The 90 Percent Mandate: Behind That Stream of Cummings Foundation Grants

New England’s grantmaking stalwart, the Cummings Foundation, has awarded $10 million in grants to local nonprofits focused on improving the community through its annual $100K for 100 program. Additional grants of between $300,000 and $20 million were awarded to 14 other organizations such as Catholic Charities of Boston and YMCA of the North Shore. This massive annual funding for philanthropy in the Greater Boston area is rooted in the foundation’s mandate to donate 90 percent of the founders’ fortune to good causes.

Joyce and Bill Cummings created the Cummings Foundation 30 years ago to give back to the community in which Bill’s commercial real estate firm was thriving. Most of the couple’s properties are now owned by the foundation, which boasts over $1.2 billion in net assets. About five years ago, the Cummings signed the Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage billionaires to direct the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic efforts.

Since its inception, the Cummings Foundation has made over $140 million in grants to New England charities that operate in the areas of education, healthcare, human services, and social justice programs. The largest grant so far has been the 2005 commitment of $50 million to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Among the 2016 grant recipients are nonprofits that help veterans, the homeless, at-risk youth, and vulnerable elderly people. That’s just a small sample, though – the latest batch of 100 charities receiving a $100,000 cash infusion offers services to a wide range of populations. 

Nonprofits based in Massachusetts’ Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk Counties that also provide 80 percent of their services in those areas can submit a Letter of Inquiry for the 2017 grant cycle starting on July 1, 2016. The foundation is looking for applications that are concise, unique, free of jargon, and concrete. Since most LOIs are turned in just under the wire, early submissions stand out to the application committee. Potential candidates for funding will be invited to complete a formal grant application.

Since Gates and Buffett conceived of the Giving Pledge in 2010, an important conversation about a philanthropic moral imperative for the staggeringly wealthy has occurred. More and more billionaires are realizing that you can’t take it with you, but you can create a legacy by leaving the world a better place than you found it. We’ve delved into the intricacies of the Giving Pledge in the past, and noted that signing it does not come with a contractual obligation.

For its part, the Cummings Foundation is making a notable impact on its community, although it doesn't yet have the profile of the Barr Foundation, another foundation set up up by a phenomenally generous Boston couple, and one write about often at IP.