Blog: Amplify

Fostering Change in Organizations and Communities

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund has supported LISC to develop affordable housing and revitalize communities in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jessie Ball duPont never worried about energy conservation or carbon footprints, and she probably never discussed affordable rents or the role of the nonprofit sector.

But today, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund works on those and other issues that might seem foreign to Mrs. duPont -- and all in perfect alignment with Mrs. duPont's instructions and her legacy.

Mrs. duPont cared deeply about the communities and organizations that she supported, but she was smart enough to know that circumstances change. She asked her trustees to take care of these places and entities, but left them free to do whatever work needed to be done.

As a result, the Fund today supports about 320 organizations, most clustered in Delaware, Virginia and Florida -- the three states Mrs. duPont called home. That focus on place, along with the life-long relationships with a defined universe of grantees, enables the Fund to have a lasting impact on a diverse group of communities and organizations.

Since 2008, the Fund has worked diligently to help its grantee colleges, universities, churches and nonprofits with large physical plants to conserve energy through strategic analysis and facility retrofits. While the work has obvious environmental benefits, the motivation is financial: every dollar saved through energy conservation is a dollar freed to support mission. By reducing its energy costs, an organization grows its capacity to do good work. The Fund has invested more than $4 million in this initiative and helped more than 50 institutions to better understand and restructure their energy usage.

While the energy conservation work has impacted the institutions Mrs. duPont cared about, the Fund's work in affordable housing impacts the communities that were important to her. In Jacksonville, Florida, the Fund helped birth the local chapters of LISC and Habitat for Humanity. Today, the Fund is deeply engaged in efforts to refocus policymakers' attention on the need for affordable rental housing in a fast-growing community. In Delaware and Virginia, the Fund has used Program Related Investments to work with regional Community Development Financial Institutions to support development of affordable housing -- both new construction and redevelopment of historic properties.

Arguably the Fund's most exciting project in recent years has been the development of the Jessie Ball duPont Center -- retrofitting an historic building in downtown Jacksonville into a gathering place for philanthropy and nonprofits.

By clustering multiple nonprofits in spectacular, high-profile space in the heart of downtown, we instantly raised the profile of the local nonprofit sector. The Chamber of Commerce has its building, city government has City Hall and now the nonprofit sector has its own building -- and they are all within walking distance of each other.

Beyond raising profile, the Jessie Ball duPont Center reduces operating costs for tenants through below market rents, shared common spaces and green practices. It also enhances sector operations through the natural synergies that result from co-locating local nonprofits.

We care for the organizations and communities that Mrs. duPont cared about -- and we take a long view as we do it. Our goal is to help nonprofits and communities be resilient and develop the capacity and knowledge to continue in good service decades from now. That's what perpetuity is all about -- investing for the long haul and taking the long view.

Sherry Magill is President of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foundations.


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