The following is a conversation between Amy Freitag, President of The New York Community Trust, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: The New York Community Trust is a community foundation for New York City with divisions in Westchester and Long Island. It is one of the largest community foundations in the United States, and it will be celebrating the centennial anniversary next year. There’s been a lot happening, and here to discuss it with us, as well as what the future holds, is Amy Freitag, the president of The New York Community Trust.
Welcome back to The Business of Giving, Amy.
Amy: Hey, Denver. It’s such a pleasure to be with you today. Thank you.
Denver: Likewise. Well, with the centennial at your doorstep, it’s probably a good time to share with listeners some of the history of The New York Community Trust.
Amy: Well, it’s a hundred years of impact, Denver. It’s just a huge honor to be part of this storied institution. I’m just the fourth leader in 99 years, so no pressure.
Amy: And you may recall, I just love history, and I love people. And we have that combination in abundance at the Trust, literally generations of donors and grantees collaborating to make New York City a better place.
So I don’t know if you know, like the original community foundation is the Cleveland Foundation. I’m a very proud Buckeye, so I’m proud. I grew up kind of in…
Denver: Akron girl.
Amy: …in Akron. So the Cleveland Foundation has a very large and storied history as well. And really, The New York Community Trust was a carbon copy of the Cleveland Foundation 99 years ago.
And it was this incredible idea of allowing the major banks of New York to manage resources on behalf of their clients and to delegate all of their grant-making wishes to something called a distribution committee. And believe it or not, our governing board is still referred to as the distribution committee.
So that was how we lived for the first many years. And then in the 1950s, we created a second entity called Community Funds, Inc., and that holds charitable gifts as well. It’s a sort of partner organization to the Trust. So that’s our structure today, these two parallel organizations, deeply connected, that give us a lot of flexibility to work with donors and meet their needs.
Amy: So let me give you one other first for The New York Community Trust. In the 1930s, we created the first donor-advised fund. And that was a fund set up by a woman who wanted to make grants during her lifetime, but then delegated the grant making from her funds to us after her death.
So, as you know, donor-advised funds have subsequently grown in extraordinary ways. We’ve been opening DAFs ever since, but we also focus a lot on permanent funds. Those are the funds that often are left to people in people’s wills that allow us to make long-term, systemic change in New York City through our competitive grant-making program.
And it’s also that combination of DAFs and those permanent funds that give us incredible flexibility when, whether it be the Great Depression or Superstorm Sandy, or 9/11, or most recently, COVID, allows us to be very nimble and flexible. The Trust has been such a critical partner through all of that history of responding to New York City’s needs.
Denver: That is a great overview. It’s funny, I used to work with the United Way, and I was always impressed at what a hotbed of innovation, and what an incubator Cleveland was. With the United Way as well, we don’t think of Cleveland that way. But so much of philanthropy has been shaped by what started in Cleveland and community foundations, obviously, that I just learned would be no exception.
Amy: Well, they are doing fabulous work, and we can talk more about that. The wonderful Ronn Richard who’s been leading the Cleveland Foundation, is yet another one of our great leaders who is going to step away from his role. But man! What an impact he’s had over the last 17 years in Cleveland! My hat’s off to Ronn!
Denver: You gave a great overview here, but for listeners who maybe are not that familiar with community foundations, how do they differ from private foundations?
Amy: So, it’s so interesting. I’ve learned so much in this journey, getting my feet on the ground at New York Community Trust. And you may recall when we last spoke about my role running a family foundation, and we were running something called the Innovation Prize. How does a small family foundation reach across the country to find innovative projects?
Well, you know what we did? We used community foundations because these are these incredibly community-connected, hyperlocal boots on the ground… knowing their local communities. They’re one of the best places to source innovative ideas in communities all across the country.
There’s 750 community foundations across the country, and some are large, multi-county, like we are eight counties covering 11.5 million people.
Amy: But just two weeks ago, I was in Northern Minnesota, and there’s a Northwest Minnesota Community Foundation in Bemidji, Minnesota. Have you been there, Denver?
Denver: I’d have to check my itinerary. I don’t think I have.
Amy: Well, it’s got a booming population of 15,000, but they too have a community foundation. So it’s the diversity of these types of organizations across the country that address need in such diverse and interesting ways. So we all share basic structure, which is we take in what’s sort of a two-part mission. We take in funds, and then we distribute those funds to really high-impact, local nonprofits that do really great things on the ground to help our community.
So that’s really the sort of critical sort of understanding that we both raise funds, take in funds, and we make grants. And that really differentiates us from private foundations, family foundations. But we often work in partnership with family foundations and private foundations who need that very connected community partner.
And that’s why during COVID-19, we were able to raise $80 million within literally days of New York City’s shutdown, and we had grants out the door within days of the shutdown. So it’s that agility to work in and around philanthropy that I think make community foundations these really nimble, agile partners at moments of critical need in the city.
Denver: They are always the ones on the front lines. We think of the more traditional foundations, but I’ve been around this field long enough to know that when a crisis comes, the community foundation is the one that is out there first.
Well, let’s talk about the take-in part, and that would be the philanthropy. And I’m sitting here, Amy, what’s the case you would give me as to why I should give to or give through The New York Community Trust?
Amy: So I’ll say this, and I think we are a really nimble, agile partner that can meet you as a donor in a number of ways, right? So we already talked about the opportunity that you as a donor may want to make… let’s… Denver, your ship has come in, had a…
Denver: No, it hasn’t.
Amy: You’ve had what we like to call a wealth event in your life. And you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your funds. You’re not really sure, so come to us. You’re going to open a donor-advised fund, and then you know what I’m going to do?
If you’re not sure how you wanted to… let’s say homelessness was your issue, then I can introduce you to our whole incredible grant-making team experienced, deeply rooted in community. And they’re going to tell you how we’ve been working on the homelessness issue for decades, and who are the key partners in the city, and who are the greatest nonprofits where you can make the highest impact gift.
So that is a really tremendous way that we partner with living donors to help them maximize the impact of their grants. Unfortunately, Denver, we will not go on forever. I’m sorry to say it, but at the moment when you decide, you know what? “ I want to make sure that that wealth that I accumulated during my lifetime continues to have a strong impact on the places and organizations and issues that I care about.”
“I’m going to leave my funds to The New York Community Trust as a permanent gift” because for a hundred years, The New York Community Trust has been honoring the wishes of donors, people like you who love where they live, and want to make a lasting impact. Because you might say, “Oh, my favorite cause is the Queens Museum.”
And I want to make sure that every year, in perpetuity, which by the way, we know is a very, very long time…
Denver: Yes, we do.
Amy: “…that the Queens Museum will get an annual gift from my fund that I set up.” But God forbid, let’s say the Queens Museum merges or becomes some other new entity, and they no longer do the stuff that you loved.
By giving the funds to a community foundation, you’re investing it in a group of really thoughtful grant makers who say: What did Denver want? Denver really wanted to make sure arts were available and accessible in Queens. There’s now a Flushing museum that’s doing the exact work that he wanted, so we can make sure that your funds always serve the purpose to which you intended them when you were alive.
So it’s a pretty amazing commitment we make to our donors, and we’ve been honoring those commitments for a hundred years.
Denver: Yeah, that is really cool, to have my intention honored, but to stay contemporary at the same time. So it is being highly leveraged is really a beautiful thing.
You mentioned DAFs. What’s your take on that? Does New York Community Trust have a take on trying to increase the payouts… and all those hot political issues we’ve had around that?
Amy: Well, I give it up to my predecessor. Lorie Slutsky… was very involved in this conversation nationally. And I do think that we think a lot, in fact, as the donor-advised funds that we hold, we work so intentionally with our donors and really encourage them to make grants on a regular basis.
We really want them to put those dollars to good purpose in New York. I think we feel like that the donor-advised fund provides… I mean, it has exploded the amount of philanthropy, right? So, so much money coming to lots of good causes. But with all things, we worry that some people maybe aren’t deploying those resources.
So we work very intentionally with a group of other community foundations and Vanguard and Schwab, and the commercial folks that hold DAFs, so that we’re in conversation and understanding how we can be both meeting the need of the moment, but also honoring the needs of donors. So I think it’s an ongoing conversation and one that we will continue to be super engaged in.
“…what we don’t want to be is a Band-Aid or trying to deal with just today’s issue. We’re trying to be more systemic in the way that we do our grant making and to think over the longer trajectory, and be intentional and focused in a way that I think other philanthropy sometimes can’t be. So like homelessness is a long and difficult problem, and we will continue to push on different levers and ways to impact that in connection with our community partners.”
Denver: Yeah, it’s not binary. It really is. There’s a lot of gray in that, and people try to simplify it, I think, more than they probably should.
Well, we’ve talked about the philanthropic side of the house. I know you integrate these two very closely, but let’s get to the program side. You mentioned homelessness. What are some of the other program areas that you’re focused on?
Amy: So one of the coolest things about working at a community foundation is that we run the gamut. We worry about taking care of stray cats; we care about climate change, and we do everything in between. So we have this remarkable team of really experienced grant makers, and they work in a number of areas.
We also host a lot of donor collaboratives. So for example, when the census was coming up, and we wanted a fair count of all the New Yorkers… not just in our eight counties, but working collaboratively with our partners throughout the state… we created a census equity fund, and we worked very intentionally with a bunch of other donors to come together to make sure that everybody was counted, everybody was part of the census.
And then that transferred into a fair districting process. So we work on issues that run the full gamut: arts, environment, shelter, hunger, immigration. And we can amplify that with partners in philanthropy in these collaborative ways. And let me also just highlight what I think is so critical, is that 45 years ago, we really intentionally created sort of mini community foundations, one under the umbrella of The New York Community Trust.
But they are in no way “mini,”, right? Long Island Community Foundation serves 3 million people in Nassau and Suffolk. And our Westchester Community Foundation supports a million people in Westchester. So we are looking at issues across, and they are truly different, right? What the needs of Suffolk County are could be very different than what they are in Manhattan.
So we try to look through regional and very hyper-local ways to meet the needs and address the kinds of concerns across those areas. And then when possible, try to work eight counties strong to solve things like Long Island Sound as an issue, a healthier ecosystem. So that really touches New York. It touches the Bronx. It touches Nassau and Suffolk. So there’s lots of ways that we look at the issues that are pressing.
The one thing I will say is that I think, in addition to having this great group of grant makers that keeps their ear to the ground, our very smart head of grant making, Shawn Morehead, who’s our vice president for grants, also has started working with sort of an advisory group of community folks that kind of help her navigate those shifting needs and helps her forecast.
Because what we don’t want to be is a Band-Aid or trying to deal with just today’s issue. We’re trying to be more systemic in the way that we do our grant making and to think over the longer trajectory, and be intentional and focused in a way that I think other philanthropy sometimes can’t be. So like homelessness is a long and difficult problem, and we will continue to push on different levers and ways to impact that in connection with our community partners.
Denver: One program area you mentioned that I want to dig into a little bit, because I think a lot of listeners will say, “What?” And that would be climate change and the environment. I don’t think a lot of people think of: oh, a community foundation… climate change. Explain that to us.
Amy: So, Denver, I feel like if we aren’t attacking climate change at the community level, we are never going to conquer climate change because like all things, climate breaks down into really meaningful, important action that happens at the ground.
And this is sort of breaking news, but there’s just now a conversation among these 700 sort of large, diverse number of community foundations across the country, to think about ways that we can work in partnership. Because in many cases, there’ll be these large philanthropic endeavors to try to push on things like climate, but often they have a hard time getting it to the ground, right?
We really do need to get buy-in from folks to take on community solar or to take on green infrastructure as a way to… like a whole third of the solution for climate change is natural climate solutions. That’s actually planting trees. That’s actually making parks healthier. So we can do that, and cities really need to do that because we face some of the worst impacts around things like urban heat island.
Well, we have lost more people to heat-related death, related to climate change, than we did in Superstorm Sandy or any inundation events. So we actually do need to attack these issues at the super local level. And then if we aggregate that action across community foundations across the country, I can think of no better way to implement climate policy and action than through community foundations.
Denver: Absolutely. Amy, how have the crises of the last couple years– COVID, but in particular, racial reckoning, impacted The New York Community Trust?… Your approach, your priorities, the way you go about doing your work?
Amy: Right. Well, sadly, I would say, Denver, that crises are no stranger to New York City. The Trust, as I mentioned, has been an ally in moments of need, from the Great Depression to New York City’s response to 9/11, and Superstorm Sandy.
And so when COVID hit, it’s sort of bittersweet, but my colleagues had a lot of experience in responding, and that’s how that $80 million fund… and that’s by the way, thanks to our friends at Ford and friends at The JPB Foundation, a lot of other folks coming together to aggregate that incredible community response in New York City, and we got grants out the door.
And while I’m going to say that that support was certainly urgently needed in that crisis moment, the long tail of COVID has a devastating impact, especially in cities like New York that have these long commutes. It’s a much more challenging proposition, I would argue, to get people to take that.
You and I know that New Jersey Transit, the commute that’s an hour, hour and a half, to go and to take that long commute in a crowded train, it’s going to take a while for people to get back into the groove. So New York City is taking this very intensive look, and quite frankly, places like Midtown Manhattan, which is probably the biggest generator of tax revenue for our city, the foot traffic in Midtown is down by almost 25%.
I mean, just that equates to some serious economic hardship in New York City. And our legendary… or one might say notorious subway system ridership is so far down, and it just has a systemic impact on the region. So we have a lot of work to do. So I feel like our work has not even begun to be finished in terms of dealing, responding to this moment, this post-COVID moment.
The good news is we’re part of the storied past of public-private partnerships that have made super incredible things happen across these eight counties, and we have to really leverage those relationships more now more than ever post-COVID.
But let me shift more to the question you’re asking me about equity and justice because equity and justice have been sort of core to our grant making for a long time. But helping shift ourselves in our sector to becoming even more explicitly diverse and inclusive in our work, is really where we have to focus now, I think.
And I think this is why expanding the community of donors to The New York Community Trust and to community foundations as a whole is super urgent, that recognizing that social justice is a critical need. And we need our current donors to see that opportunity to give and to act on this moment because it will not surprise you that a lot of our discretionary grant making comes from permanent funds that were established by donors 50 or 60 or 70 years ago.
Denver: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Amy: And you will not be shocked to hear, Denver, that 50 or 60 years ago, our donors were not leaving funds to get Black and brown people out of prison and dismantle the criminal justice infrastructure that is jails and prisons.
Amy: So if we want to lean against closing Rikers, or if we want to lean against restorative justice, we don’t have those permanent funds that were established for that purpose. This is why we must, must, must engage a new generation of donors, and then that needs to reflect the beautiful diversity; that donor group needs to reflect the beautiful diversity that is New York.
So we have a lot of work to do to expand the tent, to bring more folks to the challenge of trying to move these really important systemic issues that we have such an opportunity to address right now. And I’m just… as I know others are as well, just been super inspired by the work of Ford, of Darren Walker at Ford.
And I’ll tell you, most notably, we recently had an opportunity to hear from Elizabeth Alexander and her journey over these past five years at the Mellon Foundation. She came to an audience of leaders of philanthropy in New York City, talking about what it has meant to change the Mellon Foundation.
And in five years, she has demonstrated that you can pivot both in your leadership, in your staffing, in the way that you define your work in equity and justice. It is such an inspiring story, and I think we’re all better for the work that’s happening in places like that, and we have a long way to go. And I think it really boils down to building our leadership in a way that is much more reflective of the communities that we serve.
Denver: Yeah, inclusive philanthropy. That is really the name of the game right now, and it is the challenge, but it is one of the most important things, I think, in the field.
You mentioned the City of New York a couple of times, Amy. What is your relationship with the mayor and the city government?
Amy: Well, we are blessed that we have a lot of friends in the Adams administration. The first deputy mayor, you may know, Sheena Wright, ran…
Denver: United Way of New York.
Amy: Yes. So comes from philanthropy, having led the United Way and also having worked at Abyssinian Development Corporation up in Harlem. So she’s been a partner in philanthropy for a long time. And when we brought together these new leaders of community foundations in New York a couple weeks ago, we were really honored that the first deputy mayor came and spoke.
And spoke specifically about what it means to leverage the public and the private sector at a critical moment like the moment of need in New York City. So we’re grateful. We’re grateful we have fabulous partners in the new Parks commissioner, the new commissioner of DEP, Rit Aggarwala, who’s just brilliant when it comes to thinking long term about climate and systems change that needs to occur.
We won’t agree on everything, right?
Amy: We’re just not going to, and the mayor just recently gave a sort of very ambitious State of the City address. We were proud that at least half of his initiatives, we are already making grants for. So we share a lot of similar issues, but we will always work in ways to try to leverage the incredible public resources New York City and New York State have to assist those high-impact nonprofits we’ve been working for for a long time.
So sometimes that means we’re like, we’ve got to get those people paid. We got to get those nonprofits paid. Let’s do it, people. So we like to think it’s a working partnership, and we try to make the most for New Yorkers happen through that kind of public-private relationship.
Denver: Let me pick up on what you just said about getting these new leaders together at community foundations. And there is a bit of a changing of the guard going on in community foundations. Not only you, but we have Greater Washington, we have Rochester, and Oregon, and Seattle, and Atlanta, and places like that.
What do you think this is going to mean in terms of how community foundations are perceived and what they do, and the role they play going forward?
Amy: Well, it is true. There’s a big changing of the guard at community foundations. So the Great Resignation happened here, too, and I think that’s understandable. It was a very, very intense and important time for community foundations to respond really quickly during COVID. But I think it was exhausting, right?
And I think… so it is true, like of the 40 or 50 groups, large community foundations that convene a couple times a year, something like 18 of those leaders are new within the last couple years. And I think where almost all of us, or many of us are stepping into the shoes of people like my incredible predecessor, Lorie Slutsky, who was with The New York Community Trust for 32 years as its president, 46 with the organization.
Denver: Yeah. Well, she just had about the average stay of your leaders.
Denver: You’ve had three others until you in 99 years. Yeah.
Amy: Exactly. It’s amazing, right? So change is a seismic thing in any one of our organizations. But if you think about it across the sector, it’s such an opportunity for collaboration, and we are so excited about our peers that are leading these other community foundations.
Rhea Suh, who’s running Marin County Community Foundation, former head of the NRDC, just a fabulous crew. From the former COO, Andrea Sáenz is now running The Chicago Community Trust. So we just are super excited.
And I think there’s a chance for us to think collectively about how we can continue this tradition of innovation, of collaboration, and doing that across the country, and really amping up the voice of community foundations as a partner in this moment of change in America. So I just think it is like… not only do I have the coolest job, but I feel like I have the coolest job at an incredibly important moment for community philanthropy.
Denver: Coolest job at the coolest time. That’s pretty good.
Amy: That’s a quote, Denver. It’s a quote.
“The thing that concerns me is that in a diverse place, in a very busy and crowded place like New York, you can get lost in the shuffle. And what I think is super important is that we lean into technology, social media, ways of communicating so that The New York Community Trust is still very much known as the longtime ally of nonprofit and helping communities in New York City.”
Denver: With all this change going on in terms of community foundations, society, you stepping into the shoes as somebody who had been there for 32 years as its leader, boy, there’s just an awful lot of change. Do you have a philosophy or an approach to change management?
Amy: I’m so glad you asked that. When we brought this group together of community foundation leaders a couple weeks ago in New York, this turned out to be one of the most important topics, that the change, especially at a moment of, you know, it’s kind of a challenging moment systemwide, it can feel very destabilizing.
And we feel like we need to meet this moment with sort of new energy, new ideas, new technology, new systems. But you want to do that within a context of: part of our strength is our stability, right? You as a donor with your… we’ve now established two funds for you at The New York Community Trust, right? Your donor-advised fund and your permanent fund. What you want to know is that…
Denver: I had two ships that came in, by the way.
Amy: No, two ships that came in.
Denver: Not one. Two, two wealth events.
Amy: We’re going to make this work for you. But my point is that the stability of The New York Community Trust, its duty to its long-term donors and its consistency of support to our nonprofits, that is the stable line that we need to be really making clear; none of that is changing. That is just getting stronger and hopefully more powerful as time goes on.
So I think we, on the one hand, want to be very dynamic and innovative at this moment, but we also want to be very clear that we are still the solid bedrock institution that has been leading and supporting the donors and the grantees of New York for a super long time.
But we have to meet the moment because philanthropy has really changed over these hundred years, right? There are kickstarters and there’s corporate social responsibility and there are myriad places, I’ll just use New York City as an example, where New York Community Trust used to be sort of the place to go.
We have a lot of dynamic new partners in our ecosystem. We have a fabulous Brooklyn Community Foundation. We have a brand new Bronx Community Foundation, both led by some of the most powerful women you could meet. We have a New York Women’s Foundation. We have the Jewish Communal Fund. So to us, it’s really about how we can work together and to build the strongest philanthropic response right now.
But I think we have to have an agility and a way to sort of define our value proposition to our donors and have them see which of these ideas is the best one for you. Now, of course, we at The New York Community Trust, like we’re a very good idea. We know that it’s going to take a rising tide lifting many ships to meet the moment right now in New York City. But I think we have to be very smart.
The thing that concerns me is that in a diverse place, in a very busy and crowded place like New York, you can get lost in the shuffle. And what I think is super important is that we lean into technology, social media, ways of communicating so that The New York Community Trust is still very much known as the longtime ally of nonprofit and helping communities in New York City.
Denver: Yeah. I’ve known a lot of leaders who have led their organizations in New York, I mean in Chicago and L.A., and they come to New York. And they just can’t believe how different it is, and how they get lost, and how they don’t even rise above the picket fence. It’s like it’s completely different. New York is very much like that.
You were talking about how philanthropy has changed. I actually think you made a great point that you also focus on what hasn’t changed. And sometimes what we do is we begin to lose what has remained the same. And then from there, tell us what changed.
But leadership has also changed, particularly leading remotely. I know you guys are coming in pretty frequently. But what have you done to change the way you lead to be more effective in this time of change with Gen Zs and remote workers and all those other things?
Amy: Well, it’s interesting. It’s true. The Trust came back in person really even before vaccines were widely available. And I think the thought was that our grantees were back in their offices and that we should be as well.
And there was also a goal of equity among our staff. If like Mike, our wonderful guy who runs our mail room, was going to be in every day, then we all should be in that day and helping do the important work that donors and our grantees needed.
And I think ultimately, being in person has been a real asset, certainly for me, Denver. The fact that The New York Community Trust was back four or five days a week still when I got to the Trust in July, meant that I got to meet all of the incredible people there and really get to know them as people.
Not that I don’t enjoy knowing people through Zoom; of course we do, but it’s really different when you’re in person. So I feel like that’s going to be an interesting thing to see how we can sustain and evolve that in a really shifting New York City business world, in a philanthropic business world, where I think we’re still more the outlier to be in person that much. So time will tell how this will all sort out.
But what I can say is that we have used technology in the gains of COVID, through Zoom and remote. We’ve been able to work with donors through so many new platforms that we never had before. And I think that really does appeal to a next generation of donors.
We do Zoom briefings, for example, when the governor of Texas was sending immigrants into Port Authority every day. Buses were landing every day. Philanthropy in New York really wanted to respond to that, and we were able to, within days, put together a donor guide, bring together the head of the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, have a really, I think, rich and full briefing for donors so they could quickly act and send their resources to the ground where they could be most useful.
So I think we’re using technology in different ways and trying to be much more accessible at moments of need in the city. And I think we’ve learned a lot, by hook or by crook, through the COVID moment. And we now do town halls with each of the counties where we serve, and I think that’s another way that we can get to folks in a way that they don’t have to make the trip into Manhattan to talk to us. They can talk to us through digital media.
So we have way more to do, I think, to innovate and become more… always trying to be of the moment. And we’re going to go through a lot of work this year looking at how people see us, how people respond to us through social media, how people respond to us through our website so we can just try to be more, you know… we always need to be pushing to be of the moment, and I think we will continue to do that.
Denver: Yeah. It’s interesting what you say about that because I come from a generation or a school that had a few axioms that you couldn’t violate. One of them was you had to ask for a major gift in person, and the other was you had to have four or five steps before you ask for that gift. And I saw both of those go right out the window.
Where essentially, it was the first or second time you did it, and you would do it … And I found that actually those conversations were more focused. So there are some things that we just had always assumed as true that have changed.
You’ve been at this maybe seven months, maybe eight months, whatever it may be. Has anything, Amy, surprised you in this new role?
Amy: Well, look, I feel like I was very well prepared by my board and by my wonderful predecessor who spent a lot of time with me, bringing me up to speed. But I’ll say that I keep likening it to… it’s like you heard a song on an AM radio, and then you heard it in like triple 4D Dolby surround sound, in person with live effects. That’s kind of the difference. So I think…
Denver: I love that.
Amy: …the complexity of a community foundation is just like a family foundation on steroids. It’s much, much more complex because it involves many, many different kinds of donors. And it’s just the process of translating all of these endowed funds into an annual grant-making program, which The New York Community Trust team does so beautifully, but it’s like an impossibly complex exercise.
So I’ve learned a lot, and I continue to learn a lot. But I will say the… what we talked about earlier was this issue about visibility of the Trust, like such a fabulous organization. We are well known in our philanthropic and nonprofit circles, but we are not as well known across New York City as I think we need to be to meet this moment. And I think that has surprised me a lot because I feel that…
Denver: What are you going to do about that?
Amy: Well, I got to get going on that, Denver. No, we’re taking a hard look at our branding and our visibility, and I think as we, look, you only turn one hundred once. We’re going to really make sure that we celebrate in a way that people can really get excited about being part of this legacy of donors making real change on the ground in New York. So you never waste your hundredth birthday. That’s my other great advice for you, Denver.
Denver: Oh, no. Well, I was the head of the fundraising campaign for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. And I was…
Amy: Ah, I see.
Denver: So I was one of the originators of that hundred, and that centennial campaign was absolutely something. So, you know, I…
Amy: By the way, Denver, our hundredth coincides with New York City’s 400th.
Denver: Well, there you go.
Amy: There’s going to be a great campaign called the…
“…the other thing that will probably be different in the way that I approach the work is to make sure that we are getting out, seeing our partners, building more and more relationships. It’s about people; it’s about relationships, and I feel like we have to get that story out to more people.
So it’s a good balance of internal and external, and cheerleading this extraordinary organization that deserves all the incredible accolades it’s gotten over the years, and deserves an even bigger group of donors moving forward to really help us meet the moment.”
Denver: It’s going to be a big… maybe we’ll fill up Midtown again with those twin celebrations.
I bet listeners are wondering: How do you keep your focus? And how do you spend your day? A lot of times people have one or two or three dimensions. Not only do you have the philanthropic side of the house, you have the program side of the house, 8,000 different programs, all these other things. How do you balance that? How do you manage that?
Amy: Well, I’m just blessed that I have an extraordinary team. Lorie, over the last couple decades, really had built just a class A team. And so we have really strong people leading those things. And I guess my way of thinking about my day is to support those managers in the best possible way, build the tools and the resources they need to be successful, and really lean into this incredible team that has done the work of The New York Community Trust for such a long, long time.
So we do a lot of that, but I think the other thing that will probably be different in the way that I approach the work is to make sure that we are getting out, seeing our partners, building more and more relationships. It’s about people; it’s about relationships, and I feel like we have to get that story out to more people.
So it’s a good balance of internal and external, and cheerleading this extraordinary organization that deserves all the incredible accolades it’s gotten over the years, and deserves an even bigger group of donors moving forward to really help us meet the moment.
“I think my role is to help this sector evolve and to be the best that we can be. If you were to say, like, what excites me most about this? I just think that this moment needs community foundations like we’ve never been needed before.
So making sure that not only are we living to that excellence and that opportunity in New York, but it’s making sure that we, as a sector, are doing our best to sort of elevate the opportunities to work in collaboration, which is the essence of community foundation.”
Denver: Final question, Amy. Because of this extraordinary perch that The New York Community Trust has, what do you see as your role as a philanthropic leader?
Amy: I think my role is to help this sector evolve and to be the best that we can be. If you were to say, like, what excites me most about this? I just think that this moment needs community foundations like we’ve never been needed before.
So making sure that not only are we living to that excellence and that opportunity in New York, but it’s making sure that we, as a sector, are doing our best to sort of elevate the opportunities to work in collaboration, which is the essence of community foundation. So…
Amy: So it’s being a leader internally and externally, and lifting our sector up, and making sure that we are the go-to for this incredible moment of change in America.
Amy, how do people get in touch with The New York Community Trust, whether it’s to set up a fund, or in my case, two funds, or learn more about your grant-making process?
Amy: Our website is a wealth of information, Denver. I just encourage people to go to New York Community Trust in their web browser. If you put NYCT, you might go to the New York City Transit Authority. We don’t want you to go there. We do want you to go on the subway, yes, we do.
But yeah, go to our website and there’s a wonderful… and it’s not even if… just as a treasure trove, we’ve put a lot of content up there to talk about what it means to be a donor, how we do our work. So we really want to be as transparent and open as a community foundation, so people really understand. Three billion dollars under assets sounds like just a king’s ransom, right?
Amy: But when you really break it down, since many of those assets have been restricted by donors over time, when we can’t make every nonprofit a grant in New York City, it’s upsetting to our grantees. But we really want them to understand why we do what we do and how we do it, and we put as much on our website as we can to give that kind of transparency to our community.
Denver: Great. Well, thanks, Amy, for being here today. It was an absolute delight to have you back on the program, and thank you for a wonderful conversation.
Amy: Denver, you’re wonderful. We look forward to keeping in touch.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.