Once feared lost in the Bermuda Triangle of consultant-induced philanthropic anomie, the Atlantic Philanthropies (assets: $4.3 billion) has sailed into port with relief in the form of cash for a besieged garrison of politically moderate- to left-leaning national children- and youth-serving organizations.
In 1997, the once anonymous Bermuda foundation (which is headquartered in New York City) emerged from hiding because of the sale of Duty Free Shoppes, founded by Charles F. Feeney – who is also the reclusive founder of Atlantic Philanthropies, and probably the world’s richest proponent of the “giving while living” school of philanthropy.
In 2004, Atlantic Philanthropies launched a new set of priorities, most notably committing some $72 million a year, for 10 to 12 years, for program and policy initiatives for disadvantaged kids in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Bermuda.
Thankfully, two years of planning seems to have wound down in the last months of 2005. With all of Atlantic Philanthropies’ funds scheduled to be expended in about 12 years, it doesn’t take a nautical clock to know that time is sailing on.
The enormous significance of the funding decisions made by Atlantic Philanthropies is that these fortunate grantees can now plan on a decade of steady funding, giving each an opportunity to focus more on their mission and less on fundraising. While Atlantic Philanthropies had certainly not proffered any guarantees beyond the initial grant period, performers can now expect renewal.
The most coveted prize from Atlantic Philanthropies was to be named the lead technical assistance provider for New Mexico and various cities that will receive a decade of multimillion-dollar grant making from Atlantic. Nose Knows’ sense of propriety prevents the disclosure of those national groups who sought this most precious philanthropic booty of 2005. Many called; one was chosen.
Capturing the prize is former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, who since 1998 has been National Program Director of the Urban Health Initiative (UHI), based at the University of Washington. UHI’s funding has come from the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Foundation “to foster comprehensive efforts to improve the health and safety of children in urban settings,” working with local partners in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Va., Oakland, Calif., and greater Detroit.
Over the past decade, RWJ hired the New York University (NYU) Center for Health and Public Service Research to “evaluate” the UHI. Led by professors Beth Weitzman and Diana Silver, the tab is about $8 million. So far, 31 articles have appeared in learned journals, adding little, if anything, to practitioners’ knowledge, while doing wonders for the tenure prospects of NYU graduate students. Their latest offering in the American Journal of Evaluation is aptly entitled, “Following the Money.”
The final “evaluation” results, which the NYU website says uses “a theory of change approach” – is there a theory of stagnancy approach? – won’t be available until at least August 2008. As for what the usefulness of the evaluation has been, Royer says, “I don’t know,” adding that he’s “not a big fan of evaluation.” No wonder he was the popular mayor of Seattle from 1978 to 1990, and landed the Atlantic Philanthropies’ golden nugget.
With that long UHI cruise – endless by youth work standards – coming to an end, Royer and his deputy, Cynthia Curreri, turned to Atlantic Philanthropies in the fundraising equivalent of circumnavigating the globe. In 2005, Royer set up a new nonprofit – the Institute for Community Change (ICC) – separate from the Univer-
sity of Washington, with a small board of directors. It includes retired RWJ Vice President Ruby Hearn, the driving force behind the funding of the UHI, and Prue Brown, a former Ford Foundation staffer who is now a research
fellow at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.
In December, Atlantic Philanthropies awarded Royer’s new group a two-year, $1.9 million grant to be the lead technical assistance provider.
In an e-mail to Nose Knows, Charles Roussel, director of Atlantic’s Disadvantaged Children & Youth program, cites Royer’s past experiences that will help Atlantic achieve its “critical long-term goal” of creating “the expectation among the public and policymakers that disadvantaged children should have the same access as all other children to comprehensive, high-quality learning, health, mentoring, and family support services.”
That “parallel-track strategy” will be tested in Chicago, Balti-
more, New Mexico, possibly Oakland and perhaps other jurisdictions. Selection, stresses Roussel, is not a competitive process, so save your postage.
Among those who helped Atlantic navigate the ever-treacherous shoals of children and youth policy are the ponderously named James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy Foundation at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, led by Judith Rizzo and funded with a four-year, $1.6 million grant, and the D.C.-based Forum for Youth Investment, led by youth-work maven Karen Pittman and funded at $600,000 n 2005.
The task for Royer and the new ICC will be to determine the best community investment approach, and that, of course, requires consultation with experts.
The ICC’s newest expert is of the recycled variety. David Moseley, who for the past nine years served as city manager of the Seattle suburb Federal Way (population: 86,000), will become ICC’s chief operating officer. Moseley ran Seattle’s youth services during Royer’s 12-year tenure as mayor, helped found what is now the Washington Children’s Alliance (an affiliate of Voice’s for America’s Children) and chaired the board of the National Youth Work Alliance, a long-gone group (founded by Nose Knows) that was always ahead of its time and behind in its finances.
At the end of a decade or so of steady investment, Atlantic Philanthropies hopes to fulfill the dream of every liberal, kids-policy wonk. Writes Roussel, “By showing success in multiple locations, by measuring impact on target outcomes, and communicating the results to the public and policymakers, we believe we can secure greater public investment in high-quality, comprehensive services for poor children.”
Roussel realizes that enlisting the Wise Ones, such as Royer and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, is not enough. For Atlantic, the parallel-track strategy is needed: direct service demonstration and advocacy.
Another big winner in the Atlantic sweeps is D.C.-based Voices for America’s Children (VAC), a national trade association of state-based child and youth advocacy groups with members in 45 states. VAC received a two-year, $1.8 million grant. That ups VAC’s annual budget from about $2 million to $3 million.
With the new cash infusion, says VAC President Tamara Copeland, the organization will become “more of a federal advocate” and help its state members, whose organizational health ranges from robust to anemic to, in the case of New York’s Statewide Youth Advocates, dead. VAC remains fragile and foundation-dependent, with only $72, 275 coming from membership dues in 2004. VAC sent almost three dollars for every dollar of dues to eight of its 58 state and local affiliates. Its intermediary role, always fraught with organizational danger, will expand thanks to the Atlantic grant, Copeland says.
All public protests not withstanding, Voice’s gain is the Children’s Defense Fund’s (CDF) loss. The tortoise is steadily gaining on Marion Wright Edelman’s hare. Says one deep insider in Washington’s youth advocacy world: CDF is “not producing a lot.” It’s also not producing much job security.
CDF’s ever-more cantankerous and isolated founder has had more deputies than Bolivia has had presidents. The latest, David Hornbeck, a former Philadelphia school superintendent, lasted just six months as president. His quick departure last October drew little sympathy, because he’d spent decades on CDF’s board and as its chair before taking on the paid position – after an equally short stint at the International Youth Foundation.
For CDF, Edelman’s past glories remain its largest asset. Looking to CDF’s post-Edelman future, she herself has become the weakest link.
Another prominent national group missing from Atlantic Philanthropies’ grantee list so far is the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). After five difficult years on the job, President Shay Bilchik sorely needs a long-term source of philanthropic support because of declining revenue and the accelerated pace of departures among professional staffers.
To some observers, the list of advocacy grantees seems timid. Perhaps the most politically impressive group on the list is the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), ably led by Bob Greenstein. In 2003, the group acknowledged spending $188,860 in lobbying. (Most nonprofits of all political stripes routinely underestimate their lobbying expenses.) Atlantic Philanthropies grants to CBPP – which reports an $11 million budget last year – add up to $2.5 million.
Because of Atlantic Philanthropies’ status as a Bermuda corporation, it can fund a 510(c)(4) nonprofit – a category that enables a group to operate in a partisan manner and endorse candidates for Congress and other public offices. Most prominent in the child and youth advocacy areas in that category is Every Child Matters, run by former Maine and CWLA official Mike Petit. A grant to that group, already geared up for November’s elections, would signal Atlantic Philanthropies’ willingness to do for the political left what it has done via America’s Promise for the GOP apologist wing of the children and youth field.
These groups will steer full speed ahead at convincing the political and chattering class of the good sense of adequately investing in all kids. Thus, education, health and youth work (or as Atlantic unfortunately calls it, out-of-school time) organizations have landed major grants. (See box.)
The money champ so far is Marguerite Sallee, president of America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth. Begun in 1997 by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and chaired by his wife, Alma Powell, the Alexandria, Va.-based group has won $14.5 million in what Atlantic calls “investments.” That includes $5 million in general support, $6 million for its quasi-autonomous First Focus (a health-centered project run by Christine Ferguson and formerly known – make that unknown – as the Children’s Investment Project) and $3.5 million for something called Katrina’s Kids. The latter undertaking will join with Communities in Schools in Houston and elsewhere to aid young hurricane refugees by providing supportive youth development services. All of that adds up to one-third of America’s Promise’s annual spending, Sallee says.
Why such largess to a Republican-tilted operation originally slated to exist for only three years and once claiming that it would be handsomely underwritten by corporate America?
Atlantic believes, writes Roussel, that America’s Promise “is in an excellent position to bring non-traditional players like chambers of commerce and business leaders to the table to help solve some of the most pressing problems facing poor children and to do so in a rigorously bipartisan way.”
Translation: Persuade Republicans from the White House and Congress to state and local government that America’s future lies in a dramatic upswing in astutely investing in all children. For this you need an expert?
Ten years ago, back when Democrats still ran a few things in Washington, a small fleet of major foundations unapologetically funded national child advocacy and efforts to promote a positive youth development philosophy. They included the Packard, Ford, Wallace and Ewing Marion Kauffman foundations.
Perhaps its folly to wish that Atlantic’s example would put some wind in their sails again.
Contact: The Atlantic Philanthropies (212) 916-7300, www.atlanticphilanthropies.org.