Letter to the Field: Our Evolving Focus

The Nathan Cummings Foundation

 

Letter to the Field: Our Evolving Focus

 

 

Dear Colleagues, 
 
We are thrilled to share with you the evolution of the Foundation’s focus, the result of a period of reflection and learning and, significantly, a reconnecting with the work of the last 25 years and what the world calls us to do now.
 
We are enormously grateful to the many people who shared their time and valuable insights, who pushed us and challenged our assumptions, and who encouraged us to remain bold and forward-thinking as we explored what climate change and inequality mean to us. We are staying true to our roots and clearer now about how to drive significant change on the most urgent issues of our time.    
 
We see the climate crisis from an equity perspective and will push back against the entrenched interests that have left our nation’s infrastructure and communities vulnerable, stalling the energy and economic transformation we need. We want to tap the ingenuity of diverse communities and enlightened leaders to chart a new course for a sustainable future.
 
We see a historic economic recovery that has exacerbated the divide between the most privileged and those historically left behind because the system is stacked against them, and we know we need to invest in innovative alternatives to the status quo. We hear talk of banning people based on their religion and we know we need a progressive counterweight and a moral voice to fight against that kind of injustice. And we watch the devastating effects of a criminal justice system deeply intertwined with an economic system that has institutionalized racism.  We have grieved too many times this year for innocent lives lost and we know that this is a time to come together.
 
We believe that culture change is necessary for policy change. This is a defining moment. We have lost important witnesses to history like Elie Wiesel and Muhammad Ali, and a new generation of leaders, like those in The Movement for Black Lives, have stepped up to fill those large shoes and urge the world to embrace compassion, lift up our shared humanity and fight hate. The voices of activist artists, particularly from communities of color, are stronger than ever, thanks in part to the legacy of our dear colleague, Claudine Brown, who helped build the field of art and social justice.
 
Four Areas of Focus 
We have honed in on four areas of focus for our programs that together form an integrated framework under which we will continue to build out our strategies, listening and learning along the way. A set of living guidelines will be posted to our website today.
 
We will accelerate a just transition to a more inclusive clean economy, where communities on the front lines are creating solutions to the climate crisis and where prosperity for all people is not at odds with a healthy environment. We will advance racial and economic justice by unlocking markets that have excluded generations from economic opportunity, reforming systems that criminalize too many and lifting up new models of democratic inclusion.  We will use our influence as an investor and grantmaker to increase corporate and political accountabilityspurring greater transparency and more democratic systems and structures.  We believe in the transformative power of the arts, contemplative practices and religious traditions to change hearts and minds. We seek to amplify voice, creativity and culture to build empathy, nurture compassion and shift narratives to move people to act for social change.
 
As you can see, the framework reasserts our strengths in NCF’s signature areas, including funding social justice work that is animated by arts and culture and Jewish values and voices, alongside progressive multi-faith communities. We believe, now more than ever, that philanthropy must invest in the voices, creativity and cultural leadership needed to build solidarity around race, class, gender and ethnicity, and confront inequality and the climate crisis. We know that words matter and that explicitly naming racial and economic justice is an important signal to the field.
 
While our work is primarily concentrated in the United States, we will continue to support efforts addressing inequality in Israel and are looking globally to other areas where we can make a difference. There are many parallels in the U.S. and Israel, and we will look for ways to leverage our learning in our efforts to build an inclusive shared society.
 
Integrating for Impact
There is deliberate overlap in our focus areas. We intend to focus on work at the intersections where our issues meet. We know that many of our partners don’t fit in one box and we don’t want them to. The leaders we talk to on a daily basis are working and moving through these intersections in a way that is unprecedented, inspiring and long overdue.
 
For philanthropy to make a difference in today’s world, we must line up our internal structures to meet our external ambitions. Our first move on that front was bringing on Loren Harris in May to help build an integrated team and support the development of strategies that cut across multiple areas. The second move, which we are announcing today, is promoting Laura Campos, our longtime Director of Shareholder Activities, to the new position of Director of Corporate and Political Accountability. In this role, Laura will be responsible for grantmaking and active ownership strategies, leveraging her expertise across all of our focus areas. We are continuing our internship program, which employs people who were formerly incarcerated or who have non-traditional work histories inside our foundation for a year, and more intentionally drawing from their experiences.
 
Next up, we’re adding to our dedicated team, hiring two additional Program Directors  (Director, Inclusive Clean Economy & Director, Voice, Creativity & Culture) and a first-ever Director of Communications In the fall, we will launch a new call for fellows and continue to integrate their innovative ideas into our work. 
 
We have a long track record of aligning our investments with our values through shareholder activism and, more recently, mission-related investing. In the year ahead, we will explore how we can expand the tools we use to dedicate more of our investment dollars for greater impact.  As we are building out strategies in each of the focus areas, we will look for policy and market-based interventions that can create the breakthroughs we need to drive change.
 
While we have a clear framework to guide us, we are still working out the details that will bring this work to life, and we are excited about bringing new staff on board to help us do that. We look forward to sharing more later this year when we launch our new website. We’ll be reaching out to you, and encourage you to reach out to us, too. As our work continues, we welcome your input and ideas.
 
At this moment, the values of pursuing justice and repairing the world that have guided our foundation from the start are more needed than ever across the country and around the world.  We know that with great privilege comes great responsibility and we will act with the moral urgency required to create a just, vibrant, sustainable and democratic society.  We are heartened to know that incredible people like you stand with us in this important work.
 
Ruth K. Cummings
Board Chair
 
Sharon L. Alpert
President & CEO
 
Nathan Cummings Foundation
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