In May, Carol Larson was elected chair of the Council on Foundations (COF), an international philanthropic association with 2,100 member foundations. Larson, president and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, has served on COF’s board since 2007.
“It’s a really exciting time in philanthropy,” Larson says. “The council has a really proud history—a 60-year history—of both promoting philanthropy in our society and cultivating leaders in philanthropy.”
Larson is excited about what she describes as a period of innovation in philanthropy. “You see it in every community in our country,” she says, “in the growing number of people who are giving their wealth away and setting up foundations, and with that have come fresh ideas about how to do philanthropy.” Another bright spot in philanthropy, she says, is a “new level of collaboration among foundations and nonprofit organizations in tackling the biggest problems of our day.”
“Philanthropy is particularly good at testing and monitoring different approaches,” she adds. “The council’s role—connecting people through conferences, educational materials, and peer groups—is to connect philanthropists to what’s been tried in a certain area and to learn from each other.”
Beyond helping donors learn from each other, one of Larson’s top priorities during her two-year term as chair will be educating policymakers and the general public, both in the U.S. and abroad, about the significance of philanthropy. “I think it’s very important that people understand the role that foundations play,” she explains.
“On the policymaker front, the council has a strong association with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, and is working with members of Congress on an ongoing basis, as well as during Foundations on the Hill”—an annual summit that in 2010 brought representatives from 212 foundations and philanthropy organizations in 33 states to meet with their congressional delegations, Larson says. One of COF’s top policy priorities at the moment, she adds, is the “development of a revenue-neutral excise tax” for foundations. But engaging with policymakers is a long-term task. “We always need to deepen the awareness of philanthropy, and its need for independence,” she says.
On the governance front, Larson says, COF has reduced the size of the board to 27 (down from 36 in 2006). And COF continues to deepen its relationship with the regional associations of grantmakers and with philanthropy support organizations. COF wants to be a “connector” of its members to leaders of new expert organizations, she explains.
Larson has led the Packard Foundation since 2004, having previously served as vice president and director of programs. She joined Packard’s Center for the Future of Children in 1989 after a career as a practicing attorney and service as an advocate for children and the disabled.
Mason B. Rummel
This past summer, Mason B. Rummel was named president of the James Graham Brown Foundation in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Brown Foundation was incorporated by James Graham Brown in 1954. When Brown, a Louisville lumber entrepreneur and real estate developer, died without heirs in 1969, his net worth—estimated at $80 million—was left to the foundation. Brown directed his foundation to “promote the well-being of the citizens of Louisville and Kentucky.” According to Rummel, “his perception was that Kentucky was viewed as a backward state nationally, and thus trustees should engage in activities to change that perception.” After his death, the board of trustees “patterned the giving after his style of giving: big projects that made Louisville a better place,” she adds. These projects included Louisville Waterfront Park, the Louisville Zoo, the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville, the Kentucky Derby Museum, and capital projects at numerous Kentucky colleges.
“There isn’t any really big project here in town that hasn’t occurred without us, except for the performing arts,” Rummel explains. (As for the performing arts—well, in the 1960s, Brown wanted to demolish a theater next to his Brown Hotel to build a parking garage. The arts groups that used the theater refused to let him out of their leases so he could tear it down, and “he wrote the performing arts out of his will,” she says.)
By the 2000s, it was becoming clear that much of Brown’s charitable intent had come to pass. The Louisville metro area has over a million residents and is home to several Fortune 1,000 companies, as well as auto plants and a major air cargo hub. Its downtown has been revived as a tourist and entertainment destination. The Kentucky Derby brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. And as Louisville has matured as a city, so has the James Graham Brown Foundation, says Rummel. With a corpus of more than $300 million, it is Kentucky’s largest private foundation. “The board and I asked, ‘What does Mr. Brown’s will mean in the 2010s, as opposed to the 1960s?’ We identified some areas that we thought were very important in advancing Louisville and Kentucky, but we kept the tone, and tenor, and themes in his will.”
The new strategic plan, executed by a newly term-limited board, calls for growing beyond bricks-and-mortar giving to include program-oriented granting. “We might, for example, instead of building a new wing on a homeless shelter, be more interested in capacity building,” says Rummel. “We would never have funded operations in the past.” One example of the foundation’s new emphasis: the Brown Fellows, a leadership development program for entering freshmen at the University of Louisville and Centre College that provides full tuition, room and board, and international travel.
Rummel’s new post is part of the Brown Foundation’s strategic plan, but it marks continuity in her career. She joined the Brown Foundation in 1989 and has served as executive director since 1998. “Mason is key to our overall approach in terms of our prominent role as an innovative, strategic philanthropic organization,” says foundation chairman Alex Rankin. “She has embraced a much larger leadership role with the foundation in recent years—and her elevation to president reflects both her contributions as well as an overall need to expand our level of visibility.”
Prior to joining the Brown Foundation, Rummel served as a political appointee for the Reagan administration from 1983 to 1988, first on the staff of the Secretary of Agriculture and later as a press officer at the White House Office of Management and Budget. She is an executive M.A. candidate in philanthropic studies at Indiana University, and received her B.A. in English from Sweet Briar College.
Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
In July, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced three leadership changes and a new strategic plan for its work in K–12 education reform. After 11 years as managing director, Dan Katzir has stepped down to become a part-time senior advisor to the foundation. His position has been split into two parts: Gregory McGinity now serves as managing director of policy, while Rebecca Wolf DiBiase is managing director of programs. In addition, Lydia Logan has joined the foundation as a senior director of policy.
Both McGinity and Wolf DiBiase are senior staff at the foundation. McGinity served as senior director of policy for six years, and Wolf DiBiase served as a director for three years. They now share management duties for the foundation’s work in K–12 education. Logan joined Broad from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she was vice president and executive director of the Institute for a Competitive Workforce.
McGinity and Wolf DiBiase played an integral role in the development of the new strategic plan. Last year, foundation staff began brainstorming potential future investments with founder Eli Broad. They reviewed data showing progress made in raising student achievement and closing income and ethnic achievement gaps through previous investments, and analyzed what was needed for grantees to yield more dramatic gains. In January, the group held a strategic retreat with 16 outside advisors, and the ideas discussed at the retreat crystallized into the four target areas outlined in the Broads’ July “Founders’ Message”: transformative federal and state policy; groundbreaking innovation in teaching and learning; strong leadership; and redesigned, high-performing institutions.
“We think that our foundation has the right capacity and talent to be able to push in those areas and that those are the areas that can make the biggest difference for students in the classroom,” says McGinity.
The two major factors that shaped the new plan are the current federal and state environment and the lessons learned during the foundation’s first decade (since 1999). McGinity points to a “sea change” in the climate of K–12 education reform due to changes in state legislation, new technology, rapid growth in high-performing institutions such as KIPP, and an increase in the number of highly trained superintendents.
Wolf DiBiase explains the plan’s second contributing factor: the foundation’s relentless evaluation process. “We collect a lot of data,” she says, “and we are very, very involved in knowing the successes and trouble spots of our grantees.” While the foundation is willing to take substantial risks for innovative ventures, a research and evaluation team assesses both individual grants (against benchmarks of improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps) and long-term progress.
“As a foundation, we are actually very nimble and can change course easily,” she adds. “Our founder makes sure we’re not following a plan but are following stories of success.”
Wolf DiBiase, McGinity, and Logan look to find the success stories of the future in—among other areas—technological changes in the classroom, continued growth in charter management organizations, human capital reform, and policy innovations like the new teachers’ contract in the District of Columbia (please see Philanthropy, Summer 2010).
Logan points to the foundation’s support for the D.C. teachers’ contract as an example of high-risk venture philanthropy. “We have been working on provisions that will not only set a national example but will also provide Washington, D.C., with a way to dramatically improve the human capital that it has, to improve schools that have been failing for a long time, and to provide an education to students who desperately need it.”
With McGinity, Logan will work to increase the foundation’s engagement in state and federal policy through supporting states in programs like Race to the Top, and as they respond to new standards, such as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. With over a decade of district and national experience in policy and philanthropy, Logan sees this background as crucial to her current work. “Understanding how Washington works and understanding the relationship between federal, state, and district work is very important in giving me that national perspective,” she says.
In September, Elizabeth Isele joined The Philanthropy Roundtable as director of economic opportunity programs. The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Economic Opportunity Breakthrough Group, formerly known as Helping People to Help Themselves, is dedicated to highlighting philanthropic strategies and solutions that increase economic opportunity for individuals and families who face adversity.
Isele will build on the Roundtable’s economic opportunity programs by continuing to serve current members through meetings, publications, and consulting and referral services. In a parallel vein, she explains, she will help funders (current and future) better understand the ways in which social enterprise can break nonprofits’ dependence on public funding so that they can create more sustainable economic reform for underserved individuals, as well as for the nation as a whole. “The Philanthropy Roundtable should be the catalyst to move the sector from ‘learning and sharing’ to ‘creating and advancing’ the ways in which private resources can be used more effectively,” she adds.
Isele has extensive experience in philanthropy and social service nonprofits. From 2003 to 2009, she was director of outreach and impact at the Great Bay Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in Yarmouth, Maine, where she played a central role in identifying, providing startup funding for, scaling, and widely promoting such social entrepreneurs as Robert Chambers, whose More Than Wheels nonprofit has won numerous awards and been recognized by President Obama. From 1998 to 2003, Isele was founder and president of CyberSeniors.org, an award-winning nonprofit that provided computer literacy training to 28,000 senior citizens nationwide.
Before entering the nonprofit sector, Isele was a writer and editor at Harper Collins, among other publishers. She edited several bestselling and Caldecott-winning children’s books. She has been a guest editor at writing conferences worldwide. In addition to doctoral studies at Yale, Isele received her M.A.L.S. from Wesleyan University and her B.A. from Mills College.