July 30, 2015
In 2009, when the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused initially on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency. We then worked to develop effective guidelines, assist applicants in creating strong grant proposals, and help grantees develop viable exit strategies once our final multiyear grants had concluded. We were so focused on these activities that we were all taken by surprise when we realized it was 2014 and our grantmaking was at an end. After twenty-seven years of supporting all the major organizations in New York's lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities — providing start-up funding to many, ongoing general operating support to many more, and essential infrastructure development in our final spend-out period — the actual closing date was upon us.
Throughout the preceding decades the foundation's board and staff had engaged a number of excellent organizational consultants to help us with strategic planning, including during our final spend-out phase. When they realized our closing was imminent, all of them — either formally or informally — reached out and urged us to plan for some sort of closure, not just for board and staff but for our grantees as well. So while we had had the idea in the back of our minds during the spend-out process, holding a final event for the community suddenly became vitally important to us as a way to deal with the sad realities of closing.
The result was a farewell party to which all our grantees were invited — not only current staff but former grantee staff members who had worked so closely with us to develop successful grant proposals in the early years of the LGTB community's growth. We also invited fellow grantmakers from private and public funding sources who had traveled with the foundation on its journey from the early days when it was one of a very few foundations funding AIDS programs in New York to our final years of making grants specifically to organizations serving LGTB communities of color. And, of course, we invited our own former board members who had worked so thoughtfully and hard to create the foundation and its funding strategies over the years.
We also realized that the history of the foundation's funding tracked the development of the LGTB community in New York, and so we decided to create an illustrated timeline highlighting the important developments of that community over the past three decades. Among other things, this allowed us to show how closely the foundation had monitored these community developments and adjusted its grantmaking strategies to support the community's changing needs. The publication, which included dozens of grantee photographs, also showcased the vast majority of our grantees and served as our souvenir program for the event, which turned out to be a cocktail party in an inviting rooftop garden setting that allowed folks to sit and reconnect with colleagues they may not have seen in decades. Throughout the evening, the same refrains were repeated over and over:
"Oh my goodness, I haven't seen you since…" Or:
"I can’t believe it…is that...?"
The event clearly underscored the important role our grantee organizations had played in the development of the LGTB communities in New York, and it allowed the foundation to thank its grantees, as well as our terrific board members, past and present, for the wonderful work they had done over so many years. During the "formal" portion of the evening's program, we also announced the foundation's "legacy grant"— to Equal Justice Works — and invited one of the first recipients of the Paul Rapoport Fellowship, a young LGTB lawyer of color, to describe the work he would be doing over the next two years in the field of public interest law. It is our hope that the fellowship will continue to keep Paul's name alive in the LGTB community for decades to come while also providing much-needed legal advocacy to underserved communities of color.
Looking back, I would say that the outpouring of good feeling and best wishes on that night transformed what, for many, was an otherwise painful end to something we had loved into a proud occasion, and it helped us close our doors on a decidedly upbeat note.
(Photo credit: Philip Greenberg for the New York Times)
Jane D. Schwartz was executive director of the Paul Rapoport Foundation. This post, the twenty-third in the "Making Change by Spending Down" series produced by GrantCraft in partnership with the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, originally was published on the GrantCraft blog. Use the #spenddown hashtag to comment on the post (and series) below and on Twitter.