President’s Letter

The fabled scientist Archimedes is said to have remarked that with a long enough lever and a place to stand, he could move the Earth. He meant that as literal fact, but when considered metaphorically it is surprisingly similar to how we view our work. Philanthropy provides a remarkable place to stand as we seek to, in effect, change the world for the better. Our financial assets are the obvious lever, and our ability to provide financial support to many great people doing great work is at the center of any foundation’s activity.

But the leverage that our assets enable goes far beyond grants.

Take, for instance, the prominent place that the cultural arts occupy in Cleveland. Art has intrinsic value, and we appreciate that fact. But we also prize the asset that is Cleveland’s vibrant arts community because it is a catalyst for innovation, a magnet for talent and fuel for economic growth. Despite those attributes, the arts are under continual financial stress, and Cleveland for many years was one of the few major American communities without dedicated public arts funding. Along with the Cleveland Foundation and others, we helped launch more than a decade ago the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) to develop a greater sense of community among arts organizations and to effectively advocate for public arts support. CPAC’s work eventually led to the passage in Cuyahoga County of a tax on cigarettes to fund local arts. That revenue stream is professionally administered by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) and is critically important to our cultural landscape. Arts grantmaking remains a key part of the Gund Foundation’s efforts to make Cleveland a more successful place, but that mission has been immeasurably advanced by the creation of CAC. It would not have happened if our Foundation and others had taken a narrow view of our role.

That story is just one example of how foundations can expand the leverage provided by their financial resources. We look for these opportunities in all of our program areas, especially in the public policy domain. Most people would agree, for example, that high quality public education is vital to the future of our community and our country. We surely do and have backed that view with millions of dollars in grants over many years, but we cannot in good conscience stop working when the checks are signed. Our conviction about the importance of public education compels us to engage deeply in the policy debates over what high quality education should be in the 21st century and how to get there, especially in a troubled school district like Cleveland’s. This is a current topic in Ohio as this report is being prepared, and it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. We will be trying to move the debate and its outcome toward a much more imaginative approach to education than Cleveland and Ohio have been used to.

The duration and depth of our engagement in Cleveland provides advantages that would not exist with less geographically concentrated grantmaking. Our Trustees and staff members have acquired extensive experience with issues and organizations, and that experience enables us to interact in ways that we hope provide value that goes beyond the amount of the grant check. Management advice, program guidance, convening people around a topic, commissioning research – we use these and other tools to help organizations achieve their missions.

But we also are acutely aware of the dangers that can accompany an actively engaged role. First among these is the tendency for people who do or who might seek grants to avoid criticizing us. No one likes criticism, but constructively critical feedback is an important part of making good decisions; bad judgments are much more likely without it. That is why we are regular users of the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report to solicit candid, anonymous feedback from the nonprofits we support. But we strive to engage with others in ways that encourage ongoing candor. Indeed, we need that frankness and we rely on it. We may have acquired useful experience, and we may know some things, but we are far from the only ones who are trying to move Cleveland – and the world – with all the leverage we can muster.

At the end of 2011 the Board of Trustees bid farewell to Cathy Lewis, whose six-year term as a community Trustee concluded. She served with great distinction, and we will miss her special passion, insights and warmth. Cathy served our Foundation and Cleveland extraordinarily well. In her place the Board welcomed Robyn Minter Smyers at the first meeting of 2012, and we eagerly look forward to working with her.

Geoffrey Gund Signature

Geoffrey Gund
President and Treasurer

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