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My 65th Birthday Wish
I turned 65 on May 14th. This birthday prompts me to think about what I’ll leave behind. When I began teaching college at the ripe old age of 23, I remember telling my students that when I was 65 years old I wanted to assess my life’s work as a plus, rather than a minus, for humanity. I said making a positive contribution was a key thing that made life worth living. I was a bit melodramatic, but I felt that way and I still do.
The Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC) is my life’s work-I think it has made a positive contribution- and I am committed to having it outlive me. I am so pleased and honored that my daughter, Jenn, has chosen to join this effort and will succeed me as the RFC’s Executive Director when I retire in late 2013. Not only is Jenn a great professional match for our work, but given the family nature of the project, a Rosenberg grandchild is the ideal person to lead the RFC for another generation. That’s very satisfying, but Jenn’s impending takeover has increased the pressure I feel to leave the RFC on as strong a footing as possible.
Usually I describe the RFC in personal or social terms: I created this organization to help children today who are suffering the same kind of nightmare my brother and I endured after our parents’ arrests. I seek to transform the devastation that was visited upon my family into something positive for similarly situated families today. The RFC works to surround the children of today’s targeted activists with a community of support and strengthen child-oriented progressive infrastructure, to facilitate the transmission of progressive values from one generation to the next.
All of this is true, but the RFC also has a financial component that requires a lot of planning and effort. When I first considered the RFC project in the late 1980’s, I observed two models for change-oriented foundations. The first consisted of endowed family foundations whose boards made grants and paid whatever staff they had out of the income generated by the endowment. They often did terrific work, but because they did not require contributions from many people, they were not necessarily integrated with progressive activists and movements. The second was public foundations that had to raise the funds they gave away each year. The need to raise the dollars they awarded connected such public foundations to a community of support, but staff and board risked burnout because they were constantly required to solicit more money.
This inspired me to create a hybrid organization. I wanted to engage a large community of support. I wanted to connect thousands, even tens of thousands, of progressive donors with hundreds of children of targeted activists. I wanted to link supporters to the vast array of ongoing work to bring about economic and social justice. I also wanted activists to sense the masses of people behind them who were willing to provide concrete aid for their children. Beyond that I wanted to build an endowment to ensure the RFC’s multi-generational lifespan, to provide a dependable source of multi-year support for the children we helped, and to insulate staff and board members from burnout.
Now that I’m 65 years old and have been doing this for over two decades, I have a pretty good idea of what it will take to achieve all these goals. It is straight-forward, simple math rather than rocket science. The RFC needs a $10,000,000 endowment. Half will be dedicated to granting, which should generate $250,000 each year towards a total annual granting budget of up to $500,000. The other half will also produce $250,000 annually that will go towards providing a living wage and benefits for a small staff, as well as office rental, equipment, IT, printing, postage and other “overhead” costs. The staff will do the organizing outreach, administer the grants, and reach out to a base of thousands of supporters whose additional contributions will provide another $250,000 for the grants plus the extra funds needed to run the office and maintain the staff.
I am confident that if we could build such an endowment the RFC would remain a reliable source of multi-year support for the children we benefit for generations to come.
There is one problem, however. I’ve been working to build an endowment for 20 years and I’m still less than 40% of the way toward the goal above. I doubt I’ll achieve the remaining 60% in my final two years of full-time work at the RFC.
So although I’m officially retiring as the RFC’s Executive Director in 2013 and will no longer be involved in day-to-day operations, I’ll keep working part-time on one final RFC project: increasing the RFC’s endowment to $10,000,000 by 2018. That means, if you count this year and next, I have less than six years to increase the endowment by over $6,000,000.
This is very different from the type of fundraising I’ve done in the past. We’re not going to achieve this goal by getting many people to give an extra $50 or $100. But I think there may be a few of you who want to get involved on an order of magnitude you’ve never considered before. You might make this dream yours as well as mine. If, of the thousands of RFC supporters, there are several people who will make a truly major infusion to build the RFC’s endowment, we can make this dream come true.
I’ll be talking to many of you about this during the next several years. This is the legacy I wish to leave behind and I hope others will join me and make it your legacy as well.
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