November 05, 2015
Foundation Center Vice President for Development Nancy Albilal spoke with Ward S. Caswell, president of the Beveridge Family Foundation in West Newbury, Massachusetts, about the foundation’s grantmaking to nonprofits working to create opportunity and a more vibrant economy and quality of life in Hampden and Hampshire counties. Nancy’s Q&A with Caswell is part of the Funder's Forum series, which helps foundation leaders exchange ideas and connect with their peers, and is featured, along with other Forum interviews, in the center’s monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter.
Ward Slocum Caswell: When the foundation was started back in the 1940s, Frank Stanley Beveridge was doing quite a bit in the community to give back in those areas he felt had helped him become a success. It's important to understand that Mr. Beveridge was the adopted son of farmers up in Canada. He understood the value of hard work, but also what I like to call putting your fingers in the dirt, understanding man's connection with nature and the environment. So, he established a park in Westfield, Massachusetts, that today is called Stanley Park. In the early days, it was small and used quite a bit for Stanley Home Products company events. But it grew over the years and now is the largest non-government-owned, free-to-the-public park east of the Mississippi. It's very popular with people in Westfield and the Pioneer Valley and includes a large playground, beautiful gardens, lots of rolling paths that wind down to ponds and woods and across fields, and it's a hundred percent handicapped accessible.
So the Beveridge Family Foundation exists primarily to fund the needs of the park, which have evolved. Following Mr. Beveridge’s death in 1956, the foundation benefited from growth in its primary investment, the stock of Stanley Home Products. When we exited the stock in the 1980s, we invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds and, well, it was the 1980s, and our corpus continued to grow into the late nineties. Of course, as anyone who reads the business news knows, the markets since the late nineties haven't been that productive. At the same time, costs have risen for lots of things, so we took a pause in 2009 and asked ourselves, "What would happen if the needs of the park eventually exceeded the ability of the foundation to fund it?" As a result of that process, we did two things. First, we started to fund raise within the park, and then we began to require public support for anything over and above how the park looked in 2009, including endowing any new structures or additions. And I am pleased to say that we are finishing up a new pavilion to replace one built sixty years ago that had been ruined by beetles and had to be removed. Not only is the new pavilion much nicer than the old one, its construction was also made possible through the support of the community, which is very different from the way we used to do things. It used to be that if the park needed something, we wrote a check. But the new approach allows us to continue growing the legacy of the foundation, which supports a host of nonprofits, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties in western Massachusetts. At this point, we give about $2 million a year, a third of which supports Stanley Park, with the rest going to a range of environmental, social, and other organizations, and all of it in keeping with the interest Frank Stanley Beveridge had in promoting culture, education, and the general enjoyment of the community.
NA: How has the foundation's investment in environmental issues developed over time? And how do you position your work on this issue given your primarily local focus?
WSC: You know, sometimes when people invest in the environment, it's to say "no" to things — to developers, to pollution, et cetera. And saying no to things can create difficulties for people who are trying to earn a living or looking for an affordable place to live. We believe there needs to be an intelligent balance between conservation and the needs of local communities. The park is a great example. It's a large park with very few buildings. A lot of woods, a lot of open fields, and a lot of well-tended gardens, as well as a few facilities that allow people to get out of the rain, to have a wedding or family reunion or hold a concert or any of the hundreds of events we host there every year. When we fund environmental issues in western Massachusetts, we tend to spread that funding across a variety of different activities. Twenty years ago, it would have been for the Connecticut River watershed group that was working to clean up the river after the removal of a lot of paper pulp factories. Thirty years ago, the river I fished as a kid was a mess. You'd pull out your fishing line and it would be covered with strings of paper pulp, and the only fish you could catch were carp and other kinds of junk fish that dug up the bottom. Today the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is beautiful. It's clean. It's clear. There are all kinds of different fish coming back up the river. And for the first time in many years, people are using it. They hold dragon boat races to raise funds for breast cancer research and crew practices and regattas for people of all incomes and from every socioeconomic background. It's a vibrant resource again. And that happened in part because of the work that was funded twenty and thirty years ago, the shutting down of large polluters and the removal of some of the heavy metals and toxins, the replanting of littoral grasses, and so on.
Today the funding we do in the environmental area is a little different. We're strong supporters of the Center for EcoTechnology, for example, and their work in helping make Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state in the nation. We've achieved that not by having crazy restrictions on emissions from cars, which you see in California and which means auto manufacturers have to make special versions of their cars just for California. What the center does instead is to go door-to-door and help people understand the ways in which their homes and businesses are energy inefficient and what they can do with tax rebates and other kinds of programs and incentives to remedy those inefficiencies. The great thing about it is that it actually saves the homeowner or business owner money by lowering their energy bills while making Massachusetts a much more energy-efficient state and reducing our dependence on carbon fuels. It's a win-win.
Another thing we do is fund trusts that help people put agricultural or low-density deed restrictions on their properties as a way to conserve open space in Massachusetts where wildlife can continue to flourish and people can enjoy nature. Often, these trusts also benefit the owners of the property by enabling them to reduce their tax bills and, occasionally, to receive actual funds from a nonprofit organization that is willing to pay the property owner for effectively reducing the economic utility of their properties while preserving the property in perpetuity in a way that benefits the public and is sustainable.
That said, we recognize that one of the greatest needs in Massachusetts is affordable housing. So we do quite a bit of work in trying to help people find effective and efficient ways to build, maintain, rent, and sell affordable housing. We're strong proponents of an east-west high-speed rail line to connect the economic engine that is Boston with the tremendous opportunities in the western part of the state. If you look at the economic cycles that seem to run on a seven- to ten-year basis — think of a sine wave — Boston is interesting in that it is always flattened on the top. Because housing costs are so high in and around Boston, making it increasingly difficult to hire and house employees in up cycles, the city's economy tends to flatten out before the rest of the nation's economy. When the economy is booming, people find it increasingly difficult to live and work within reasonable commuting distance of the city. Meanwhile, Springfield, Holyoke, and the entire Pioneer Valley is full of intelligent, hardworking, experienced people who would love to be earning a higher wage but are reluctant to move from the Pioneer Valley because of its affordability and the quality of life there. Unfortunately, the Mass Pike, along with Logan Airport, is owned by a private corporation that really seems to have no interest in expanding those key transport hubs for the benefit of the state. CFX, which owns the freight lines that run east-west, also is reluctant to give up its rights, which are crucial if we ever hope to connect the two parts of Massachusetts for the long-term economic health of the state and its residents. So we try to work with different groups to understand those problems and find ways to help more people understand the situation and what can be done to address it.
Last but not least, we're involved in a group called City2City in the Pioneer Valley that was incubated by the Federal Reserve and studies what the Fed calls "resurgent" cities. The Fed looked at seventy-five post-industrial cities across the U.S. and found that twenty-five or so of them had actually come back nicely, while the rest had not. Springfield was one of the ones that has not. And so each year, we visit other cities to try to learn what they have done to revitalize themselves and bring those lessons back to Springfield. Next week, we're going to Chattanooga!