A Look at Brooklyn’s First Public Charity Foundation

NEW YORK—Brooklyn last month established its first public community philanthropic organization, Brooklyn Community Foundation (BCF), a reworked version of the private and charitable Independent Community Foundation (ICF).

ICF was set up in 1998 by Independent Bank, a private company. Over the past 11 years, ICF gave more than $70 million in grants, and became the largest private community foundation in Brooklyn.

After a buyout, Independent Bank closed its doors in Brooklyn in 2006, but ICF continued to give grants. The leaders of the charity noticed the increased demand for funds in the community and they felt that the foundation could be more viable if ICF went public.

“The establishment of the Brooklyn Community Foundation is a natural and important step for the nonprofit community in Brooklyn,” said Alan H. Fishman, chairman of the BCF, who is also chairman of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.

The importance of establishing a public community charity foundation comes both from the tough economic times and the growing population in Brooklyn, which on its own ranks as the fourth largest city in the United States. With growth, come challenges, such as high unemployment, high numbers of school drop outs, and the need for affordable housing.
The BCF has five areas of focus:
•The Arts for All Fund - invests in making arts and culture an essential component of life in all Brooklyn communities.

•The Caring Neighbors Fund - assists vulnerable Brooklyn families and individuals to find a path out of poverty by supporting the work of the most effective health, and human service providers.

•The Community Development Fund - supports efforts to provide affordable housing and neighborhood stability, it also promotes family and individual economic health through financial education and supports effective job training.

•The Education and Youth Achievement Fund - promotes access to quality education and academic success for all children and adults.

•The Green Communities Fund - invests in the best approaches to bring environmental awareness and green values to neighborhoods.

left to right: Pamela Green, Weeksville Heritage Center
When the Brooklyn Public Library experienced a financial crisis, the ICF matched the funds given to the library by the public. This method helped turn the library’s financial challenges around. After experiencing the success of matching funds, BCF hopes to incorporate this method as one of the ways to raise funds for future projects.

BCF Debuts
BCF debuted at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Oct. 1. During the event, an anonymous donor offered to match donations up to $250.

Marilyn Gelber, president of BCF said, “We intend to be a champion and advocate of Brooklyn.”

“Congratulations on your name change and format. Finally Brooklyn will get its share of charity contribution,” said Marty Markowitz, borough president of Brooklyn.

“The Board’s bold decision to use the foundation’s resources to create Brooklyn’s first community foundation also underscores its devotion to the critical—yet often under-resourced-work of our local nonprofits,” said Fishman.