DCF President & CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay discusses what the DCF has accomplished this year, thanks to the support and partnership of our generous donors and friends. He also shares some thoughts about philanthropy, the state of our civil society and our vision for the DCF’s role in strengthening our community in the coming year. See the video of his speech or read the transcript below.
DCF Annual State of the Foundation Comments from Stuart Comstock-Gay
June 22, 2021
As prepared, not as delivered
Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here again. And a pleasure to share some thoughts about the year past, and the year to come.
Before I begin, I want to say this. Thank you. Joining us today are so many people who’ve made the past year the success it has been – and who have helped Delaware weather the worst of this pandemic.
- Thank you to the donors.
- Thank you to the volunteers.
- Thank you to the corporations who’ve stepped up
- … the nonprofits who’ve gone above and beyond,
- …the public officials who have shown the true meaning of public service. Thank you all, for everything you do.
OK, now to it.
When I shared my thoughts last year there was much more we didn’t know than we did.
- We didn’t know how long the Covid-19 crisis would last, when there would be a vaccine, or how to protect ourselves from it.
- We didn’t know how the elections would turn out, nor did we know the depth of the challenge to our basic democratic norms.
- We didn’t know what path America’s racial awakening would take.
- We didn’t know what would happen to jobs, whether businesses would collapse.
- We didn’t know if we could work effectively from home
- We didn’t even know where to get toilet paper.
In truth, most of those questions are still pending.
But since a year ago, there is so very much that we have learned.
Most importantly, we have learned an awful lot about ourselves, and our capacity to do good, even in tough times.
Starting with what we’ve been able to do at the Community Foundation.
Like most everybody else, we at the DCF are still not back to our office – the shockingly quiet Community Services Building, and the very quiet Georgetown circle.
A few days here and there, but not until after Labor Day will we start showing up more regularly.
But – like everybody, we’ve been surprised by how well we’ve been able to manage remote work. And I want to offer my deepest gratitude to the professional hard-working committed, and kind staff at the DCF.
On questions of racial equity, the DCF has broadened and strengthened our commitment. It’s a path down which we were already walking, with
- Our Community Equity Fellows in 2019 and 2020,
- our work on Latino issues in Sussex County,
- and changing grant guidelines.
But over the past year, we have doubled down on that work. We are strengthening our internal culture around Diversity Equity and Inclusion, and looking at how our practices need to change. Our new board equity committee – led by retired judge Gregory Sleet and co-chair Kelly Firment has been pushing us and leading to a strong board statement around racial equity.
To paraphrase their statement, the DCF Board is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all the work of the organization, and
- to action around tracking goals and metrics in all of our initiatives
- more investment in leaders of color and organizations serving communities of color,
- working with partners in the community on equity issues,
- and more.
In the grants arena, we have launched two exciting new programs.
- Our Leadership in Community grants includes multi-year support for small nonprofits led by people of color, as we seek to strengthen the leadership and capacity of those organizations. The grants were funded in part by Barclay’s US Consumer Bank, and include
- Nuestreas Raices Delaware, and Mom’s House of Dover, to name just two.
- Another new initiative this year is the DCF Journalism Internship Program, where four aspiring black and brown journalists are working at the
- News Journal,
- Delaware State news,
- WHYY and
- Delaware Public Media,
learning the journalism business and writing stories about the impact of the pandemic on BIPOC communities.
In addition to these outlets, Hoy en Delaware and El Tiempo Hispaño will be translating the stories, and Technical.ly Delaware will publish the interns’ work and provide additional mentoring.
By the way, the first published stories came out this past weekend. And there is more to come.
How about the pandemic itself? We told you last year about the partnership we quickly established, with the United Way of Delaware, Delaware Alliance for Nonprofits, and Philanthropy Delaware. Our four organizations kicked off our partnership in March. And very quickly began sharing hope and support.
At DCF we quickly opened a fund, working with Philanthropy Delaware. Since opening, we raised over $5 million in gifts – from hundreds of donors (including many of you) – corporate, foundation, government and individuals.
Gifts were as small as twenty dollars, and well over a million. We have awarded grants to over 150 Delaware nonprofits, in small amounts to over $100,000.
Dozens of volunteers helped review grant proposals, allowing us to move monies to nonprofits every week through June of last year, and then well into the fall. Indeed, we ramped up so quickly that our grants program was the fastest Covid response fund program to be up and running and making grants – in the country.
And as the effects of the pandemic continue, we also continue to award grants from this program.
In addition to our Community Needs Grants, which I just described, we also established a Vision Grants program – where we worked with a number of other funders to help nonprofits present compelling cases for new ways of more effectively serving the community coming out of the Pandemic.
Our fund awarded initial grants of $50,000, and then helped the nonprofits pitch the projects to a larger panel of funders. The total half million dollars granted from our fund were ultimately matched by another $2.5 million from other funders. A Five to One match.
Through that fund, as examples…
- Jewish Family Services created a statewide network to provide unemployed individuals struggling in isolation with virtual emotional and mental support.
- Love INC of mid Delmarva built a centralized food distribution system in Sussex County.
- The Community Legal Aid Society produced a study that demonstrates that providing Right to Counsel in eviction cases for low-income tenants in Delaware will produce a
- strong economic return for the state,
- advance racial equity and
- prevent destabilization of low-income communities.
- Tech Impact, Rodel, and Social Contract expanded their partnership focused on closing the digital divide
Also I need to emphasize this. Thanks to the contributions from folks like you – to the DCF Leadership Fund – we have not had to charge a single penny for our work on that fund.
And when the state asked for help distributing millions of dollars in CARES Act funding to nonprofits, our four-organization partnership again stepped up and helped get that money out the door.
Throughout 2020 and into 2021, Covid has truly been a consuming project for us at DCF. Another way Covid has really challenged us is, of course, around healthcare itself. And DCF has stepped up here, too. We are not the providers of course. But we’ve been able to build partnerships that provide much needed support for health related projects – most notably around social determinants of health. Since we last met, we have deepened our partnership with the Highmark Delaware Blueprints program, and that donor advised fund has been able to award millions of dollars to critical health programs.
Our creative three-entity partnership – Healthy Communities of Delaware – where we work with The University of Delaware and The Delaware Department of Public Health, has led to funding for critical community-based organizations seeking to rebuild their communities, and change their health trajectories. A few of our partners …
- La Esperanza in Georgetown
- Cornerstone West CDC
- Central Baptist CDC
- the Route 9 Monitoring Committee
Our goal is to provide long-term funding to these community organizations – located in the communities with the state’s worst health outcomes. It’s a new type of funding for us – long- term, extremely collaborative, capacity building, resident driven.
Of course, so many other programs and funds continue to shine at the DCF..
- Our agency funds provided core support to hundreds of Delaware’s nonprofits at this time of urgent need
- Our scholarship funds put out close to $400,000 in much needed scholarships a few weeks back.
- The Fund for Women just awarded over $200,000 in grants for 2021.
- The Arsht-Cannon Fund remains the state’s most important foundation funder of critical needs in the Latino community
- All of our donor advised funds – over 200 of them – are supporting critical issues – from day care to arts programs to environmental protection,
I get to review those grants as they go out – and I’m constantly impressed with and inspired by people’s commitment to the needs in our communities. Thank you – to all of you.
It’s worth noting here, too, that all of our funds ramped up their grantmaking. In 2020, DCF funds awarded over 32 million dollars in grants. That is one-third more than in 2019.
Our ability to make more grants of course also means that donations to DCF funds also jumped. In total, contributions to DCF funds in 2020 totaled over $82 million dollars.
That is $51 million more than in 2019. We are humbled by the trust that donors show us every day, by creating these funds, continuing to add to them, helping us understand their passions, and working with us.
We are also so pleased that our investment returns over the past year are incredibly strong – with returns through 11 months of our fiscal year at 28.56 percent. We had some tough years, but thanks to our investment officers at SEI, things have clearly turned around.
You know, our asset base has been hovering between $250 and $275 million for many years. But as of May 31, our total assets totaled $391 million. THAT matters because it means donors continue to be generous, supporting the causes they care about. And because it means there is more and more money being set aside to ensure the strength of our nonprofits well into the future.
And with our soon to be launched new data base, website, and donor platform, it will become even easier for all of our donors – and nonprofits – to:
- find out what’s happening at DCF,
- where there are critical needs in the state,
- how to apply for grants,
- and how to give.
It has been a rewarding year.
All of that leads me to what I’ve really been thinking about. While in many ways it has been a rewarding year, it has been an extremely difficult…even brutal year. We see the ugliness and the alienation. Our politics seem to be perched on a precipice of chaos. I hardly need to recount the way that truths are distorted, opponents turned into enemies, and battle lines drawn.
If all we pay attention to is social media, we would think we are nothing more than Hatfields and McCoys, waging an ongoing battle for more turf.
But that isn’t the reality for most of us.
What we have seen – at DCF and elsewhere – is the fundamental goodness and decency of so many people.
- People have donated – a lot. National estimates are that charitable giving increased by over 2% in 2020. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars.
- It’s an impressive number – especially during the pandemic. Not only that, this increase in contributions comes when the tax incentives to give for the vast majority of Americans have been eliminated.
- This past Spring, in Delaware’s annual giving day, sponsored by Spur Impact and United Way of Delaware, we saw a stunning growth in giving – to over $5 million.
In spite of our toxic politics, people still see the need in communities, and dig in their pockets and give.
- People have stepped up in other ways – as volunteers – as tutors, helping people get vaccines, delivering supplies to those in need. Delawareans even created new organizations and associations during this time – to fill gaps in service.
In spite of our toxic politics, people still want to help.
And in spite of political messaging telling us to fight our political opponents all day, every day, on every issue, most Americans aren’t buying it.
Study after study reveals that nearly three-quarters of Americans:
- don’t think our differences are so great we can’t work together,
- want more civil, practical, and less tribal leaders,
- and believe that, together, we can overcome our differences and challenges.
In spite of our toxic politics, people still want to build community.
What we have seen is fellow citizens pursuing a kind of eudaimonia. Let’s me say that again. Our fellow citizens – we’re all pursuing eudaimonia.
It’s a Greek word meaning the good life, or a flourishing life.
To be clear, the eudemonic good life is not one of consumerism, and simply getting ahead. It’s not simply about sitting on the beach, and about getting our own. The eudemonic life is about more.
Some years ago I read a piece in the Harvard Business review by an economist named Umair Haque. The article is entitled “Is A Well-Lived Life Worth Anything?”
What – he asks – defines a good life? It’s ground that philosophers and theologians have long covered. But not ground that economist usually discuss. Haque argues that things have gone seriously wrong in our pursuit of … stuff. And here’s what he says
There’s “an alternate vision, one I call eudaimonic prosperity, and it’s about living meaningfully well. Its purpose is not merely passive, slack-jawed “consuming” but living:
- doing, achieving, fulfilling,
- becoming, inspiring, transcending,
- accomplishing —
…all the stuff that matters the most. …Though it harks back to antiquity, eudaimonia’s a smarter, sharper, wiser, wholer, richer conception of prosperity.”
It’s anti-stuff. But it’s not just that. Eudaimonia is deeper – it’s about not just prosperity, but a communal happiness. It has to do with service to others. And living a life of virtue.
Now that can mean many things to many people, but fundamentally, eudaimonia relates to the choices we make and how they affect others.
- For the Greek philosophers, virtue had to do with self, family and friends.
- Religious traditions are deeply invested in virtue and others
- When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he talked about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But the happiness in the Declaration was not the “whee, I’m happy” kind of thing. It too was eudemonic happiness.
The pursuit of a life well lived.
We all know the flaws in the Declaration and the Constitution. But on this point, they got it right.
And to me, I believe a life of philanthropic pursuit is a fundamental part of that. I believe philanthropy is part of “What matters most.”
It’s why I love this work. We talk in our work about the joy of giving. And philanthropy is joyful precisely because it is about service to others, and about making our communities better
- I love the joy I see in the faces of donors when they make a gift to an organization that is doing good work.
- I love the joy I see in the faces of nonprofit folks who help children’s organizations, or animal welfare organizations, or for some policy goal that will improve life
- I love the joy we all get when we are able to reduce the opportunity gap, and make this state a better place for all of us.
That is eudaimonia.
And yet – frustratingly – philanthropy is one of the relatively few places where we share our joy and love when we do these things. …where we share that joy and love across boundaries.
…and a reminder – the Greek root of the word philanthropy is Love of humankind.
In too much of our lives, we are not sharing joy, and not sharing love. We are looking for differences rather than commonalities.
What I fear is that we are letting our differences blind us to our commonalities, and prevent us from the eudaimonic pursuit of happiness.
…The toxicity of politics – the attitude among too many that you’re either with us or against us – that if you’re against us you’re a bad person.
…The “othering” of people who disagree with us. And I fear that the WAY we talk to each other – with social media as an intermediary, allowing us to be anonymous, with little understanding of the people behind other positions. This is part of the problem.
For the future of our communities, we simply must hold onto and celebrate our common humanity while we pursue the things we care about.
I’m afraid it’s not going to get easier.
- The ease with which inaccurate information can spread is a deep problem for us.
- The degree to which we find ourselves sticking only with people who already agree with us – and creating our own filter bubbles – is making things worse.
- We are in the middle of huge global economic dislocat6ion, where people fear for their futures
- And we simply must continue our work to understand and address hundreds of years of racist policies in this country – and truly, finally, create a country where when I say I believe in the American Dream – it’s not just a fantasy, or an aspiration, but something that can be real for everybody in the country.
Where does that take us? I’m not entirely sure, but there are a few things we’re doing, and starting to do…
First, of course, and it almost goes without saying…continue to express your joy through philanthropy. We have something special here, and we, collectively, are making things better and will continue to do so. And I can assure you, wherever you find your philanthropic joy, lean into it. That generosity matters. And it strengthens our communities.
Second, we have to maintain our commitment to a big tent, and to listening to people with whom we don’t always agree. At DCF, we are proud of our legacy of inclusion – yes around racial issues, but around a broad set of social and political issues, too. That’s why we will always listen and encourage participation across issues.
I participate regularly with a group of foundation presidents – meeting a few times a year with political positions ranging from far left to far right – where we talk about how we can bridge our divides, and find our commonality. Our focus is on democratic practices and what we can collectively do to strengthen the country. This kind of politically diverse discussion is essential for our futures.
Third, we simply must re-learn how to be citizens. For the past two years, Rodel and DCF have supported the Mikva Civic Action program in Wilmington schools. It’s a powerful civics education program, which encourages young people to learn about how democracy works, but more importantly, learn how to use their voice and their passion. The program has involved thousands of kids already, and we are hopeful that through some good work, it can expand to the entire state.
And of course, not just kids need to learn how to be civically active in a productive way. Too many adults have lost that skill set too. We are in discussion with a number of national foundations about programs that both strengthen civic muscles for citizens, but also teach us how to bridge to people who are different than us. We are hopeful that we will be able to announce specific plans in coming months.
In the coming year, we will also be re-launching our community conversations, where we bring people across the state together to talk through important issues.
Finally, we need good information and we need to spread it well.
We all know that local journalism has been struggling in recent years. Our own Allison Levine has a long and deep passion to try and strengthen our journalistic outlets. This year, we’re helping her move forward an ambitious and far-reaching plan to strengthen journalism statewide through deeper investigative stories, building an entrepreneurial network of mini-journalistic outlets, the BIPOC internship program I mentioned previously, and through a new collaboration of journalistic outlets in the state.
We are also entering the fourth year of our Opportunity Book Talks. In previous years, you’ve heard from Bob Putnam, Jim and Deborah Fallows and Wes Moore. This year, we’ll be welcoming Heather McGhee, talking about her powerful new book called “The Sum of Us,” where she – an economist – lays out how historic policies designed to limit the achievement of black Americans has indeed limited all of us. She’ll be speaking on October 13 – Save the date now. Check our website for more information, and to get copies of the book for your book group.
All of these actions –
- sharing the joy of philanthropy,
- working across divides,
- building civic muscle,
- obtaining accurate information,
- …loving each other…
… these are the things that make up a life well lived. These are the things of Eudaimonic prosperity.
I’ve often said it’s a privilege to work for an organization like this – with generous people like you all – in pursuit of better communities.
This – to me – is the pursuit of happiness. Thank you.