Will GinsbergGreater New Haven’s Community Foundation Leader Says Connection is Key

Will Ginsburg is President of The Greater New Haven Community Foundation. The foundation supports a diverse of programs and non-profits throughout greater new haven.  Since its inception in 1928 it is the largest foundation in greater New Haven.

The Foundation manages  a general endowment from the donations of individuals and the growth of those investments as well targeted endowments for individuals that bequeathed sums directed for specific purposes such as education, the environment or health.

With a backdrop of a weak Connecticut economy, shrinking state budgets and an uncertain impact of a new President and a Republican Congress private and foundation support is receiving a lot of public attention. Business New Haven editor and publisher Mitchell Young discussed with Ginsburg the challenges for the foundation and greater New Haven in the year ahead.


What is the scale of the Foundation?

The foundation all-in, in terms of assets is approximately $510 million dollars [Sept 2016]. That is made up of many different kinds of funds from different purposes supporting different institutions.  Some of those resources are discretionary as to the board as to how the annual distribution gets spent.  Most of it are component funds, assets of the foundation and some are funds we manage for other institutions,  assets of other non-profits in greater  New Haven.

Well how does that play out in terms of what goes back each year to community needs?

It can be complicated by different assets but basically we take a distribution, a spending rate of 5.25% and 5.75%. Some of that supports the operations of the foundation, the rest goes into the community. This year we will put around  $25 million out into our community in grants and distributions of all different kinds.

What is the overall goal or goals?

 The overall goal is to build a stronger community. That involves helping the community meet its needs, meet the needs of the neediest citizens, and the community is not just New Haven, it is twenty towns.  Our overall goal is about “community,” this is what I was discussing at our recent Annual meeting at the College Street Music Hall.  It’s about reinforcing connections between people and this place. It is “place” based, about people and non-profits, about giving access to knowledge about what is happening in our community. 

In the day in age we live in where it is as possible to connect to any place in the world as you can connect to what’s happening in your local community, the basic mission of reinforcing community is as important as it has ever been, more important than ever.

How does that play out on the ground?

There are priorities of the foundation and the board at any given time and we play a responsive role. Our doors are open, we’re the largest foundation in New Haven by a substantial amount. We are what we call a responsive grant maker in the community where we accept applications from non-profit organizations across the spectrum [of initiatives and needs].

One of the goals we’ve established building  a college culture and supporting talented young people [through New Haven Promise, recently given $1.4 million] our community to go to college. Promise is a partnership with Yale and the New Haven Public Schools. 

Three years ago we decided to devote particular resources not just grants, but knowledge and community awareness and to make grants and hold meetings on issues of immigration and re-entry from incarceration. Both are big issues in our community, particularly in New Haven but not just in New Haven.

On immigration the election is a likely factor?

[Yes] In light of this election, and the rhetoric if not reality yet, that’s why I devoted particular attention to immigration [at the annual meeting]. The responsive role remains very important, there aren’t a lot of big private foundations in New Haven that are devoted to local issues, this is not Boston or New York.  We take that responsive process seriously, this year we focused issues from the state budget on organizations cut [from their government funding].

State cuts are looming over the non-profit community and it does look pretty bleak for many non-profits, are there resources to fill these gaps?

In the short or medium term I think the answer is no. Can philanthropy help, of course and philanthropy is stepping up on issues that the state is stepping back on. It is going to step up on issues that the Trump Administration will presumably step back from. Fundamentally to say philanthropy can step in where government steps out is to completely misunderstand the relative scale of the two things.

The non-profit sector has become in Connecticut,  I’m not talking about New Haven specifically, has become too reliant on state funding, particularly in the big social service agencies, mental health agencies. The state has chosen to provide a lot of its service through the non-profit sector, it is less expensive, the work force of the non-profit sector is not paid like the workforce of the state, not even close.

Couldn’t that help the non-profits as
the state tries to scale back spending?

 It could and it has over the years, but now in these budget times, we’re seeing the other side, which are big cuts. It is also happening in our arts community where the state has over the years in New Haven, Hartford, New London, Stamford stepped in and provided annual support for a lot of arts institutions and now they’ve cut way back on that.

From social services at one end of the non-profit sector to arts at the other end you’re seeing this. I think there are some creative solutions, like this idea of pay for success financing that the Malloy Administration has been very progressive on.  There are efforts to get dedicated sources so you don’t have to fight the general appropriation political battle ever year, but to have dedicated set aside revenues stream to support the arts for example, a lot of states have that.

I don’t want to say they are drops in the bucket but they feel like small-scale responses to a very large systemic issue.

Are we going to see a whole new format in the non-profit world?

I think we’re already seeing it, we’ve been seeing it since 2008. I don’t think the breakpoint is now, it was eight years ago.  I don’t need to preach this gospel here [to Business New Haven readers], but Connecticut has had the slowest growing private economy of the fifty states for the last twenty-five years. For Connecticut we’ve been dealing with this issue not just since the 2008 recession, but since the 1991 recession! That was the real breaker.

Back to the question, the one word answer is – yes, the sector is changing it will continue to change, but it is not all bad news. The [non-profit] sector is more efficient, and in some ways stronger, the leadership is stronger. The resources are deployed more effectively, the people particularly in New Haven are unbelievable. 

Let me say one other thing. One of the old saws in New Haven is “there are too many non-profits in New Haven”, I think that is a completely misplaced analysis, the problem is there are too few for-profits. 

From the Foundation perspective we have choices to make as to which ones to support and have a future and which make a contribution presently and we make those decisions all the time, but the problem is one of economic growth. 

Maybe I have this wrong, but I see a lot of community support from people long established in New Haven, but I’m less aware of the involvement of new people even, those with solid income and that are progressives, is that correct?

Some of the new economy and the entrepreneurial class in New Haven are involved,  but not like we see in faster growing parts of the country.  I always joke that our largest fund in the Community Foundation is the Gate’s Fund, but that is Frank and Ross Gates who were Derby businessmen in the 1930s, not Bill and Melinda Gates.  

I think we need to work very hard to engage the successful entrepreneurs who are the future of this economy and the life of the community and it is a big part of what this job is. I am optimistic, there is a lot of engagement. The good news is that the younger generation writ large is very committed to the cities and New Haven more than any other city in Connecticut is capturing that.

Philanthropy is mostly a game for older people, that is established fact, people are in a better position to give when they get to a different stage in life.  I think over time, New Haven is very well positioned.

Business do give some money through the foundation, we’ve gotten resources from UI which has been a good funding partner, Alexion has supported our Great Give every year. What businesses don’t do typically is give to the endowment. Their interest is not in giving a charitable gift that is going to last forever and spin off five cents on the dollar every year, they want a more immediate and visible impact.

So what is the role that Business New Haven readers have, many who are playing in the third quarter?

The message here is different from a lot of non-profits that have to raise their operating dollars on an annual basis. The endowment that is the Foundation, is the embodiment of three generations of committed local people who have given. Our message is not please give now, our message is about building relationships with people not just with this institution, but reinforcing their relationship with this community, with the non-profits, with its future.  

It is a relationship that promises the Foundation will be here forever and that over time as circumstances change, as needs change, as priorities change, we are in a position to respond to that.  We know the community, we are led by a board of volunteers who are leaders in the community and we stand we for the community.

A donor can take that in any direction that he or she wants to, that is the basic message and it resonates. Eighty-nine-years ago when the foundation was founded life was local.   People were born here, they worked for local businesses, the early money that founded it [then the New haven Foundation], were from local families, that owned local businesses, those people hired local people but life isn’t local anymore. 

You can pull your phone out of your pocket and give to tsunami relief in Japan or earthquake relief in Haiti as easy as you can give to the non-profit that is around the corner. 

One way to look at that is that, is community doesn’t matter anymore. That is not the way we look at it and I am happy to say that s not the way people in greater New Haven look at it. Community is of the heart, it is people’s roots, it is people’s history and commitment. We can’t take that for granted, we have to be deliberate and strategic and committed. BNH