A Funder in New Mexico Zeroes In On Public Policy, Including Early Childhood Issues

New mexico's state capital building

New mexico's state capital building

Foundations create their own grantmaking strategies from a variety of perspectives. Some are formed from decades of tried-and-true traditions, some by a visionary leader with an innovative idea, and others by borrowing a page from someone else’s book.

The Thornburg Foundation is a New Mexico-focused funder established by the chairman of Thornburg Investment Management, Garrett Thornburg. Although the investment firm has its own corporate philanthropy pursuits, here, we take a closer look at Thornburg’s family foundation in Santa Fe. In the past, Garrett Thornburg has received the Philanthropist of the Year award from the Journal Santa Fe and the New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Lifetime Achievement Award.

Not long ago, the Thornburg Foundation shared a bit about its grantmaking philosophy, which has been borrowed and adapted, in large part, from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Thornburg stands apart from other locally focused funders because it has a vision of nonpartisan and research-based policy solutions—both things that Pew specializes in. Since the foundation got off the ground, Garrett Thornburg wanted to influence local policy and not just spread grants around the state.

“I really like the Pew approach,” Garrett Thornburg has said. “You gather the facts, you bring in all the different parties, you find consensus that can move the ball forward, and then you evaluate how you’ve done.”

To that end, Thornburg and Pew have been partners since 2013. One of Thornburg’s three policy officers, Micaela Fischer, actually came over directly from five years at Pew Charitable Trusts to serve as Thornburg’s food and agriculture specialist. Although Pew has a national focus, it has been involved with local New Mexico groups, especially in the areas of family support for children and coaching for new parents. The two funders have been getting the word out about programs for new, vulnerable parents so that they can best raise their children.

Thornburg isn't the largest foundation in the Southwest, but big names like Pew can help smaller funders gain prominence and traction with their visions. This type of guidance also helps newer funders not only develop their grantmaking programs, but also guide their broader philanthropic strategy towards something that matches the founders’ intentions.

So what else has this New Mexico funder been up to lately?

To start, it’s been giving big to early childhood education lately, including a $1 million commitment per year, which is about 20 percent of annual distributions. Garrett Thornburg and his wife, Catherine Oppenheimer, who’s the founder of the National Dance Institute in New Mexico, have long believed that early childhood education is where the philanthropic payoff is the highest. Therefore, this is where the bulk of foundation grantmaking has been going lately. Related areas of interest have been workforce development and dual-language programs tied to ECE.

Last year, the foundation also joined 14 other philanthropic partners and the USDA for the Food LINC project, which is all about strengthening local food business sectors and increasing consumer access to healthy food. We've reported previously on this initiative. 

RelatedCan Philanthropy Help the Feds Bring Sustainable Food Systems to Scale?

Pretty much all the Thornburg Foundation's grantmaking has a New Mexico focus. Learn more about this grantmaker in our full profile below.  

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