Marlene Ibsen, Travelers Foundation

TITLE: CEO and President

FUNDING AREAS: K-12 education, college access, community development, and arts and culture

CONTACT: mibsen@travelers.com, 860-277-9039

IP TAKE: Ibsen and Travelers Foundation support a wide range of K-12 education initiatives, including direct grants to public schools and organizations that partner with schools. But aside from a few exceptions for top national ed organizations, don't bother Ibsen unless you're working in Hartford, Connecticut, or St. Paul, Minnesota.

PROFILE: Marlene Ibsen brings a combination of corporate communications, public relations, and non-profit fundraising experience to her position as president of the Travelers Foundation. In addition to her leadership of the foundation, Ibsen is vice president for community relations at The Travelers Companies, Inc., a leading property insurance giant. She holds a BS in communications from Texas Christian University and an MS in communications management from Syracuse University in New York.

Ibsen's resume also includes serving as director for non-profit organizations in Connecticut, including the Governor's Prevention Partnership, the Youth Continuum, and the Connecticut Forum. In addition, she has served as chairwoman for Junior Achievement of Southwest New England.

The Travelers Foundation is an organization through which the Travelers Companies Inc. supports a variety of charitable and civic endeavors, with an emphasis on education. (It should be stated that the company's Corporate Communications department notes that philanthropic funding flows both through the foundation and the corporation to these same initiatives; since Ibsen heads them both, for the purposes of this profile we reference the foundation itself).  

The foundation's education initiatives focus on academic success for children in grades 5-12, helping them successfully transition to college. College access, especially for student populations that are underrepresented in postsecondary education, is important to the Travelers Foundation and Ibsen, who serves as a director of the National College Access Network (NCAN). NCAN strives to strengthen college access, especially for students who historically have been underrepresented in postsecondary education, such as students of color and students from low-income families.

The first thing to remember about this funder is that the Travelers Foundation believes philanthropy begins at home. The foundation concentrates its education grants in Hartford, Connecticut, and St. Paul, Minnesota, two areas that serve as corporate headquarters for Travelers. The foundation supports education initiatives in its headquarter cities, Hartford and St. Paul, through direct grants to the public school systems in those cities and to other organizations that support education initiatives. In Minnesota, the St. Paul Public Schools system was the single largest recipient of Travelers education funding in that state, receiving $1.35 million in 2012, according to the foundation's 2012 giving report. In Connecticut, Hartford Public School Distrcit directly received $280,000 from Ibsen and the Travelers Foundation.

 

In addition to its direct support of public school systems in Harford and Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Travelers Foundation's 2012 giving report indicates that Ibsen and the foundation believe strongly in helping foster community partnerships between public schools systems and organizations providing youth development, enrichment activities, and other services that support student learning. In Connecticut, the Travelers Foundation provided $200,000 in 2012 to Achieve Hartford!, which supports improved achievement and community involvement in Hartford Public Schools. In Minnesota, foundation funds have supported the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation, which supports teachers and projects in the city's public schools.

A look at Travelers'  giving report also suggests a preference for large organizations, including the local chapters of established national organizations.  Recipients in Minnesota and Connecticut have included chapters of Junior Achievement, Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA and YWCA, and Girl Scouts. The foundation also has supported museums, libraries, and public broadcasting.

Charter school operators in Hartford and Minneapolis also have found friends in Ibsen and foundation. It has contributed to Hartford charter school Achievement First and to Teach for America, an organization that recruits high-achieving college students and trains them to teach in public schools. Many Teach for America alumni teach in charter schools.

Speaking about Travelers' Arts & Diversity Committee, but most likely also shedding light on Ibsen's overall approach, Ibsen stated plainly: "We like when they take calculated risks and try something different. Even if that doesn’t go exactly according to plan, it’s an experience that keeps the committee motivated and ready to tackle similar projects in the future."

Although Ibsen and Travelers Foundation concentrate their activities in Hartford and St. Paul, they have provided some grants to organizations outside these areas. Most of those education grants, however, have gone to New York-based organizations, mostly in the area of higher education rather than K-12. So unless your organization is based in Connecticut or Minnesota, this is probably not the funder for you.

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