By Phillip W. Henderson & Josephine B. Lowman

To get a better understanding of just where the Surdna Foundation sits in the world of family philanthropy, we reached out to Ginny Esposito, the executive director of the National Center on Family Philanthropy. What we heard back was startling. Ginny said that, so far as she could tell, of the foundations established in 1917 or before, Surdna is the third largest, behind the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Of those three institutions, Surdna is the only one that continues to be governed by a majority family board. Yes, there are larger family foundations and older ones, but Surdna’s unique combination of both size and longevity is noteworthy.

We at Surdna are proud to be a family institution, and we are proud to demonstrate that such institutions, contrary to the conventional wisdom that we encounter across the field, CAN AND DO ACHIEVE EXCELLENCE.

We at Surdna are proud to be family institution, and we are proud to demonstrate that such institutions, contrary to the conventional wisdom that we encounter across the field, can and do achieve excellence. We strive to be a world class foundation, not just a world class family foundation. We have learned how to harness the tremendous power brought to the institution by the ardent commitment of our board members, who embody the passion of our founder John E. Andrus and the 400+ living Andrus family members for the work of creating positive social change.

Over the past three years, we have sharpened Surdna’s focus and retooled our programs in an effort to position the foundation to facedown this generation’s social challenges. In doing this work, we took the time to re-examine the core values of the foundation, values that were written down at our founding in 1917, indeed principles that animate the Andrus family to this day: thrift, modesty, loyalty, and compassion.

Issues of Social Justice, of Creating More Sustainable communities, of service to others run deep through the history of the Andrus family and provide constant guidance to the foundation as we adapt to the challenges that lie ahead.

The new programs that emerged from our work to develop a new mission statement—Thriving Cultures, Sustainable Environments, and Strong Local Economies—were launched a little over a year ago and are now hitting their stride. In the past year, we have made major investments in the green economy and green jobs, supported efforts to make existing buildings more energy efficient, assisted communities and policymakers in their efforts to build better and more efficient transit systems, and fostered talented young artists who are critical next generation leaders in their communities. In addition to these ongoing efforts, we have been energized by the exploration and grantmaking our programs are doing in new areas for the foundation, including facilitating the role that artists play as social change agents in their communities, investing in community-driven design efforts to make the places of community more attractive and livable, ensuring that models of fostering inner city and urban entrepreneurship are being developed and shared among communities, and building bridges between the economic development community and the job training community.

Building on this exciting work in our grantmaking fields, we are now focused on what we want Surdna to achieve in the coming five years and what tools we need to facilitate sustained excellent grantmaking and program work. At its core this vision is about achieving the promise of our mission to foster just and sustainable communities.

This includes work at the national level to ensure that sustainability is the byword among federal officials and to ensure that national policymaking truly enables efforts locally, regionally, and nationally to instill sustainability in our communities. This means making sure that new transportation funding leans ever more strongly in the direction of trains, busses, light rail, bike lanes and other non-automobile centric transportation systems. This also means making sure the efforts underway led by the Housing and Urban Development department to fund creative sustainability work in communities across the United States become part of the core work of the federal government rather than experiments that are the first items to be jettisoned when budgetary pressure grows. And it means ensuring that we are truly linking the growth of our metropolitan regions with the growth of the poor inner city neighborhoods at their core, insisting that people in these places don't get left behind as the region around them grows and flourishes.

We are excited about the work ahead of us. Issues of fairness, of social justice, of creating more sustainable communities, of service to others run deep through the history of the Andrus family and provide constant guidance to the foundation as we adapt to the challenges that lie ahead. We are proud to be a family foundation, because we believe the unique strengths of a family foundation— the commitment, the deeply felt values, the strength of the bonds of family and community—have allowed this foundation to reach for excellence. What we have set out to do, helping the development of just and sustainable communities across the U.S., is no small task, but we remain committed to excellence in our work and committed to the idea that a family foundation can do remarkable things.

Phillip W. Henderson
President

Josephine B. Lowman
Chairperson