Leveraging Its Assets: Philanthropy in New Jersey

July 13, 2011

Nina Stack.

By Nina Stack
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers

Nina Stack Even in the current economy, philanthropy is alive and well in America. Here in New Jersey, corporate, family, independent and community foundations, as well as individual donors are engaged and giving back in new and innovative ways. The state’s philanthropic community is stable and committed. At Council for New Jersey Grantmaker‘s (CNJG) annual conference on June 6, when a room of 140 people were asked how many have been involved in the sector for 10-20 years, two thirds of the room stood up. This is a robust, dedicated community that, in some regions of the state, is even growing. And, exciting, significant changes to a sector that has been pretty staid are beginning to take hold.

The troubled economy has undoubtedly impacted philanthropic resources and has forced many in the field to re-examine how their contributions are having impact. CNJG’s conference keynote speaker Gabriel Casper of the Monitor Institute pointed to the realization that our society, our world is dealing with “wicked problems.” These are complex, multi-stakeholder, interconnected issues where solutions aren’t clear, and one donor – no matter how large – can’t move the needle alone.

As New Jersey faces crippling budget shortfalls now and into the foreseeable future, minds have opened to new thinking and creative solutions to address and innovate vital systems like education, infrastructure, human services and the arts. Increasingly, philanthropists are at the table with community leaders, legislators and other donors to better understand and develop solutions that can’t be fixed with money alone. The philanthropic-minded represent a highly-invested body that can lead the way to systemic change. In some circles, that has already earned them a seat at the table where decisions are being made about the issues and communities in which they already invest.

For example, Newark Funders Group members Victoria Foundation, Bank of America, PSEG and other grantmakers meet regularly to ensure that their grant strategies compliment the city’s priorities. The mere existence of the group’s Education Subcommittee has allowed for real dialogue with Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s representatives and collaboration with the City government’s activities surrounding it.

The Camden Funders Affinity Group with members like Campbell’s Soup Foundation, Community Foundation of South Jersey, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation, regularly discuss who else is giving to agencies and organizations in Camden, what impact it’s having, what their understanding is of the needs and who the key players are in the city.

Philanthropist and grantmakers have the ability to leverage dollars, support and impact. They’re active participants in the change that we all want to see and they welcome all opportunities to come together with stakeholders, leaders, and service recipients to help untangle complex “wicked problems” not only in the big cities, but in communities of all sizes throughout the state of New Jersey.

Nina Stack is the President of Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association for corporate, family, independent, and community foundations. She is a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.