Edna McConnell Clark Announces Spend-Down, Major Investment in Blue Meridian Partners

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Edna McConnell Clark Announces Spend-Down, Major Investment in Blue Meridian Partners
By Larry Clark, Chair, and Nancy Roob, President and CEO

With a deep desire to improve the lives of many more disadvantaged children and youth, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation's trustees have decided to "sunset" the Foundation and spend all of its resources (approximately $1 billion) over the next decade. Through this period of dramatically accelerated giving, we will continue to provide large infusions of growth capital to effective nonprofits and their visionary leaders.

When the Clark family established EMCF in 1969, they did not envision it as a perpetual foundation. They made clear that they wanted the Foundation to make decisions based on what would produce the best results. In the words of Hays Clark, one of EMCF's founders, "If we found a good opportunity, we would bet the farm on it." Thanks to a lot of learning over the past two decades, we are now ready and committed to do just that.

Since 2000, we've experimented with various ways of addressing the undercapitalization of high-performing nonprofits that are improving the lives of disadvantaged youth. In 2007, we began leveraging the Foundation's resources through capital aggregation—that is, pooling our dollars with those of other donors seeking efficient and effective giving vehicles. Through these efforts, we've now deployed nearly half a billion dollars in support of exceptional nonprofit leaders, their organizations, and, most importantly, the young people they serve.

Although we've had some missteps along the way, our capital aggregation projects convinced us we were onto something important and valuable. So at our board meetings we started asking think-bigger questions like these:

  • What would it take for us to invest at a level in keeping with the massive scale of the challenges millions of young people face?
  • What would it look like to scale up the investment approach we have built and tested since 2000?
  • As new donors seek to make an impact on the same issues we're passionate about, how can we share with individuals and families the benefits of our investment approach and talented staff—so they don't have to duplicate efforts?

All roads led to our decision to go bigger and go deeper in concert with others.

Let's get specific about what this decision means for our giving over the next decade.

First, we will invest more deeply in Blue Meridian Partners, the new collaborative funding vehicle we announced earlier this year. Blue Meridian is designed to meet the capital needs of the highest-performing organizations poised to make a national impact on pressing social problems. The decision we are announcing today gives us confidence that Blue Meridian will surpass its initial goal of raising $1 billion.

We and our growing group of philanthropic partners are excited about the long-term prospects for Blue Meridian Partners, based not only on what its unprecedentedly large investments will do to raise the goals of outstanding nonprofits and their leaders, but also on the value Blue Meridian can add for new donors eager to leverage EMCF's knowledge and infrastructure.

Second, we will continue to invest in our core Youth Development Fund, which provides capital to fuel the growth, improve the quality, and enhance the sustainability of high-performing organizations with strong evidence and great track records. We do not anticipate taking on new Youth Development Fund grantees. We will focus instead on accelerating and sustaining the work of existing grantees.

Third, we will continue to expand the work of EMCF's PropelNext, which partners with other investors to help promising nonprofits build their capacity to collect and use data for learning and improvement. We will support the growth of PropelNext in the short term with new investments in staff and additional efforts to strengthen its curriculum. We will also explore additional partnerships that may enable PropelNext to live on well beyond EMCF.

In addition to accelerating our investments, we will explore other ways for EMCF to leave a lasting impact. For example, we are seeking creative ways of sharing our knowledge, and that of our grantees, about what works and what doesn't when you're trying to achieve greater scale and impact. It's important for us to do our part to strengthen the field with knowledge that can spur the development of the next generation of high-performing nonprofits and inform the work of future philanthropists.

We realize the decision to sunset a thriving institution is unusual. As a board, we began discussing this option many years ago as we watched our grantees and other nonprofits struggle during and after the Great Recession. Following much exploration, we all agreed that expanding and accelerating our investment approach, in partnership with others, provided our best shot at fulfilling EMCF’s mission now. Being able to build on the momentum capital aggregation has gained and contributing to meaningful innovation in philanthropy are the prime reasons for our decision. Given the urgent needs of youth in our country, the opportunity to dramatically step up our game and our giving is the right decision for us.

We thank you for your support over the years. And, as always, we're eager to hear from you.