When we started our family foundation in 1988, we were motivated by the desire to help people in need. The early giving program of The Tow Foundation was unstructured, which is typical of so many family foundations. We brought our personal passions to the boardroom and let them guide us to potential grantees. What helped us refine our strategy was the experience and knowledge we gained from systematically seeking answers to questions we asked our grantees, such as: “What is the most difficult thing in your budget to raise money for? What would you never think to ask a private funder to support?” The responses to these questions put us on a path we could never have predicted.
Our grantmaking began to take on a new form. We started to fund not only interesting programs, but the ingredients essential to their structure and quality. As we learned more about the hardships facing non-profit organizations, we worked to encourage funding from others to supplement what we could not finance alone. In so doing, we were introduced to program areas that were not on our list of personal passions. We asked ourselves: “Who could benefit most from our contributions? Who really needs us?”
Our investments became focused in four primary areas. Our early interests in medical research, cultural institutions and higher education led us to support and invest in Invited Projects within institutions with which we have long-standing relationships.
Motivated by the philosophy that no child is beyond help, our Juvenile Justice Initiative concentrates investments in programs that work with children and families who are in or at risk of involvement with Connecticut’s juvenile justice system. We work toward systems reforms with the goal of providing vulnerable youth and families with opportunities to succeed and become productive members of their communities. Focusing our grantmaking in an area in which there is so much to be done, and where there is so little private sector involvement, has provided us with the opportunity to see the impact of our work first-hand.
Our board knows that a foundation can play an important role as a partner and an active participant in public policy reform. In fact, if a foundation has knowledge and passion about an issue, we feel it must commit and invest not just financial resources, but its time and expertise to forward its mission and have a positive impact on the multiple problems our society faces. It is our responsibility as philanthropists to use our unique independent status to empower those nonprofits we support so that the individuals they serve can improve their own lives. The driving force motivating us is the knowledge that we are truly making a difference.