Why the 5-Year-Old Brooklyn Community Foundation Still Considers Itself a Start-Up

In 2009, the Brooklyn Community Foundation transitioned from the private Independence Community Foundation to a full-fledged community-based charity. There was a certain expectation that this transition would cause the foundation to grow in both size and influence, but that has yet to happen. According to foundation president, Cecilia Clarke, "We have $60 million; we should have $160 million. We're the fourth largest city [in the U.S.] with 2.6 million people. We've got a lot of ground to cover."

Over the past five years, the Brooklyn Community Foundation has been serving its purpose and making grants, but it's never really taken off as a neighborhood-based grantmaker. The grants have been pretty small, usually between $10,000 and $15,000, and the funding areas pretty standard. Clarke joined the foundation last September, and she's working on a new strategy to elevate the foundation to where it should be by now.

One thing that the foundation has struggled with is securing donor-advised funds, which are what usually makes or breaks a community foundation. Clarke's new strategy aims to target potential philanthropists to increase the foundation's assets and become more of a major player on the grantmaking scene. This is key because she wants to start distributing larger and more meaningful grants in Brooklyn neighborhoods. "Brooklyn is changing, Brooklyn is hot, it's got a global brand right now. But it doesn't mean everyone in Brooklyn yet knows how to be a philanthropist and understands the needs," said Mindy Duitz, President and CEO of the Brooklyn Children's Museum and a consistent grantee of the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

One thing is for sure, though: There's plenty of new money sloshing around in the borough as it attracts both more wealthy residents, tech startups, and even some celebrities. The gentrification really started ramping up a decade ago; by now, you'd think some of these newcomers—with their much vaunted Brooklyn pride—would be giving more back. 

The Brooklyn Community Foundation is one of about 20 community foundations in New York City, including the huge New York Community Trust, which sent $4 million over to Brooklyn-based organizations last year.

Grantmaking at the Brooklyn Community Foundation is currently on hold, while roundtable meetings take place with community leaders and neighborhood advocates through June 2014. And later this year, Clarke is moving her staff from Dumbo to a new office in Crown Heights. In the past, the foundation's program focus areas have revolved around access to the arts, improving neighborhoods, community development, youth achievement through education, and environmental sustainability. Stay tuned for details about the foundation's new grant program launch this summer.