged to the real-life Christopher Robin and inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh stories

Admission to the exhibition is free, and timed tickets are available at the New York Public Library web site.

“The New York Public Library is an iconic institution with a trove of buried treasures,” said Dr. Polonsky. “I’m delighted to help bring them to the surface so that the public can forever share in them.”

Teen radio producers for Ouro Negro da Malta, a youth-focused initiative developed in partnership with PCI Media, UNICEF and Ministry of Health (Mozambique).

Bridge Financing a Bequest: The Case of PCI Media

Under Meesha Brown’s leadership as President, PCI Media developed a strategic plan with an ambitious path for growth.  As an organization that uses storytelling and communications across the world to shift mindsets and make meaningful cultural and positive behavioral change, Ms. Brown and her team were determined to increase impact, develop new partnerships, and achieve economies of scale.  “We had this new plan for growth that required us to develop a new, more robust private donor base,” said Ms. Brown, “but the question was, how would we get started?”

The answer to this question came from out of the blue, in the form of a bequest.  A donor, who had made occasional grants to PCI Media over the years, had passed away and selected PCI Media for a major gift, alongside dozens of nonprofit organizations devoted to conservation, family planning and health, women and girls, and arts and culture.  PCI Media, whose mission spans all of these program areas, expects to receive between $4 – $8 million from this bequest, a windfall that will catapult the organization into its next phase, allowing them to execute on their strategic vision.  (The donor has requested anonymity).

A $550,000 loan from FJC and SeaChange Capital Partners will bridge a $4 – $8 million bequest from a donor, while they wait for the estate to wind its way through the probate process.

The urgent needs of PCI Media’s stakeholders, however, required the organization to begin implementation immediately, even as the estate winds its way through the probate process.  (The legal process for sorting through the donor’s last wishes can take several months to resolve, sometimes longer with complicated estates).  PCI Media’s plans required immediate action: hiring new staff, investing in program expansion, and establishing systems for sustainable growth.

Enter FJC and its fellow nonprofit lender SeaChange Capital Partners.  FJC and SeaChange are co-lenders on a $550,000 loan to bridge PCI Media’s bequest.  The loan will allow PCI Media to jumpstart their next phase of work as they wait for the funds from the bequest to arrive. 

PCI Media’s mission is to create a healthier, more just, and sustainable world using the power of storytelling and community. The organization partners with local organizations across the world to shift social norms and mobilize communities through culturally resonant radio programs, social media, and interactive communication campaigns.  Their local partnerships have taken them to over 70 countries, including in recent years Peru, Colombia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Mozambique, just to name a few. Beyond helping their partners produce effective content, PCI Media builds partner capacity for the long term, helping them format programs to produce positive change, organize as networks of media stations and community coalitions, and engage their audiences on a host of issues. 

“It’s such a pleasure to work with lenders like FJC and SeaChange that are so sensitive to the needs of nonprofits.”

Meesha Brown, President, PCI Media

In Mozambique, for example, PCI Media has launched a multi-pronged communication initiative  Ouro Negro  (Black Gold), in partnership with UNICEF Mozambique and the Ministry of Health, focused on improving public health outcomes in childhood nutrition and maternal health. As the longest-running radio drama in the country, it has broadcast over 394 episodes on 116 national radio and local stations. In the drama, worlds collide as a fictional African village is confronted with the arrival of a foreign mining company.  Against this backdrop of tension and change, listeners learn essential maternal, newborn, and child health practices. Rapid assessment surveys showed widespread impact after season one. Ouro Negro is currently in its 7th season.

The Covid-19 pandemic only intensified the need for media that improved access to health information and services.   In response to the pandemic, PCI Media’s production teams practiced social distancing, recording voices one by one, and disinfecting the studio between each actor. PCI Media recreated community discussion forums online. “We know our work is important, but with the increases in risks to women and girls, children, and overall health, the pandemic made it clear that the need for our programs exceeds what we can provide with our current funding,” said Ms. Brown.

Receiving this bridge financing from FJC and SeaChange allows PCI Media to smooth the cash flow challenges associated with government and bilateral organizations, close program funding gaps and ensure there is no disruption to the 4 million listeners who rely on their programming for reliable health information.

Ms. Brown notes that bridge lending against donor bequests is not a typical product in the banking sector.   “It’s such a pleasure to work with lenders like FJC and SeaChange that are so sensitive to the needs of nonprofits,” said Ms. Brown.

Photo courtesy of Harvey Wacht

Conserving Nature and Legacy: A Tribute to FJC Donor Karin Heine

If you visit the Heine Wildlife Preserve, located in Wheat Ridge in the greater Denver metropolitan area, you might find dozens of species of birds, butterflies, deer, and fox.  You might marvel at the habitat diversity of this 11-acre urban oasis.  And you might encounter schoolchildren from the nearby Alpine Valley School, examining bugs, filling bird-feeders, and maintaining the bumblebee habitat. 

This oasis of urban wildlife conservation represents the vision of longtime FJC donor Karin Heine, who passed away in May of this year.  Ms. Heine was committed over her lifetime to demonstrating how humans might integrate more harmoniously with nature and wildlife, even in urban settings.

Ms. Heine “was often first in line to help others, but her passion was the charities she cared about.”

Harvey Wacht, Principal and Senior Financial Advisor, ShufroRose

“So much conservation in urban areas is abstract and hypothetical,” explains Tony Caligiuri, President of Colorado Open Land.  “The special thing about the Heine Wildlife Preserve was that it was right in the middle of the neighborhood, and it was a relatable example of what could be done in an urban environment.” He noted that Ms. Heine loved to make educational opportunities about the environment available to young people, in the hopes of inspiring a next generation of conservators.

Colorado Open Lands was one of several environmental and conservation nonprofits that received significant grants following Ms. Heine’s untimely death, as part of final distribution of funds from her Donor Advised Fund account.  Like all the organizations receiving funds from the final distribution, Ms. Heine enjoyed a decades-long relationship with Colorado Open Lands.  

In the early 2000s, Colorado Open Lands entered into an agreement with Ms. Henie to establish a conservation easement on her property: a voluntary, permanent contract whereby the landowner gives up development rights of a property in perpetuity, in return for tax benefits.  The preserve has grown through careful stewardship from 3.7 acres initially to 11 acres today, and the easement will ensure the property will remain a nature habitat forever.  Following Ms. Heine’s death, Colorado Open Lands is in conversation with its board about this most strategic use of her final grant, with the hopes of adding organizational capacity to address a backlog of similar conservation projects, representing potential conservation of 100,000 acres across the state. 

Ms. Heine was committed over her lifetime to demonstrating how humans might integrate more harmoniously with nature and wildlife, even in urban settings. Her philanthropy has created an enduring conservation legacy for generations to come.

“The Nature Conservancy works locally to globally, and Ms. Heine appreciated that approach,” said Carlos Fernandez, the State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, another organization that received significant grant funding from Ms. Heine’s DAF account.  He noted that Ms. Heine was a discerning philanthropist with a trust-based approach to giving that allowed the Conservancy to find the most impactful use for the funds.

Financial advisor Harvey Wacht, a Principal at ShufroRose, reflected on his thirty-year friendship with Ms. Heine, which began with a advisory relationship with Ms. Heine and other members of her family.  Ms. Heine lived among animals, keeping goats for pets and a chicken coop “before it became fashionable for hipsters in Brooklyn.”  He noted that Ms. Heine cared deeply about the local community, and “was often first in line to help others,” often providing financial support personally to friends and neighbors in crisis.  “But her passion was the charities that she cared about,” reflected Mr. Wacht, noting that her philanthropy and longstanding nonprofit relationships have created an enduring conservation legacy for generations to come.

Discussing innovative and responsive uses of DAFs on the EPCNYC webinar: Mark Cohen (FJC), Sam Marks (FJC), Dolores Kordon (Brighter Tomorrows), Hank Snyder (JP Morgan, moderator), and Annie Polland (The Tenement Museum)

Innovative, Revolving Uses of DAFs Featured in Webinar

Leaders of two nonprofit organizations whose urgent financial needs were met by innovative FJC donors were featured on a webinar hosted by the Estate Planning Council of NYC (EPCNYC), titled “Multiplying your Impact: Innovative Approaches to Revolving Philanthropic Dollars”.  The nonprofit Executive Directors, Annie Polland of The Tenement Museum and Dolores Kordon of Brighter Tomorrows, were joined by members of FJC’s leadership, CEO Sam Marks and Chief Legal Officer Mark Cohen, who described the foundation’s role executing the transactions.  The event was moderated by Henry Snyder, Executive Director of JP Morgan’s Private Bank, and a member of EPCNYC.

While most holders of Donor Advised Fund (DAF) accounts use their philanthropic funds for grants, the webinar highlighted cases where donors identified financing gaps in the organizations that could be addressed with solutions that combined philanthropic intent with investment strategies.

“We’re trying to inspire more of our donors to approach philanthropy in this way, and bring new donors that are inspired by examples like these.”

Sam Marks, Chief Executive Officer, FJC

In the case of Brighter Tomorrows, a domestic violence nonprofit serving women and families on Long Island, the donor was solving for a cash flow problem.  As Ms. Kordon explained, the majority of the organization’s work is funded with government contracts.  These contracts, typically administered through the state or county, are notoriously slow to pay even during normal times and are typically paid on a reimbursement basis.  During the pandemic, when the needs of clients for shelter, food, and emergency assistance were at an all-time high, the public agency offices administering payments on the contracts were also facing major capacity issues.  “Payments slowed to a snail’s pace,” Ms. Kordon lamented. “With the pandemic came all sorts of additional emergency costs, and we had to still keep the lights on and pay rent.”

Enter Sandy Wheeler, one of Brighter Tomorrows’ most steadfast donors.  Ms. Wheeler worked with FJC to deploy $100,000 in her DAF account as a 0% interest revolving line of credit.  This cash resource allowed Brighter Tomorrows to continue meeting the urgent needs of clients, even in the face of slower contract payments.  In the year since the loan was closed, the funds have been fully drawn, repaid, and drawn again. “I can’t say enough about the importance of having a donor provide this resource,” says Ms. Kordon. “It was a godsend for us.” 

“I can’t say enough about the importance of having a donor provide this resource. It was a godsend for us.”

Dolores Kordon, Executive Director, Brighter Tomorrows

FJC facilitated a more complex transaction with The Tenement Museum, a vital organization that has been researching and telling the stories of immigrant New Yorkers for the past 25 years. In the early days of the pandemic, the organization faced significant financial distress, as documented in an New York Times article, “A Museum Devoted to Survivors Faces Its Own Fight for Survival” (April 24, 2020). The article noted that 75% of the museum’s revenue came from earned income, reflecting admissions and gift shop revenue of its 285,000 annual visitors.  As a result of the pandemic their visitors (and attendant revenue) had dried up, but the museum carried significant fixed costs due to its mortgage, which cost the museum $585,000 per year.

One of FJC’s donors read the New York Times article and reached out to inquire whether he could refinance the museum’s mortgage with funds in his DAF account.  Upon further conversation with the Museum’s leadership, it was revealed that the mortgage was in the form of a tax-exempt bond, issued by the City of New York through its Build NYC Resource Corporation, a division of the NYC Economic Development Corporation.  In coordination with the donor, FJC purchased the bond from the bondholder, and amended the terms to interest-only at 1% per year, reducing the museum’s annual debt service payment from $585,000 per year to $80,000.  “We are paying $2.5 million less out of pocket for debt service over these five years,” explains Ms. Polland. “This has bought us time to figure out how we manage through this pandemic year, but it also freed us up to think of creative ways to operate.” Ms. Polland noted that the museum has been able to develop distance learning modules that have engaged students virtually from as far away as California.  She also noted its new exhibit focusing on a Black family and a walking tour called “Reclaiming Black Spaces,” which explores sites connected with nearly 400 years of African-American presence on the Lower East Side.  “The Museum is not just pausing,” she said. “We’re taking on new and addressing the questions important to this country.  How does learning our history help us move forward?”  The Museum’s new programs and strong emergence from the pandemic were featured again in the New York Times this month, a story that Ms. Polland describes as a “bookend” to the previous year’s story on the organization’s distressed financial picture.

“We are paying $2.5 million less out of pocket for debt service over these five years. This has bought us time to figure out how we manage through this pandemic year, but it also freed us up to think of creative ways to operate.”

Annie Polland, Executive Director, The Tenement Museum

Mr. Cohen explained that after five years, FJC intends to sell the bond back to the bond market, and will aim to recoup the $9.5 million face value of the bond for the donor’s account.  These funds can then be recycled as grants or additional loans or impact investments.

The moderator Mr. Snyder noted that customized transactions like these do not appear to be standard offerings at most DAF sponsors.  Mr. Marks noted that philanthropic lending and impact investing are more common at the more sophisticated, professionalized foundations and that FJC had a long history of applying best practices from philanthropy more broadly to their DAF account holders.  “We’re trying to inspire more of our donors to approach philanthropy in this way,” says Mr. Marks, “and work with new donors that are inspired by examples like these.”

Photo courtesy of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Donor Legacy Supports Transformation of NYC’s Response to Mental Health Crises

In life, Helen Rehr led a distinguished, trailblazing career in social work.  She was known for revolutionizing and standardizing the field of social work, and her long career at Mt Sinai, where she retired in her role as Chair of the Division of Social Work in 1986.  Ms. Rehr was also a longtime donor at FJC.  Since her death in 2013, FJC has honored her philanthropic legacy by honoring her wishes through a Board-advised Fund, “to identify worthwhile projects determined by FJC to be used for social services, research or training projects all to enhance health and mental health care for vulnerable populations within the State of Israel and the City of New York.”

This year FJC issued a Request for Proposals that put a timely focus on her programmatic wishes: “organizations engaged in social work research and/or training projects focused on developing alternatives to the current police response when encountering the mentally ill in NY.” Each year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) responds to nearly 200,000 calls regarding individuals experiencing mental health crises.  In the past five years alone, notwithstanding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s implementation of crisis intervention training for police officers, 18 individuals were fatally shot by police when experiencing a mental health crisis, and 15 of those 18 individuals were Black or Brown.

“It is high time to transform the way New York responds to mental health crises an ensure that all New Yorkers are provided the services they need and are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

Ruth Lowenkron, Director, Disability Justice Program, NYLPI

The winning response to the RFP came from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), working in coordination with program partner Community Access.  The $100,000 grant will fund the two organizations to advocate for New York City to establish a non-police response to mental health crises, which will consist of trained peers (those with lived mental health experience) and independent emergency medical technicians whose aim is to de-escalate violence and administer proper assistance through a non-police mental healthcare response. 

Recognizing that creating an alternate response to mental health crises means doing as much as possible to ensure crises never happen in the first place, NYLPI will also develop a training geared to such frontline workers as social workers to de-escalate crises, building on a Community Access training module that seeks to equip workers with the knowledge and de-escalation skills to make compassionate connections with people in crisis.

“We could not be more grateful for the FJC’s generous support of this critical work,” said Ruth Lowenkron, Director of NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program who spearheads NYLPI’s work in this area.  “For far too long, our citizens who experience mental health crises have been neglected and worse.  It is high time to transform the way New York responds to mental health crises an ensure that all New Yorkers are provided the services they need and are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

NYLPI will leverage the grant from the Helen Rehr fund as a match for their #MentalHealthCareNotPolice campaign, which NYLPI and its coalition partners will be highlighting throughout the year in a series of events in public parks.  Visit NYLPI’s website for more information.