A Family Foundation: Looking to the Future, Honoring the Past

The Nathan Cummings Foundation


A Family Foundation: Looking to the Future, Honoring the Past


This (1995) is the hundredth anniversary of Nathan Cummings' birth. His descendants collaborated to make this foundation a living, vibrant institution. It is a memorial which embodies his commitment to service and draws together the efforts of his children and grandchildren. For us, it has been a profound challenge and opportunity.

Foundations play a unique role in American society. They support the network of non-profit organizations providing human services to the poor and disadvantaged, as well as cultural sustenance to people of all economic levels.

Within the larger constellation of American foundations, there are over 20,000 family foundations. Just as each family is unique, each family foundation has a different viewpoint with differing areas of focal interest, all enlivening the democratic debate. In the next 40 years, approximately $10 trillion will be transferred from one generation of Americans to another. Historically, such transfers have been opportunities for the creation of new family foundations. When our grandfather, Nathan Cummings, died twelve years ago in 1985, he endowed the foundation in which we now participate.

In our experience, we have had the joy of helping many people to better their lives, and assisting many institutions to strengthen their capacity to serve the public interest. The financial support we have provided, the lessons we have learned, and the satisfaction we have taken justifies the many hundreds of hours that our family has devoted to this enterprise. We have built a significant program, evaluated its effectiveness, and continue to modify it as appropriate. We have dealt with tensions among family members and emerged from the process with a stronger and more unified foundation and family.

On behalf of the Nathan Cummings family, I want to express my deep appreciation to those non-profit institutions whose vital work we have gratefully found ourselves in a position to support. Their contributions to the lives and well-being of all Americans have been immeasurable, and we are pleased to have played a part in their success. I also want to thank the staff of the foundation who have worked so effectively with us to make this happen.

We offer this progress report to others in family foundations who are facing the same challenges we are, and to other families who are considering the creation of a new family foundation. Each one will be special; some will be smaller and others larger, some local in their reach, some national. We can support each others' efforts and learn from one another as we endeavor to sustain the independent sector and strengthen democratic values. --James K. Cummings

Back to Special Reports