Stop the Campaign

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Shortly after the Columbine high school massacre in April 1999, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the National Campaign Against Youth Violence (NCAYV). With the likes of AOL Chairman Steve Case and Henry J. Kaiser Foundation (assets: more than $500 million) President Drew Altman standing beside the Clintons in the Rose Garden, the media gave the announcement prominent coverage. But in the mostly starving-for-funds ranks of youth violence prevention activists, the NCAYV looked like just another national mouth to feed.

And fed it was, initially by AOL, Anheuser-Busch and the Gap, among others. Its biggest investor, to the tune of $1 million, was The David and Lucile Packard Foundation (assets: $6.2 billion). Now, writes NCAYV Executive Director Sarah Ingersoll, the organization is, for lack of $300,000 in “bridge money,” moving “into a new phase”: its going-out-of-business phase.

NCAYV’s first executive director, Jeff Bleich, a San Francisco lawyer and former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, was hired during the summer of 1999 and soon discovered that the NCAYV had major problems. It had no real niche to fill, given the existence of numerous (if mostly mom and pop) anti-youth violence groups.

At the unavoidable heart of youth violence prevention are two contentious issues: growing economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots and easy access to handguns. Overshadowing these was the vanishing prospects for future funding if the GOP gained control of the White House. Still, the energetic and well-organized Bleich figured he could raise at least a $3 million annual budget and, as he told Youth Today in November 1999, be “definitely a campaign and be around for three years.” Bleich’s prediction of the NCAYV life span proved accurate, but the hoped-for $3 million budget never materialized.

After Bleich (who never left his law firm) resigned in early 2001, Ingersoll moved up from deputy. A former top aide to Shay Bilchik, the former U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice administrator who is now CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, Ingersoll brought to the job a relentless capacity for hard work but lacked the connections and savvy to tap a corporate America no longer eager to please a Democrat not in the White House. Says Ingersoll in a veiled reference to Clinton’s post- White House abandonment of the NCAYV, “It’s hard to engage a board like this without political leadership.”

In the foundation world, most major anti-youth violence grant-makers continue to give their loyalties – and cash – to the cautious D.C.-based National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention, headed by Linda Bowen, or the more lefty Funders Collaborative for Gun Violence Prevention, which is spending $5 million in grants from New York philanthropists Irene Diamond and George Soros for aggressive legal and political gun control strategies.

“A lot of expectations were raised” for the NCAYV, Bowen says, but laments, “We still don’t know how to engage the corporate sector” in violence prevention.

By 2001 the NCAYV looked like it might fulfill its ambition to put together an operation modeled on its would-be peer, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, directed by Sarah Brown. The NCAYV teamed with several small but nationally ambitious youth programs, including the 10-year-old Peace Games, based in Boston and directed by Eric Dawson, and New York-based groups SHINE (Seeking Harmony in Neighborhoods Everyday), directed by Alan Ramban, and PAX Inc., a four-year-old nonprofit co-directed by Talmage Cooley and Daniel Gross. A 15-city NCAYV effort that included public events and media coverage kicked off in Memphis in March 2001, but soon ran out of steam.

A mostly big-name 38-member board of directors that included AOL’s Case, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), former Carter-era Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, former Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Eli Sigal and Discovery Communications President Judith McHale lent letterhead stature but little else.

A 20-member Academic Advisory Council made up of some the best practitioner-friendly researchers – including Carl Taylor at Michigan State University’s Institute for Children, Youth and Families; Bill Damon, director of the Center on Adolescence at Stanford; and Jim Garbarino, co-director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell, along with such bogus hustlers of youth-related insights as James Alan Fox at Northeastern University and Jay Winsten at the Harvard School of Public Health – contributed much talk but little entrée to their own funders.

Also set up by the NCAYV was a 49-member Media Advisory Council co-chaired by Kathy Bushkin, a former Clinton White House official who is now COO of America Online, and Peggy Conlon, CEO of the Ad Council, which helped the NCAYV get some free air time. Completing the trio of advisory councils was an 18-member National Youth Action Council.

Talk may be cheap, but 125 advisers require staff support, and that costs money. The NCAYV once fantasize about having a $15 million budget. Soon it was $3 million, and by Ingersoll’s watch it was down to $1.5 million. In 2000, the group reported income of $1,127,216. Efforts to find a merger partner failed. Ingersoll, no slouch at bureaucratic obfuscation, wrote in a June sayonara letter to supporters: “It has become increasingly clear that the amount of time and energy we need to achieve our fund-raising goals is a distraction to achieving our basic mission.”

The NCAYV’s few assets will rest in PAX, which, writes Ingersoll, is “an organization with a mission close to NCAYV’s.” As collapses of national youth-related ventures go, the demise of the NCAYV is one of the more orderly and least acrimonious on record. While lacking enough true supporters in high places, it expires with no debt and few enemies. Instead of a violent death, it died of neglect. Contact: PAX (212) 983-8705,