Coming into the Council’s Family Philanthropy Conference, I’m looking to follow two strains of curiosity. First, I want to see how other foundations have built collaborative community relationships that expand beyond traditional roles of grantor and grantees. More deeply, I’m curious about how foundations can maintain focus on a certain community as the board transitions to subsequent generations.
For example, The Russell Family Foundation’s environmental grantmaking has become more and more geographically focused. In a decade we’ve gone from dreams of cleaning the entire Puget Sound to the realization that with environmental problems, as with social injustices, solutions must be built from the ground up. To that end, we’ve now grounded ourselves in a long-term commitment to the pollutant-laden Puyallup River watershed.
Things for us seem to diverge, yet converge. Though the Russell family is very much a Tacoma (Washington) family, the second and third generations have begun to scatter across the country. Our interests and political leanings couldn’t be more varied. Even so, the impulse to spread our foundation’s grantmaking across wider and wider areas has ultimately been trumped by the belief, backed up by philanthropic experience, that solutions are local and community-driven.
So I’m curious. I am a beard-growing, rabble-rousing Northwesterner who has relocated. How do I and other third-generation family members stay grounded? Can I be a community member in Tacoma and the Puyallup watershed from afar? Ironically, I’ll be flying to the opposite tip of the continent to explore these questions, but I’m very excited to connect with others at the conference next week to see what they think.
Chris Rurik is an intern working with the environmental team at The Russell Family Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.