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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Happy birthday Robert. RFC is and has been a GREAT contibution to the memory of your parents. At 86 years I remember well the McCarthyite hysteria that hurt so many good people like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. RFC keeps our memories of the Rosenberg"s alive. Burt Shachter

Mazel Tov to you for being able to look back on you life's achievements and be happy with them. It is an awesome goal for each of us, altho many of us don't achieve the satisfaction of knowing we have left something good and lasting behind. We applaud you for your long, heartfelt and hard work to get to this day when you can know that you have done something extraordinary with your life.
Rob, we wish we could be a major part of your dream for an endowment, but as you know, we don't have the kind of money it would take to make a significant contribution. However, you can count on us for being regular supporters of the work that you and the RFC does.
Much love, Renny & Ed

You are a year and four days older than I, but your thoughts of assessing your life's work and worth are identical to my own. Has it been positive on balance...has it made any lasting difference? Unlike you perhaps, I have much regret that I didn't achieve anything of substance--but be assured, *you* have.

Thank you. And solidarity.

You are a mensch!

Here's hoping your dream will come true.

Hope to be there for the special anniversary ceremony June 19th of next year.
Please save me 2 seats.

With you in spirit,


Feliz cumpleanos, good sir. Your eloquence in prose and efficaciousness in dissemination/messaging is admirable and thereby a benefit to all we like-minded progressives. And in the interest of increased solidarity, please check out and even affiliate at my website,, not leastwise because the family, mine, yours and ours, culturally speaking, is the crucible from which the alchemy of altruism arises.

Best Wishes,

Lew Welge

Many Happies! I hope this is a small adjustment, not a huge deal. It's amazing that my friends and contemporaries are retiring, and you are blessed with having enough resources to do so. Though I can't get to Western Mass., I send good thoughts.
The endowment is an excellent idea. The problem, of course, is resources. So many people have so much less income than they did 5 years ago. I also have to be careful about where my small amount of donations go, not to someone who will squander it on bureaucracy. (Remember the millions raised for Haiti?) I get letters, phone calls, emails, a barrage of requests for money every week, and I live in low-income housing and eat in a soup kitchen at least once a week. Is there something we can do besides raise money?

The lady teacher in my 4/th-5/th-6/th grades-("major work classes in Cleveland Ohio) all children-all-3-classes in the same room at "Willard" school. I call my teacher- "The Mother of my Mind!" Mrs. Rebekah Rosenberg.
This wonderful lady opened the door to possibility thinking. At the same time Howard Metzenbaum was my fathers attorney, who came to our house. Now recently I find Daddys "face" on Crazy Horse Mountain!! We girls were a mix of native-french-ukranian-both christian and jew in belief. I belong to Human Rights Org.& S.P.L.C.- Hightower lowdown even 'tho I'm pushing past-7+++-truth/facts/are still paramount in my life- I must keep working toward that goal of ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS! and native proverb- We Borrow the Land from Our Children- a grey eagle (writting a book)

Hi Robby, I first wish you happy birthday - my own birthday (59th) was May 16, two days after yours. And today is the 59th anniversary of your parents execution - virtually the entire span of my own years on the planet. I pray we can all be motivated by that injustice, and the injustices we see around us everyday, to exert ever more effort to confront and resist all injustice. You have brought happiness to many, and I am proud to know you, please never stop. all best, Ted Cox

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