Cathy and Peter Halstead have a team of eight people at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors working with them. Having helped them think through the directions their philanthropy would take and the level of funding of their foundation, the Sidney E Frank Foundation, the RPA team now act almost like foundation programme officers, implementing and monitoring projects. But their great advantage over programme officers is the access to people that RPA has, as they explained to Caroline Hartnell.
How long have you been working with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors?
We’ve been working with them for about six years. When it fell to us to run the foundation, when Cathy’s father, Sidney Frank, died in 2006, we were delighted to have RPA helping us. Even though we’ve been very philanthropic all our lives, we didn’t have the contacts that the Rockefeller family has. For example, if we wanted to give money to a music cause, they knew everyone in the music establishment so we could go straight to the right people. We wanted to reinstate a programme that Juilliard used to have to help talented young people who couldn’t afford to pay, so we called RPA and soon we had hooked up with other funders and now it’s a four-year programme, fully funded. We’d have spent an enormous amount of time trying to get to the right people otherwise.
So when you work with RPA, it sounds like you know exactly what you would like to do and they help you with the practical side. Is that right?
Exactly. Then they follow the grant to make sure that it works in the way we envisioned. Our sole staff person is on the investment side. Sidney had three main areas of grantmaking – education, climate change and the arts. Within those areas, our team at RPA seems to be growing. We have about eight people now.
We’ve got over 100 projects with RPA, and we couldn’t possibly manage these on our own. We’d need four or five employees, and even then they wouldn’t have the access to the philanthropy world that RPA does. As it is, we just say ‘we’d like to do this’, they make a few phone calls, they give us advice, and then we give the go-ahead. They also follow up the work and give us feedback on whether we should continue the funding.
What help did you receive at the very beginning?
Melissa Berman, the head of RPA, held our hands through the early stages of grantmaking, such as brainstorming over the directions we’d like to take. After we were set up and comfortable with our team, Melissa went on to help other clients, but we still have instant access to her by email and telephone.
She also helped with more basic things like the transition into a fully active foundation. During Sidney’s lifetime he funded the foundation on an as-needed basis. Once he passed away it was four years before the foundation became fully funded.
Within our areas of interest, RPA told us that there are several things that aren’t very sexy but that need funding precisely because other people don’t want to give money to them. They told us we could be an enormous help to the world by doing those things quietly behind the scenes. We were very moved by that approach because we wouldn’t have thought of it on our own.
Do RPA ever suggest projects to you?
Yes, RPA sometimes suggest projects that fit with our areas of interest. They recently set up a conference bringing together people involved in the fight against global warming and they asked whether we would like to help fund it. It fits with one of our mandates, so we were honoured to help, along with another eight or so foundations. As a result of that conference we’re working with the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defence Fund and Earth Justice and have funded a coordinator. RPA helped to hire that person; they took the project from inception to fruition single-handedly.
Do you think this relationship will continue for a long time?
Absolutely. After we’re gone, we would like them to continue to be involved in the foundation.
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