Stories and Testimonials
A Green Light for Social Innovation
John and Susan Simon
Education, youth development, health care. These and other issues that have a profound impact on Boston’s families and children are at the heart of the philanthropy of Boston Foundation donors John and Susan Simon. They are also the issues that inspired John to co-found the GreenLight Fund in 2003, an ingenious organization that locates high-impact nonprofits in other cities and replicates them in Boston. The group’s other founder, Margaret Hall, serves as its hardworking executive director. From its earliest days, GreenLight has partnered with the Boston Foundation in almost every way possible.
“First, we rely on the Boston Foundation to help us identify local needs,” says John. “The Boston Indicators Project, with its wealth of knowledge, is invaluable in that process. Then, the Foundation connects us with community foundations in other cities to search for great nonprofit organizations that we can replicate here. Finally, the Foundation is the perfect place to start networking when we’re searching for an executive director who can take a great idea and build a local organization around it.”
For its part, the Foundation has been so impressed with the GreenLight Fund’s work that in 2005, it made a grant of $400,000 to help the organization meet a challenge from the Tudor Foundation, giving it the resources it needs to support the young organizations it replicates for their first three years of operation.
Of the four new nonprofits already launched by GreenLight, Susan Simon’s imagination has been captured by one in particular. Called “Friends of Children—Boston,” it replicates a concept launched in Portland, Oregon that matches vulnerable Boston school children with adults who will stick with them for their entire educational experience. Susan is mentoring a little girl named Angelica.
“Angelica is going into the fifth grade now,” she says, “and she’s a delight. She’s teaching our kids Spanish and I think we’re exciting her interest in reading.” Friends of the Children has had remarkable success in other cities across the country, with close to all of participating children staying in school and staying out of trouble.
The Ansara Family Fund
Addressing Poverty Abroad and at Home
Boston Foundation donors Jim and Karen Keating Ansara both have deep roots in the Greater Boston community. Jim Ansara grew up here and started a successful construction business called Shawmut Design and Construction. And at the suggestion of her uncle and role model—Boston attorney Michael Keating—Karen Ansara traveled to Boston from Chicago in the early ‘70s for an internship with Summerthing, an arts program that brought her into some neighborhoods that were experiencing high rates of poverty.
In her words, that summer “transformed my goals for my life.” She decided to return to Boston to attend college and, while a student at Wellesley College, developed a profound interest in issues related to poverty—in developing countries and in the U.S.
The Ansaras married in 1983, and while Karen worked on her Masters in Divinity at Andover Newton Theological School, Jim continued to build his business, which eventually would provide them with the resources to become philanthropists. They built their family through a series of adoptions, first adopting an American boy and then, after a trip to Peru where they saw orphaned children living in grueling poverty, adopting children from Latin America. Eventually, they adopted three children from Ecuador.
“Through our adoptions, we witnessed poverty firsthand,” says Karen, “which led to our initial experiments with philanthropy. After funding some direct service projects in Ecuador, we realized that we wanted to get at the root causes of extreme poverty—which led to our interest in programs that deal with social and economic change on a systemic level.”
While the Ansaras opened a private foundation in the mid-nineties they decided that professional grantmaking services would help them to be more strategic in their giving—so in 2006 they opened a Donor Advised Fund at the Boston Foundation.
“We were in the process of learning what we were good at and what we needed help with,” explains Jim, “and that led us to the Boston Foundation. Grantmaking is hard in the U.S. and even harder in developing countries. The Foundation helped us to get organized and put procedures in place that assisted us in the way we think about our grantmaking. We became very comfortable with the Boston Foundation—and the staff has helped us to be more effective in our giving.”
The Ansaras’ international giving reflects their commitment to human rights and development, through major support for organizations like Oxfam America. They also invest in young organizations with dynamic, entrepreneurial visions. “Part of what we do is provide capacity-building grants to organizations that we think can become models for other programs,” explains Jim. For instance, a number of grants from the fund have gone to the dZi Foundation, which supports health, education and community development programs in the Himalayan region of India and Nepal.
“The Boston Foundation has helped us to launch a collaborative group called New England International Donors,” says Karen. “We’ve held a couple of meetings at the Foundation and we’re hoping the group will help to strengthen international giving.”
To a lesser degree the Ansaras have focused their giving on poverty in the United States. A grant to Share Our Strength is helping that organization to pursue its mission of ending childhood hunger in America. Closer to home, the Ansaras have made a major commitment to StreetSafe Boston, a public-private partnership designed to prevent and reduce youth violence in Boston neighborhoods affected by high rates of violent crime.
“We know some of the neighborhoods StreetSafe Boston is focused on,” says Karen. “Jim’s business has been based in Roxbury and the South End and we lived in Dorchester for years. Many families in these neighborhoods are struggling with poverty, which is really at the root of most inner-city problems, including youth violence.” Jim adds: “We believe this program can make a real difference.”
Like many other donors, the economic crisis has prompted the Ansaras to make grants to organizations providing food and shelter to families in Greater Boston. “The Boston Foundation was very helpful in identifying some nonprofits that needed funds,” explains Karen. “Ultimately, whether our grants go to international causes or a program in Boston, our goal is to give money away in an ethical and responsible way, and the Boston Foundation is helping us do just that.”
A Community Legacy to Benefit the Permanent Fund for Boston
Bill Nigreen and Kathleen McDermott
When Bill Nigreen and Kathleen McDermott began their long-term estate planning—including their legacy to the community—they turned for guidance to the Boston Foundation.
Bill is a familiar figure at the Foundation, having attended many Understanding Boston forums, and is a “big fan” of the Boston Indicators Project’s research placing Boston in a regional and global context. “The Foundation enlivens its space with thought-provoking events and opens its doors to the community,” he said during a conversation this fall. “It does far more than make grants—it thinks strategically about the issues. Research and strategic thinking make philanthropy much more powerful and its effectiveness can be measured.”
Through his consulting business, Facilitation for Social Change, Bill has worked with many Boston arts and cultural organizations on community building and sustainable growth. Before launching his business, he had quality improvement roles at Analog Devices, Fidelity Investments, and New Profit Inc.
“When Kathleen and I thought about leaving a community legacy, we knew the Boston Foundation could determine, fifty years from now, where Boston’s needs will be greatest,” he said. “I’m glad that our contribution will carry on forever and be relevant over time.” The largest share of their community legacy is an unrestricted gift to the Permanent Fund for Boston, the Foundation’s most flexible fund and the one that addresses the broadest cross-section of community needs. The rest will benefit the Civic Leadership Fund, which supports the Foundation’s research, forums, and public policy work, and the Boston Foundation’s Arts Fund. “I’ve seen what a difference the Foundation’s grants have made in increasing access to the arts in Boston,” Bill explained, “and I appreciate the Foundation’s catalytic role in passing legislation for statewide cultural facilities funding.”
Both Bill and Kathleen have increasingly focused their own work on the arts. While Kathleen began her career as attorney, today she is an artist herself and teaches History of Fashion at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Bill serves as Chair of the Board of Overseers of Boston Landmarks Orchestra. Both are “crazy about” opera, but you’ll find them at all kinds of Boston arts events. “We especially enjoy exploring and supporting the amazing dynamism of Boston’s smaller arts groups.”
“Boston is a destination city for high-skilled workers and tourists alike largely because of its vibrant cultural life,” observed Bill. “Besides such world-class venues as the BSO, MFA, and Emerald Necklace parks, Boston is a great city for post-secondary arts education.
“The arts transcend ordinary ways of thinking and portray diverse points of view. A healthy community shares experiences, values and aspirations. What bridges differences between people and brings communities together better than the arts?”
Professional Advisor Testimonials
Jon E. Steffensen, Esq.
Steffensen, Fleming & Associates, LLC
“The Boston Foundation has helped clients establish a charitable legacy that will live on for generations. Whether it’s supporting a favorite charitable organization, providing grants to areas of interest such as the arts, or keeping Greater Boston a wonderful place to live for future generations, the Boston Foundation has the experience and staying power to make sure that each donor’s charitable intent is honored.”
Coventry Edwards-Pitt, CFA, CFP®
Ballentine Partners, LLC
“The Boston Foundation is an excellent partner and resource for individuals and families who wish to become better organized and strategic with their charitable giving. The Boston Foundation has been instrumental in helping clients develop philanthropic goals and in personally introducing them to committed charities aligned with their interests.“
Jacqueline R. McCoy, CPA, MST
Paul|McCoy Family Office Services LLP
“As a Boston-based multi-family office, our firm works to simplify the lives of our clients while protecting their interests and respecting their privacy. The Boston Foundation has worked strategically with our office on several occasions. Together, we have found solutions that meet complex charitable objectives for our families in the most cost effective, tax efficient and confidential manner possible. It is a pleasure to know that The Boston Foundation can be considered part of our team.”