Home » Node » Meet-the-Donors: Community Development Recap 12/13/18

Meet-the-Donors: Community Development Recap 12/13/18

Jeff BellowsVice President, Corporate Citizenship + Public Affairs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Kurt GaertnerLand Policy and Planning DirectorMA Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs
Ruth GoldmanConsulting Program OfficerMerck Family Fund

Soni GuptaDirector of Neighborhoods and HousingThe Boston Foundation
Lisa JacobsonProgram Officer, MobilityBarr Foundation



Barr Foundation


Barr is a private foundation – one of the largest in New England. Based in Boston, Barr focuses regionally and selectively engages nationally to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and to connect all students to success in high school and beyond. Wherever Barr engages, it works in partnership across sectors with nonprofits, other foundations, the public sector, and civic and business leaders. Barr’s assets are more than $1.7 billion and its 2018 grantmaking budget is $85 million.


Blue Cross Blue Shield


At Blue Cross, we are deeply committed to helping our members and all Massachusetts residents lead healthier lives by supporting programs and organizations that champion healthy activities, healthy eating and healthy environments. While there are no simple solutions to the challenges of health, one thing is clear: no single company can make a lasting, sustainable impact alone. We must all work together. Our approach to citizenship involves every business area in the company and relies on three strategic programs to promote healthy living–Civic Engagement, Community Investments, and Environmental Sustainability.

Commit to high ethical standards. As stewards of this public trust, the trustees are responsible for following both the spirit and the letter of the law, transparency in business, and respect for all involved.


The Boston Foundation


As Greater Boston’s community foundation, the Boston Foundation devotes its resources to building and sustaining a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to everyone. We fulfill this mission in three principal ways:

  • Making grants to nonprofit organizations and designing special funding initiatives to address this community’s critical challenges;
  • Working in partnership with donors and other funders to achieve high-impact philanthropy; and
  • Serving as a civic hub and center of information, where ideas are shared, levers for change are identified and common agendas for the future are developed.


MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs


Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs seeks to protect, preserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s environmental resources while ensuring a clean energy future for the state’s residents. Through the stewardship of open space, protection of environmental resources, and enhancement of clean energy, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs works tirelessly to make Massachusetts a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family.

Information on 75 state funding opportunities can be found here:



Merck Family Fund


The Merck Family Fund was established in 1954 by George W. Merck, President of Merck & Co., Inc.  He created the fund for two principal reasons: to do good with the resources acquired through the company’s success, and to create an opportunity to regularly bring family members together.

The Merck Family Fund has the following goals:

  • Restore and protect the natural environment and ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.
  • Strengthen the social fabric and the physical landscape of the urban community.

And is guided by the following values:

  • Remember and honor the founder, George W. Merck, a man of exceptional integrity, creativity, and generosity. His commitment to family, philanthropy, and passion for new ideas stand as an inspiring example for generations to follow.
  • Commit to high ethical standards. As stewards of this public trust, the trustees are responsible for following both the spirit and the letter of the law, transparency in business, and respect for all involved.


What do you see as critical priorities for the region and how are your organizations responding to it?

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) – invests over $10 million a year in MA in their Healthy Living Strategy as defined by healthy eating, healthy lifestyles, healthy environment. It is important to them to focus on the health outcomes and environments people live and work in.
  • Barr Foundation- a few years ago shifted to being a very public facing, transparent foundation, but still must be invited to apply. Invest in human, natural, and creative potential through stewarding existing programs and catalyzing support for new programs. Climate change is a pressing issue and they are responding with $28 million just in climate change in MA.
    • Particularly focused on mobility – within transportation they are looking at home to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a focus on modernization in transit, walk, biking etc, not electrification
  • MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs: cabinet level agency responsible for 6 different departments, 4 environmental: Dept of Conservation and Recreation, Dept of Fish and Game, Dept of Agriculture and Resources, Dept of Environmental Protection, 2 energy: Dept of Public Utilities and Dept of Energy Resources.
    • More than 75 funding programs
    • Kurt himself is a land use planner, steers development that reduces impacts on planet
    • Big issue – housing, working on Housing Choice Initiative to augment existing programs, which has a legislative component to incentivize communities to provide additional housing
    • Climate Change – working on mitigation side of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and on the adaptation side of acting promptly to changes. Just issued a climate adaptation plan – includes a vulnerability plan, action grants to help communities with vulnerabilities
  • Merck Family Fund – small family foundation, $2.2 million portfolio for grants focused on urban and nonurban environment. Focused on climate change – large energy portfolio focused on building efficiencies into the grid and into policy, working on carbon tax policy, Urban program focused on NY, Philadelphia, urban areas of MA – lift up youth leadership within this context
  • The Boston Foundation – region’s community foundation, 103 years old, focused on ensuring that the Boston area remains thriving and diverse, particular emphasis on social justice
    • Do this through direct grants, working with donors to create partnerships that are big on impact philanthropy, act as a civic leader in terms of being a hub for info, policy ideas etc.
    • 4 impact areas: neighbors and housing, health and wellness, arts and creativity, and education. Work with nonprofits leading the field on these issues.
    • Key issues facing in the region today: Housing, climate change, opioid crisis

With multiple focus areas in nonprofits, how do we best pitch and align our projects?

  • BCBS - Foundation issues very specific grants, corporate side does general sponsorships and grant requests that are issued through online portal. They issue a new healthy living grant program with a different issue every year that is open to anyone who wants to apply as long as they’re aligned with the work.
    • Send invite out according to online database, but also share it on website for everyone
    • Open to collaboration and nonprofits that want to work together on a specific issue
  • Barr – looking for intersection of goals and strategies of nonprofits and foundation – when there is alignment, a grant application stands out when a grantee knows what makes them unique, what they do differently, and how their work fits in with other work happening in the field
  • Merck – take time to unravel what work you’re doing, take a look at what funders say they fund and what they actually are funding and see if your program might fit in with the priorities of the funders
  • The Boston Foundation – will jointly fund across impact areas a compelling project if they overlap in impact areas, try to respond to your needs and what you’ve stated

How do you get on foundations’ radar, particularly those that are invite only?

  • Barr – talk to folks, nurture relationships, Barr staff contact information is on the website, as well as grantee names – talk to them, send an email. They do occasionally share open requests and those will be on the website. Sign up for the newsletter, follow on social media, read the blog. Barr staff is always open for conversation
  • BCBS – open grant programs but the information is send out to their database, so make sure to check the website where they are also posted. Get an internal champion who can cheer your organization, network at events like these.
  • Merck- Follows an open letter of inquiry process online that anyone can submit, fairly low bar that requires information you likely already have. Do your homework before reaching out to Program Officers – learn everything you can on website first
  • TBF- networking and reading the website is very important. Letter of interest is an invitation process, must speak to someone in impact area before submitting a letter but anyone can have a conversation. In addition to impact areas, they have open door grants – open to anybody, doesn’t require prior conversation, $10 – 50,000 and happens twice a year.

Given that so much of the wealth in MA is in Greater Boston, how do you as funders think about more equitable funding across the state?

  • MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs- Housing choice Initiative – larger part an eastern MA issue and there is a different pool of money in smaller communities
  • BCBS of Massachusetts – They do think about the whole state, love when they get interest from outside of Greater Boston Area, not as many companies headquartered in other area and so the money goes further outside of Boston area
  • Barr – working on statewide arts initiative where they patner with community foundations across the state. Much of the climate work is focused on mobility within the MBTA, but doing some exploring outside of Boston region in thinking about mobility.
    • Appreciate when organizations really let you know what they do before the conversation of money is introduced. For example, sending an email invitation to an event the foundation might be interested in, some follow ups and phone calls etc. This is especially helpful for organizations that are outside of region in helping getting to know each other
  • Merck – Fund across the state in urban areas: Springfield, Holyoke, Fall River, New Bedford, Chelsea, Lawrence, Boston. Focus a lot of advocacy and organizing in statewide legislation eg. the Healthy Incentives Program.
  • The Boston Foundation – works primarily in Greater Boston area as community foundation, but would not dismiss a statewide initiative. Primarily would want to see greatest benefit in Greater Boston area because that is where much of the need is concentrated. If it was very region specific, they would likely connect you to the local community foundation.

How can we think about mobility and transportation in terms of climate change? How can we demonstrate the impact of walking and biking on climate change and simultaneously educate others about its positive impact?

  • Barr – mostly about storytelling, qualitative stories are more effective than quantitative facts, tell the whole story about impact of environment
  • MA Executive office – share the social and personal benefits of the alternative methods. Currently a bike path in the works from Downtown Fitchburg to Downtown Leominster that is a recreational and practical transportation alternative that has a lot of positive buzz.
  • BCBS- Tell story of transporation through the lens of environment and health benefits. They sponsor the blue bikes bikeshare in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville and expanding to new areas soon

Research shows there is a direct impact on health of children living in poverty, do you fund programs that prevent such outcomes?

  • BCBS – They don’t specifically say social determinants of health – but much of their healthy living work is around that. Fund projects that fit into healthy living strategy, eg correlation between asthma rates and less green space
  • TBF - Housing is one of the key interventions you can provide to influence healthy outcomes in children. “Housing as a vaccine” – safe, affordable, decent housing can address many issues, particularly health. Housing is a key determinant of health and families. Several initiatives where health and housing have come together, “Health Starts at Home” program – stabilize families with young children

What metrics do you look at for grants? How do you assess depth vs breadth?

  • Merck – More interested in hearing what it is you’re doing and how you will measure it. Articulate in a positive way and interact with metrics foundations have around your work.
  • MA Executive – State programs are pretty specific about their requirements, evaluations are laid out very specifically in applications, will assess if program accomplished what it set out to accomplish.
  • Barr- evaluation methods are not super clear cut because they take the long term view and are okay taking some risks. They are thinking about larger systems change so they are more open ended when it comes to metrics measurement. How has the particular grant had a larger ripple effect?
  • BCBS- The corporate side is more novice to measurement for grants given, but they ask grantees to provide an overview of what they’ve accomplished, far more anecdotal.
  • TBF – Also a bit more flexible: want to know what you are setting out to achieve and how you will measure it.

With all you’re doing for community development, how are you addressing the gentrification process?

  • TBF – very focused on displacement prevention, topic on the forefront of most housing discussions
  • In discussing strategies they make sure that new housing is affordable, and affordable across incomes and that eviction prevention resources are accessible (eg RAFT – Residential Assistance for Families in Transition),

How do funders coordinate effort to combat climate change?

  • Barr – there is more opportunity for coordination, attended a national meeting of transportation funders to talk about strategy and the overarching themes were climate and equity. These coordinated efforts need to go further
  • MA Executive Office – Helpful for gov’t to work with foundations to bridge those funding gaps, and advocacy groups sometimes cooperate and work together and sometimes provide the push gov’t needs
  • BCBS- As a large company they often think of their own footprint and resiliency. Act as a leader for business communities.
  • TBF – As in all areas, we should have greater coordination across funders in each area of funding


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