Forget Nathan Cumming’s Old Program – Now NCF Has a New Focus

Similar to New Year’s resolutions, big anniversaries are often a time to lay down new strategies and reassess priorities. The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) is turning 25 years old soon, and with its big anniversary coming up, the foundation is looking for ways to improve. NCF (see IP’s profile) is doing away with its old system of four program areas to focus instead on two: Inequality and Climate Change. The new year will be a transitional one for NCF as it moves towards its new programming and new criteria for grants.

NCF recently held its first comprehensive planning process since the foundation first began 25 years ago. The process involved reaching out to grantee partners and philanthropy colleagues to gauge where NCF could make the most impact. As noted in NCF’s “Letter to the Field”, written by two board members and the foundation’s president Simon Greer, a lot has changed in the past 25 years, and today “climate change is widely seen as the challenge of the 21st century.” NCF will be tackling climate change with a focus on increasing access to modern energy for the world’s poor, stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations, and improving resilience.

It’s unclear whether funding for climate change projects will increase substantially. As NCF states on its website, 2014 will be a transitional year in which the foundation will sharpen its understanding of the issue and explore options for grantmaking. In its strategic planning report for November 2013, the foundation writes that it still believes “modest amounts of money can make a big difference”. This makes it seem likely that grants will continue to be in the $50,000 to $250,000 range as they have in the past, but it's hard to say with certainty what the foundation’s plans are.

The foundation is clear that they are looking for solutions which combine environmental approaches with human development. Hence the focus on climate change and inequality. In their strategic report, the foundation says “popular debate has devolved to focus on opposite poles, neither of which offers adequate solutions to the task.” NCF believes that the discourse on climate change must itself be transformed such that environmental solutions are also prepared to bring power to the world’s poor, in an economically sound and sustainable way. It looks like in 2014, NCF will be focused on restructuring the popular debate on climate change.