Foundation Center Vice President for Development Nancy Albilal spoke with Ward S. Caswell, president of the Beveridge Family Foundation in West Newbury, Massachusetts, about the foundation’s grantmaking to nonprofits working to create opportunity and a more vibrant economy and quality of life in Hampden and Hampshire counties. Nancy’s Q&A with Caswell is part of the Funder's Forum series, which helps foundation leaders exchange ideas and connect with their peers, and is featured, along with other Forum interviews, in the center’s monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter.
Nancy Albilal: How does the Beveridge Family Foundation's grantmaking honor the legacy of Frank Stanley Beveridge while continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the communities you serve?
Ward Slocum Caswell: When the foundation was started back in the 1940s, Frank Stanley Beveridge was doing quite a bit in the community to give back in those areas he felt had helped him become a success. It's important to understand that Mr. Beveridge was the adopted son of farmers up in Canada. He understood the value of hard work, but also what I like to call putting your fingers in the dirt, understanding man's connection with nature and the environment. So, he established a park in Westfield, Massachusetts, that today is called Stanley Park. In the early days, it was small and used quite a bit for Stanley Home Products company events. But it grew over the years and now is the largest non-government-owned, free-to-the-public park east of the Mississippi. It's very popular with people in Westfield and the Pioneer Valley and includes a large playground, beautiful gardens, lots of rolling paths that wind down to ponds and woods and across fields, and it's a hundred percent handicapped accessible.
So the Beveridge Family Foundation exists primarily to fund the needs of the park, which have evolved. Following Mr. Beveridge’s death in 1956, the foundation benefited from growth in its primary investment, the stock of Stanley Home Products. When we exited the stock in the 1980s, we invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds and, well, it was the 1980s, and our corpus continued to grow into the late nineties. Of course, as anyone who reads the business news knows, the markets since the late nineties haven't been that productive. At the same time, costs have risen for lots of things, so we took a pause in 2009 and asked ourselves, "What would happen if the needs of the park eventually exceeded the ability of the foundation to fund it?" As a result of that process, we did two things. First, we started to fund raise within the park, and then we began to require public support for anything over and above how the park looked in 2009, including endowing any new structures or additions. And I am pleased to say that we are finishing up a new pavilion to replace one built sixty years ago that had been ruined by beetles and had to be removed. Not only is the new pavilion much nicer than the old one, its construction was also made possible through the support of the community, which is very different from the way we used to do things. It used to be that if the park needed something, we wrote a check. But the new approach allows us to continue growing the legacy of the foundation, which supports a host of nonprofits, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties in western Massachusetts. At this point, we give about $2 million a year, a third of which supports Stanley Park, with the rest going to a range of environmental, social, and other organizations, and all of it in keeping with the interest Frank Stanley Beveridge had in promoting culture, education, and the general enjoyment of the community.
NA: How has the foundation's investment in environmental issues developed over time? And how do you position your work on this issue given your primarily local focus?
WSC: You know, sometimes when people invest in the environment, it's to say "no" to things — to developers, to pollution, et cetera. And saying no to things can create difficulties for people who are trying to earn a living or looking for an affordable place to live. We believe there needs to be an intelligent balance between conservation and the needs of local communities. The park is a great example. It's a large park with very few buildings. A lot of woods, a lot of open fields, and a lot of well-tended gardens, as well as a few facilities that allow people to get out of the rain, to have a wedding or family reunion or hold a concert or any of the hundreds of events we host there every year. When we fund environmental issues in western Massachusetts, we tend to spread that funding across a variety of different activities. Twenty years ago, it would have been for the Connecticut River watershed group that was working to clean up the river after the removal of a lot of paper pulp factories. Thirty years ago, the river I fished as a kid was a mess. You'd pull out your fishing line and it would be covered with strings of paper pulp, and the only fish you could catch were carp and other kinds of junk fish that dug up the bottom. Today the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is beautiful. It's clean. It's clear. There are all kinds of different fish coming back up the river. And for the first time in many years, people are using it. They hold dragon boat races to raise funds for breast cancer research and crew practices and regattas for people of all incomes and from every socioeconomic background. It's a vibrant resource again. And that happened in part because of the work that was funded twenty and thirty years ago, the shutting down of large polluters and the removal of some of the heavy metals and toxins, the replanting of littoral grasses, and so on.
Today the funding we do in the environmental area is a little different. We're strong supporters of the Center for EcoTechnology, for example, and their work in helping make Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state in the nation. We've achieved that not by having crazy restrictions on emissions from cars, which you see in California and which means auto manufacturers have to make special versions of their cars just for California. What the center does instead is to go door-to-door and help people understand the ways in which their homes and businesses are energy inefficient and what they can do with tax rebates and other kinds of programs and incentives to remedy those inefficiencies. The great thing about it is that it actually saves the homeowner or business owner money by lowering their energy bills while making Massachusetts a much more energy-efficient state and reducing our dependence on carbon fuels. It's a win-win.
Another thing we do is fund trusts that help people put agricultural or low-density deed restrictions on their properties as a way to conserve open space in Massachusetts where wildlife can continue to flourish and people can enjoy nature. Often, these trusts also benefit the owners of the property by enabling them to reduce their tax bills and, occasionally, to receive actual funds from a nonprofit organization that is willing to pay the property owner for effectively reducing the economic utility of their properties while preserving the property in perpetuity in a way that benefits the public and is sustainable.
That said, we recognize that one of the greatest needs in Massachusetts is affordable housing. So we do quite a bit of work in trying to help people find effective and efficient ways to build, maintain, rent, and sell affordable housing. We're strong proponents of an east-west high-speed rail line to connect the economic engine that is Boston with the tremendous opportunities in the western part of the state. If you look at the economic cycles that seem to run on a seven- to ten-year basis — think of a sine wave — Boston is interesting in that it is always flattened on the top. Because housing costs are so high in and around Boston, making it increasingly difficult to hire and house employees in up cycles, the city's economy tends to flatten out before the rest of the nation's economy. When the economy is booming, people find it increasingly difficult to live and work within reasonable commuting distance of the city. Meanwhile, Springfield, Holyoke, and the entire Pioneer Valley is full of intelligent, hardworking, experienced people who would love to be earning a higher wage but are reluctant to move from the Pioneer Valley because of its affordability and the quality of life there. Unfortunately, the Mass Pike, along with Logan Airport, is owned by a private corporation that really seems to have no interest in expanding those key transport hubs for the benefit of the state. CFX, which owns the freight lines that run east-west, also is reluctant to give up its rights, which are crucial if we ever hope to connect the two parts of Massachusetts for the long-term economic health of the state and its residents. So we try to work with different groups to understand those problems and find ways to help more people understand the situation and what can be done to address it.
Last but not least, we're involved in a group called City2City in the Pioneer Valley that was incubated by the Federal Reserve and studies what the Fed calls "resurgent" cities. The Fed looked at seventy-five post-industrial cities across the U.S. and found that twenty-five or so of them had actually come back nicely, while the rest had not. Springfield was one of the ones that has not. And so each year, we visit other cities to try to learn what they have done to revitalize themselves and bring those lessons back to Springfield. Next week, we're going to Chattanooga!
NA: You touched on this, but what are some of the long-term strategies you've employed to improve the quality of life in the communities in which you invest?
WSC: So, we look and listen for opportunities to help those that need a hand up. We're always trying to fund initiatives that are going to touch large numbers of people, and touch them deeply. That balance is important. Education, exposure, general sharing of knowledge is important, but there are always going to be some folks that need a lot more to help them get over a hurdle. We find that one of the key hurdles we see time and time again is trauma. We just had our board meeting and one of the family members not yet on the board was visiting. He shared an expression I was not familiar with, which is, "Hurt people hurt people." That is, people who have been hurt often inflict pain on others. And it can be a generational thing, not something you solve within a year or an election cycle or even a single lifetime. It's an area where you could spend billions. We don't have billions. We only have a few million a year we can give away. But one of the things we think is important about foundations in general is that they are good at finding ways to pursue solutions in a particular area over a long period of time.
We can see the impact of that in what we've done over multiple generations, particularly in the Pioneer Valley. We believe that work should and can be done on multiple levels, so we try to fund things across a continuum, but at the same time we are focused on those most in need. We do a lot of funding of the arts, for example. We do a lot of funding of higher educational institutions. And we do a lot of funding in education, where our mandate is a little different. Public schools have a mandate to keep each kid moving along; they're not so interested in helping each and every kid achieve their fullest potential. So, kids with the potential to be an A student frankly often are not getting the type of attention that a kid who is struggling to pass does. You might put it this way: public schools are focused on getting kids to a C, so that they can graduate and have enough education and skills to be employable. That seems like a reasonable goal. The problem with it is that most institutions rarely achieve all their goals on a consistent basis, and that's especially true of large, complex institutions like government agencies or a public school system. So if school systems are aiming to get every kid to perform at a C level but consistently fail to meet that goal, they're generating below-average results for a lot of kids. And when you multiply that over generations, what you see is that someone who has received a below-average education is not going to have as much to offer to his or her children as someone who has received an average or better-than average education. And over time, the kids of those parents and their kids in turn experience a steady loss of skills and capabilities. Sadly, if you look at reading scores, math and science scores, and global rankings in those areas, that increasingly seems to be the case in the U.S. So, we are doing what we can to help.
NA: What are some of the things you're doing?
We're one of the early members of something called the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success, which was initiated and is led by the Davis Foundation in Springfield. They focus on early childhood education and do wonderful work, although it can be frustrating, because the results aren't always what you'd hope they'd be. We're still seeing declines in reading scores in the Pioneer Valley, for example. But through the collaborative, we've learned a lot. And the most important thing we've learned is the benefit of actually listening to people in the community. The Davis Foundation has had informal focus groups with young mothers in Springfield or Holyoke where we'll ask, "What are your challenges? What's working? What isn't working?" And one of the things we hear in those groups on a regular basis is an inadequate understanding of the importance of reading to young children. At the same time, we also hear a lot about challenges that seem to have nothing to do with education and yet are big obstacles in terms of getting kids ready for school. Issues like transportation, child care, neighborhood safety and stability — all of them things that can prevent a first- or second-grader from showing up to school every day, or from receiving three square meals, or from getting a good night's sleep.
You know, as a society we put a lot of pressure on teachers to raise our kids for us, and that's not their job. We don't pay them enough as it is to do the job we hired them to do. It takes a lot more than teachers to truly educate children and prepare them to succeed in a global, twenty-first century economy, and I think we should all spend even more time listening and learning from parents who are struggling to do that.
NA: What is your approach to scaling programs and encouraging grantees to share lessons learned with others in the field?
WSC: That's a tricky one. You know, we try to stay away from giving general operating support. The community we serve is just too large for us to be the primary source of support for all the different organizations and programs that need funding on a year-to-year basis. What we would prefer to be is the tipping point, so to speak, the funder who is able to provide a little extra oomph or come in when folks have an unexpected problem or want to try something new. The difficulty is if you do that over the long term you wind up with a lot of programs that were great ideas at some point but then have difficulty attracting funding long-term to sustain them. So, we're beginning to do more general operating support, trying to find the right balance, and trying to help our grantees find sustainable funding. Sometimes it'll take the form of grassroots support, sometimes it'll be government support, and sometimes it'll be earned income. Money. It's the constant challenge. And it's never easy.
I will say that working with others in the community, especially on the funding side, has helped us develop deeper and better relationships and made us more aware of what others are doing. For example, we thought we would have an opportunity this year to make some improvements to our application process, the idea being that we could be a little more proactive with our grantmaking, as opposed to the reactive, "yes" or "no" type of funding we have been doing. But then there were some major changes in the way other funders were supporting programs in the Pioneer Valley, and we decided to hold off, thinking that the nonprofit community in the region needed some stability in their funding sources in order to be able to manage themselves. So, we just we let them know that for now we're keeping things as is.
We also just made a million-dollar grant to Stanley Park for the pavilion I mentioned. As a result of that grant, our required payout for the last half of the year was just $40,000, but instead we decided to provide $700,000 and developed a carry-forward that will burn off over the next couple years. We don't like to do carry-forwards, because they reduce our ability to fund long-term, but in this case we were happy to provide that kind of consistency to the community.
As I mentioned, we feel there are great opportunities for funders to learn from each other, and for funders to learn together. The Funder Collaborative for Reading Success is one example. The City2City initiative is another. We also recently did a panel discussion with Associated Grant Makers of Massachusetts where there were five of us and an audience of, gosh, it looked like maybe sixty to a hundred different nonprofits, and explained why our application processes were different, you know, helping them understand that our missions are different, our histories are different, and therefore our goals are different, which means the types of things we're looking for are different, and that means the types of questions we need to ask are going to be different. That was helpful; the people in the room really understood that.
I'll end with this thought. We never used to do things with the United Way. It just wasn't the type of philanthropy we wanted to support. But Dora Robinson, who runs the United Way of Pioneer Valley, has done a phenomenal job of transforming that organization, and today it is much more proactive in working with the community. They've almost adopted a Habitat for Humanity model. Habitat doesn't come to you asking for money; it comes to you to talk to you about projects it is thinking about doing in your area. "Hey, you want to come sling a hammer and learn how to build a house?" You spend a day swinging a hammer, helping to build a roof or a wall on a house that someone in your neighborhood is going to live in, and, you know, you get it, you worked directly with the people who are being helped, you understand the impact. It's a great model, a fingers-in-the-dirt model. It's what I was talking about earlier, which Frank Stanley Beveridge understood. Hard work is its own reward. We want to work side-by-side with the nonprofits we fund and be involved, not just write checks and go to galas. It gives us a much better understanding of the real needs in the community, and we hope that understanding makes us better grantmakers and contributes to the impact we are able to create.
— Nancy Albilal