A newly formed Vineyard philanthropy group with a core mission to support Island youth and an innovative funding model will commit $4 million over the next four years to an array of youth causes, the founders announced this week.
Called MVYouth, the group has 40 founding donors, some of them first-generation summer homeowners, who have signed onto the idea that investment in the next generation of children and families is vital to long-term community preservation on the Island.
Each of the founders has pledged $25,000 a year for four years, which translates to an initial commitment of $4 million, or $1 million alone in the first year. Deliberately lean on staffing, the group is using a pooled, direct funding approach that they say is geared toward transparency and simplicity. An executive director has been hired, but there will be no other paid staff or administration. Founders have pledged separate funds to pay her salary and any other overhead and operating expenses. This means that all the charitable giving goes directly to support the mission of the organization. About one-quarter of the money will be disbursed in the form of need-based scholarships, while other funds will go directly to programs serving infants through young adults in the form of expansion grants. A local advisory board, still being formed and made up of year-round residents, will help direct the funds.
MVYouth is the brainchild of Jim Swartz and Dan Stanton, summer residents of Edgartown who have professional backgrounds in business and finance and have been involved in an array of philanthropic ventures that benefit young people, both on and off the Island. The two men, who are friends, told the Gazette in an interview this week that while attending various fundraisers on the Vineyard they found themselves talking more and more about how charitable giving is typically used to sustain operating budgets for nonprofits. They discussed the idea of a fresh approach.
“There are a lot of us who love the Vineyard and want to do something to help, but a lot of the charitable models aren’t as effective as they could be,” said Mr. Stanton, a retired investment banker at Goldman Sachs who owns a home at Herring Creek Farm.
“The old fundraising methods don’t work as well anymore,” agreed Mr. Swartz, a venture capitalist who has been a strong backer of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, among other things.
They said the new group partly drew its inspiration from two other innovative charitable groups: the Robin Hood Foundation in New York city and Tipping Point in San Francisco. Those two nonprofits have a mission of fighting poverty (Tipping Point was modeled after Robin Hood). Both use the flow-through approach where all donations go directly to the cause with no funds eaten up by administrative costs.
It is an approach that appeals especially to younger donors, and Mr. Swartz and Mr. Stanton said this was also the idea behind MVYouth
“We really wanted to engage the younger generation, the 30-somethings and 40-somethings who are coming to the Island and want to do something for the Island,” Mr. Swartz said. “It needed to be something to match their interest. Most of the money that is being given on this Island is coming out of the same pockets — a good half to two thirds of the younger generation on the Island are not engaged in philanthropy.”
Each of the 40 founding members of MVYouth has signed a pledge to be involved for the next four years. Mr. Stanton and Mr. Swartz said the hope and expectation is to attract more donors. “I think we will pull in more . . . and have a revolving membership,” Mr. Swartz said. He added: “We have really tried to get this message out and keep it in a quiet phase and we just raised $4 million for the kids of Martha’s Vineyard. To be a founder now or in the future . . . we are going to talk to other people who might be willing to give at other levels. There are a lot of people who are new to the Island and they want to get engaged. They love the Island and they are happy to give. We consciously did not go after the obvious names on the Island.”
MVYouth has applied for 501c3 status and expects to receive it shortly. The names of contributing founders will be released once the organization gets their permission, Mr. Stanton said.
The executive director for the organization is Lindsey Scott, a year-round Island resident who has a long background in working with children. Mrs. Scott has taught art at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and most recently ran the children’s programs at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. She lives in Chilmark and is married with children of her own.
Why kids for this new philanthropic venture?
“We believe that if you get kids right, then a lot of things follow,” Mr. Swartz said.
“I think the message really resonated with the founders,” Mr. Stanton said. “Many people believe that the best thing to do is invest in the future and if this organization is able to make a seven-figure commitment . . . . I think there is general agreement that many kids are having a rougher go of making it in the world today than earlier generations did. We will probably have some successes and some failures, but we think we are on a good path.”
Ron Rappaport, an Edgartown attorney who has joined the advisory board as its chairman, said one clear goal is to not compete with other existing charitable groups on the Vineyard such as environmental groups, the preservation trust and others. “We hope we are not perceived as a threat,” he said.
MVYouth plans to devote some 25 per cent of funding in the first year to scholarships and the remainder to expansion grants. Grant applications will be accepted in the fall and the group has launched a website (mvyouth.com).
One clear difference with MVYouth is that its mission does not include funding operating budgets. Instead, it aims to fund capital projects and program expansions.
“MVYouth will add capital to organizations ready to take quantum leaps forward,” a press release that went out this week said.
“Fabulous projects that would otherwise remain in the planning stage for years will now get underway as a result of this generous support,” Mr. Rappaport said. “Additionally, organizations will be able to spend less time and resources fundraising for capital programs and will therefore stay focused on their missions.”
In addition to Mr. Stanton, Mr. Swartz and Mr. Rappaport, the board of trustees for MVYouth includes Steve Barnes, Drew Conway, David Fialkow and Mimi Haas. The local advisory board members so far are Meg Bodnar, Brock Callen, Beth Kramer, Brian Mackey, Peg Regan and Mr. Rappaport.
Applications for expansion grants are expected to be due Nov. 15 and announced Feb. 1, 2015. Scholarship applications are expected to be due Feb. 1, 2015, and announced March 15, 2015.
Mr. Swartz underlined the commitment of MVYouth.
“We think it is just the right time. We have 40 people . . . . and the message here is that they absolutely do care,” he concluded.