Equity Funds

C aroline Silverthau was concerned about milk and coal—specifically, their absence. When she died in 1941, she made a gift to The New Haven Foundation in order to provide these basic necessities “for the poor in New Haven.”

Milk and coal are no longer the primary needs of New Haven’s neediest, but food and shelter are, and Silverthau’s legacy continues to help others today through The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven—the name taken in 1992 by The New Haven Foundation to reflect its wider reach.

“New Haven’s tomorrow!” exclaimed the headline on an ad that appeared in the February 19, 1928 New Haven Register. Announcing the foundation’s impending creation, it called for “a Charitable Trust fund consisting of gifts of money or property, large and small from public spirited citizens…” Based on a model first established in Cleveland and championed here by Osborne Day, the foundation’s funds were to be managed by 11 local banks. Later that year, it received its first $135,000 from the estate of Nettie J. Dayton. Silverthau’s bequest was its seventh.

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Rebecca Miller conducts Tchaikovsky - New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Today The Community Foundation manages over $600 million in charitable assets comprising more than 900 funds, many from private donors collected over more than three generations, for the benefit of the greater New Haven community. Legend has it that the foundation’s first grant went to the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, says William Ginsberg, the foundation’s president and CEO since 2000. In 2016, more than $30 million went to hundreds of local nonprofits and other programs benefiting New Haven and 19 surrounding communities.

The foundation funds both “needs” and “opportunities,” Ginsberg notes. In looking to greater New Haven’s future, he says, the board of directors, made up of 11 prominent community members, asks, “Where are the opportunities going forward [for] helping this community grow, helping this community succeed, and what are the investments it needs to make now to enable that to occur?” Those opportunities currently include New Haven Promise, the foundation’s largest project, supported in conjunction with Yale University, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Wells Fargo. New Haven Promise provides scholarships for up to 100% of college tuition at Connecticut public colleges and universities for residents and graduates of New Haven Public Schools and approved charter schools.

The foundation’s board is looking at other opportunities as well, Ginsberg says, including “inclusive growth”—growing the area’s economy “across the socioeconomic spectrum”—and immigration, a focus that goes back to 2014. “We see immigration as a huge opportunity for this community—a strength of the community and an opportunity for the future,” he says. “It’s what built this community… It’s what is rebuilding this community.” A flyer extols the business contributions of Fair Haven’s immigrant population, for example.

From a fifth-floor conference room in the foundation’s glass-walled building on Audubon Street, you can look north past the stained glass and brick facade of the Educational Center for the Arts to the cliffs of East Rock, or step onto a west-facing patio for a view dominated by the towers of Yale. The building, with a view that constantly reminds staff of the city they’re working for, is as transparent as Ginsberg wants the foundation to be. It’s a community partner, not a secretive monolith. Hundreds of volunteers contribute their time and effort; the by-laws task various external figures, like the mayor and the president of Yale, with appointing board members who represent, “to the greatest possible extent, all interests, classes and creeds”; and donors direct how their funds are used.

Indeed, the majority of the foundation’s disbursements aren’t based on Ginsberg’s ideas or his staff’s or even the board’s. Roughly two-thirds of the money the foundation manages is either in funds earmarked for particular purposes or belongs to local organizations, who, by entrusting the foundation with their investments, gain access to “world-class managers.” The remaining one-third is available for meeting other needs as the board sees fit, including pursuing those big opportunities like New Haven Promise.

Even a quick look at the foundation’s 2016 annual report makes it clear how far The Community Foundation’s roots spread across New Haven and beyond. It takes 16 pages to list all of that year’s grants, disbursed to a veritable Who’s Who of local organizations. Some grants are small and quick to process—a few registering under $100—while others are much greater—in the hundreds of thousands. The range of issues reaches wide and deep as well, covering civic vitality, arts and culture, economic success, basic needs, quality education, children and youth, health and wellness, and the environment, according to one foundation publication.

The fact that The Community Foundation is celebrating its 90th year says a lot about New Haven, Ginsberg says. “It’s a testament to this community’s generosity here and the way people feel about New Haven and have for nine decades. We’re the stewards of that.” He’s a big New Haven booster himself—not a native, but someone who chose to live here twice. In the mid-1980s, he came to New Haven from New York City as a young lawyer to work for Mayor Biagio DiLieto, running the city’s development program and later Science Park. He left in the mid-’90s to join the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development and chief of staff to commerce secretary Ron Brown, then returned to New Haven to take the helm at The Community Foundation.

“Moving someplace twice is the highest compliment,” Ginsberg says. He uses words like “beautiful,” “diverse,” “neighborhood-focused “ and “endlessly interesting” to describe his adopted city. It’s “full of needs, full of challenges, full of opportunities.”

Those New Haveners of 90 years ago, when milk and coal were staples, might not have been able to imagine today’s New Haven. But chances are they’d recognize the work of their foundation, still following its original call and aiming for the city’s next tomorrow.

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
70 Audubon St, New Haven (map)
(203) 777-2386 | contactus@cfgnh.org
www.cfgnh.org

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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