Brooklyn Community Foundation Looks to Expand With New Strategy

The Brooklyn Community Foundation, which has not seen a significant boost in its assets despite the growing affluence of the New York City borough, is taking a new tack under the leadership of Cecilia Clarke, who joined the foundation as president in September, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Although the foundation was expected to grow in size and influence when it transitioned from being a private company-sponsored foundation to a community foundation in 2009, its assets have remained flat even as the local economy has boomed. "We have $60 million; we should have $160 million,” said Clarke. “We're the fourth largest city [in the U.S.], with 2.6 million people. We've got a lot of ground to cover."

According to the Journal, Clarke plans to grow the foundation by increasing the number of donor-advised funds it administers. And instead of distributing lots of smallish grants across a range of issue areas,she hopes to sharpen the foundation's focus by distributing larger, more meaningful grants that can move the needle on specific problems. In fact, the foundation is putting its grantmaking on hold through early summer while Clarke and her team meet with local leaders and advocates to better understand the needs of the different communities and constituencies in the borough.

Mindy Duitz, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Children's Museum, which has received a number of grants from the foundation, said the vision of a community foundation for Brooklyn is still evolving. For the people who have moved to the borough to raise a family or start a business, added Duitz, it will be a decade before would-be philanthropists "even have the ability or understand what they want to give to in Brooklyn."

One older philanthropist is hoping to set an example, the Journal reports. BCF board chair Alan Fishman, a third-generation Brooklyn native who also chaired the Independence Community Foundation, BCF's precursor, has donated $1 million to the foundation, which in turn has leveraged an additional $300,000 in donations. Linking generous people to worthy groups is a "pivotal" role for the foundation to play, Fishman told the Journal. "Everyone knows the narrative about the city....Regardless of your politics, you know that there's a job to do to make this thing work a bit better for everybody."

Melanie Grayce West. "Turning Brooklyn Cachet Into Cash." Wall Street Journal 03/10/2014.