New Member Spotlight: The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

Friday, December 11, 2009

We recently welcomed the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to Philanthropy New York. We asked Christopher Percopo, Grants Administrator for the Trust, to share details about the organization and its latest initiatives in this Member Spotlight.

What are your primary areas of focus?
The Trust, established in 1999, is administered by five trustees. As a continuation of Mr. and Mrs. Helmsley’s generous giving throughout their lifetimes, the Trust supports a diverse range of organizations with a major focus on health and medical research, in addition to programs in human services, education, and conservation.

What current projects or initiatives are you working on?
Right now we are working on a wide range of grantmaking initiatives. A primary pillar of Mr. and Mrs. Helmsley’s giving during their lifetime was the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Gifts to this single organization totaled over $71 million, enabling its medical and research teams to substantially augment activities in several areas of medicine, including cardiovascular disease, rehabilitation medicine, and digestive diseases. Because of this commitment to medical research the Trustees have continued committing significant awards to medical research, including those areas of particular interest to the Helmsleys, and have added Type 1 Diabetes Research and Rural Health Care. The Trustees have also chosen to commit distributions to education, conservation, and social service—including a $3 million round of grants to New York City emergency service organizations in April 2009 to help them meet their growing needs during the economic downturn.

Are you looking to connect or collaborate with other funders on a particular issue or project?
Yes, as we continue to develop and define our giving we are hoping to collaborate with industry experts to maximize our impact. A good example of this is our research consortium in Type 1 Diabetes. Through this consortium we are committing $21.8 million through 28 grants to 11 institutions to increase understanding of Type 1 Diabetes with the goal of developing therapeutic solutions until a cure can be found. Each of the consortium’s 4 projects is designed to address a specific issue and connect leading medical researchers. We are also working with other national nonprofits and funders to build a stronger network of support.

What has been your biggest grantmaking lesson?
While we are new and know that there are still many exciting discoveries ahead of us, we are jumping into the philanthropic field knowing an important lesson already—we are all in this together. We are committed to working with our grantees, and the nonprofit field as a whole, to combat social issues.

What are you currently reading?
The Blind Side—I try to read the books before I see the movies.

What essential/interesting grantmaking resource would you recommend to a fellow funder?
Resource-wise, I just try to read as much as possible. I read The New York Times,The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and CNN daily. Whenever there is a topic I am really interested in, I try to find more articles about it—for example, a year or so ago I read something about program-related investments (PRIs) and added it to my Google Alerts, and have probably read a half-dozen articles on the topic.

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