As Brooklyn does better, so do its nonprofits.
Brooklyn Community Foundation — the first and only public foundation totally dedicated to Brooklyn — distributed a whopping $7,068,413 in grants to local charities and nonprofits in 2018.
“This is a record-breaking total in the Foundation’s nearly 10-year history and a huge milestone for our growth,” BCF said in an e-blast to its supporters. This amount is up from $5.4 million in 2017. Since 2009, the foundation has distributed more than $45 million to more than 300 organizations in Brooklyn.
BCF was originally the Independence Community Foundation, a private foundation operated by Independence Community Bank. In 2008, the foundation transformed into the public Brooklyn Community Foundation, with Alan Fishman as chairman of the board. Cecilia Clarke is president and CEO.
Ahead of Its Time
BCF was ahead of its time in doing good by thinking local. The foundation won the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Impact Award in 2015 for its community-led approach.
The thoroughly Brooklyn foundation is very much plugged into today’s gestalt, supporting legal rights for immigrants (funds to support immigrant children separated from their families went to the Safe Passage Project and Catholic Charities, for example) and justice reforms (like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund).
Brooklyn residents’ donations are having an impact nationally. Grantees New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York joined a lawsuit to force the Commerce Department to remove a citizenship question, pushed by the Trump administration, from the 2020 census. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ordered the question (which would have negative implications for Brooklyn) removed, but the decision may make its way to the Supreme Court.
The foundation points out that Brooklyn ranks first in New York City in total number of children living in poverty. Five of the 10 poorest NYC census tracts are in Brooklyn. Many Brooklyn donors are directing their money directly to their neighbors (through such nonprofits as the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, Red Hook Initiative and Domestic Workers United). Other grantees run apprenticeship programs for kids in the court system (these include groups like BRIC Arts Media and Brownsville Community Culinary Center).
Brooklyn’s flourishing art scene didn’t get that way all by itself. Many BCF grants support the arts, from the large (BAM) to the small (ARTs East New York, Dance Theatre Etcetera in Red Hook). Other funds go to cultural organizations like Weeksville Heritage Center.
The foundation says it has three strategies that allow it to be a transformative force. It invests in youth services, leadership programs and justice reforms; it is developing a resident-led grant making model (with a pilot program in Crown Heights); and it supports a Brooklyn Accelerator for nonprofits, with an annual $100,000 Spark Prize for Brooklyn nonprofits. The foundation emphases racial justice.
Donors appreciate that, thanks to BCF’s unrestricted endowment that covers operating expenses, 100 percent of donations to the Community Fund or Donor Advised Fund program.