New Year - New Commitments
As we launch into 2018, the Foundation finds itself at an interesting place. Due to the remarkable ongoing generosity of Vermonters and the performance of the financial markets, we are stewards of a steadily expanding asset base, with a mission that is deeply rooted in advancing the vibrancy of place. There is an imbalance however, between our organization’s strength and the precarious position facing many Vermonters and Vermont communities.
Our state faces demographic, economic, civic, environmental, and social challenges. This imbalance compels us as a foundation to push ourselves and support our partners to achieve greater impact on the circumstances at play across Vermont. Right now, we see the biggest challenge as the structural gap in opportunity that faces the next generation of Vermonters. Addressing this opportunity gap is about working to ensure that all people see the potential of their communities and are empowered to engage economically, civically, and socially regardless of their background, their region, or their economic circumstances.
The Vermont Community Foundation will always be a broad-based funder because our family of donors support causes across a spectrum of issue areas and in every region of the state (and many beyond)—this diversity of philanthropic interest is one of our greatest strengths. We will continue to advise our fundholders, helping them find and fund the causes they love. In addition, we see closing the opportunity gap as core to the mission of building strong Vermont communities and strongly believe that philanthropy is strategically positioned to tackle this set of challenges.
To that end, we are allocating a significant portion of the Foundation’s discretionary resources toward increasing access to opportunity through four strategic focus areas: early care and learning, college and career training, support for youth and families, and community and economic vitality.
Some of our supporting organizations and component funds have deep subject matter expertise in these strategic focus areas, which enhances the Community Foundation’s ability to affect these issues. We will be collaborating closely with the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, the J. Warren & Lois McClure Foundation, the High Meadows Fund, and the Vermont Women’s Fund as we work to address the opportunity gap. And we are always looking for additional partners, as we recently found with the National Life Foundation.
What Does This Mean for Our Community Engagement, Grantmaking, and Investments?
Our plan is to spend more time in communities, particularly those with high indicators of socioeconomic distress, learning from people, organizations, and programs more deeply than ever before. Our objective is to be excellent listeners, trying to better understand the unique challenges that exist in individual communities. We will rely heavily on partners and regional networks to point us toward high impact opportunities for philanthropy, engaging in formal processes such as the Vermont Council on Rural Development community visits, in addition to more informal stakeholder conversations.
While some of our grantmaking programs will remain unchanged, we have reoriented a portion of this budget toward closing the opportunity gap, with funds set aside for projects and partnerships that arise through our community engagement work.
- The Nonprofit Capacity Building and Special and Urgent Needs programs remain, prioritizing funding requests that are tied to organizations and strategies focused on the opportunity gap.
- There is a new program called Spark! Connecting Community, which aims to create social capital and test new ideas for bringing people together and creating greater access to opportunity.
- We will rely heavily on partners and regional networks to help us understand the best uses of philanthropic resources. A greater portion of our grantmaking will be by invitation, so that we can be more nimble and responsive to specific initiatives as they arise.
- We have created a tool for organizations to tell us about their work and stories related to addressing the opportunity gap and their impact in Vermont.
Finally, the Vermont Community Foundation has long been a leader in place-based mission investments—putting our assets to work in Vermont. We will orient our Vermont Investments program to complement our community engagement and grantmaking strategies and help strengthen community and economic vitality so that every Vermonter sees the full potential of this place.
2017 was a year of research and inquiry, marked by great excitement about our new direction. We remain convinced that the striking difference in how people experience their community, its economy, society, and civil institutions, is one of our most fundamental challenges. Addressing the opportunity gap and putting people on more equal footing is core to stitching that fabric back together. We look forward to continuing to engage our partners—nonprofits, employers, community champions, and public servants—as we learn together and as our programs undoubtedly evolve to make Vermont a place of even greater opportunity for the next generation.
Please visit our Opportunity Gap webpage to learn more about our approach and to get in touch.