The following is a conversation between Jay Williams, President and CEO of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving brings together dedicated individuals, businesses, and nonprofits to understand local challenges, share information, and put resources behind solutions into the Hartford region and across the state of Connecticut. This has been a year filled with extraordinary challenges, but opportunities as well.
Welcome to The Business of Giving, Jay!
Jay: Denver, thank you for having me. I’m so pleased and excited and really honored to be here.
Denver: The foundation is coming up on its centennial four- or five years away. Share with us a bit of the history of the Hartford Foundation.
Jay: Certainly. As you mentioned, we are indeed coming up on our centennial anniversary in the year 2025, which means that we were founded in 1925, well before both of our times. But I can tell you that over the course of those 96 or so years, the Hartford Foundation has grown as a direct result of the generosity of our donors, who are very philanthropic, who are very giving of their time, their talent, and their treasure. We now serve 29 towns or communities in the Greater Hartford region, exceptionally placed around the diversity of those towns, both in terms of geography, in terms of the culture, and it poses, as you talked about, both challenges and opportunities.
I joined the foundation almost four years ago, and it was clear that the foundation had done wonderful work, and my predecessors who led the foundation had built a very solid organization. But it was also clear that the board was looking for the foundation to evolve, to lean into its work in a more impactful and measurable way. And I think that that was prescient because we didn’t know that we were going to endure the pandemic that we have all lived through and experienced, or many of us have been fortunate to live through.
So it’s really been an evolution over these past couple of years that has positioned us to be what I’m excited about as we think about our work now and going forward.
Denver: Jay, there are probably a number of listeners out there who don’t really have a clear understanding or appreciation for Hartford, Connecticut. So give us your Chamber of Commerce best about the city and the surrounding area, but also as well as some of those challenges that you just discussed.
Jay: Certainly. And I’m to do this as a relatively recent transplant. So I’m not from New England, and New England has a very long history, so I will ask for some forgiveness. But I can tell you that the city of Hartford was known for a very long time as the “Insurance Capital of the World,” and it still has a significant presence of Fortune 100 and Fortune 50 companies in the insurance and financial services.
What people often don’t know about Hartford and the surrounding region is that it’s also a manufacturing powerhouse. There are defense contractors located here in the area that, again, are global competitors, world-class organizations, and companies that do defense manufacturing and other types of manufacturing. Obviously, New England has a long history in terms of the formation of this country, and that is evident both in the culture and the history that you see in Hartford. And I’m saying Hartford, but I’m talking about the Greater Hartford region.
And you have a central city, which is also the capital of the state of Connecticut, surrounded by beautiful, lush communities, and so that provides a lot of opportunity. But what you also have is a city that has struggled financially and is often cited as one of the poorest capital cities in the country. So the problems are very real, but the tenacity of the folks in the Greater Hartford region is unparalleled. And I can tell you that there is a lot to build on in terms of moving this community forward.
So, the Hartford Foundation is just one of several organizations and institutions that is really looking to contribute to the vibrancy of the community, that is looking to help overcome and mitigate some of those challenges, not the least of which are the dual pandemics: the pandemic of COVID; and the other pandemic that really surfaced – the pandemic of the structural racism that exists in this country. So we found ourselves, I think, well-positioned through collaboration.
But that’s a little bit of the history. I’m sure I didn’t do it justice being from the Midwest; I’m originally from Youngstown, Ohio. But I can say that they’re both cities that have undergone significant challenges, that have a lot to offer, but at the same time, are figuring out a way to continue to play a significant role as core cities in their respective regions.
Denver: Well, I would say that was a perfectly balanced answer. It sounds like you’ve been in politics, Mr. Mayor.
Jay: A little bit.
Denver: I don’t think people also understand the roles of community foundations. So, what specifically would the role of a community foundation like yours be in a metropolitan area like Hartford. What are you doing?
Jay: That’s a great question because broadly– I’ll even take a step back. There are three broad categories of foundations. Corporate foundations, which are, as they sound, corporations that engage in philanthropic activity through a subsidiary they may establish. There are private or family foundations, which again are individuals or families who establish mechanisms to do their philanthropy. And then there are community foundations. We’re a little bit different because community foundations are geographically based. So, that means that the majority of our donations and the majority of our grantmaking, and the other activities that we do happen within a defined geography that is part of the legal structure that we are established under.
We are clearly a nonprofit organization, a charitable organization that allows individuals who choose to be philanthropic, primarily with their financial resources, to donate those resources to us as a community foundation. We invest and steward those resources with an eye toward perpetuity. So, with an eye toward maintaining the spending power of the resources that we’ve been entrusted– those that go into our endowment. But we also have individuals who choose to be philanthropic on a current basis, who want to see their funds put to immediate use.
So, between the revenues generated on the endowment, which is invested for the long-term, and those individuals who give to us who want to see an immediate or shorter-term impact, we are charged with not only stewarding those resources such that they generate a return, but then working and doing grantmaking to nonprofit organizations within the region that are aligned with our current strategic focus.
And I would also say that we do a little bit more than that. We have a capacity-building function to help nonprofits in their effectiveness. We do public policy. And we’re also a convener. So grantmaking is what we’re known for primarily, but those other mechanisms are a part of what we do to try to advance the mission that we have here in our region.
Denver: And that’s really unique of community foundations to be able to bring people together in that kind of capacity.
Well, in times of economic recessions, on the front lines in the foundation world, it has always been community foundations. And that would also hold true for this pandemic. What were some of the ways that the Hartford Foundation responded to COVID-19?
Jay: Listen, Denver. I am humbled by the response from our donors. The fact that as we all experienced this pandemic and touched us in various ways, we were positioned because of the generosity of our donors to partner with our nonprofit agencies. I want to be very clear that they are on the front lines serving, addressing the needs of homelessness or near homelessness, the food insecurity, the acute healthcare needs that arose, the childcare needs, the loss of income.
All of those partners that we have… we were blessed and fortunate to be a recipient of $10 million during the course of that pandemic. Almost $11 million came from individuals, from corporations, from donors. Within two weeks or less of the pandemic being declared such that we needed to be working remotely, we were able to pivot and set up a COVID fund. And we asked and solicited an advisory committee made up of other stakeholders to help inform and shape our grantmaking such that we were able to immediately be getting, putting dollars out on the street to address both the known needs and the needs as they emerge. And again, you talk about the food pantries. When we talked about the immediate need for childcare – broadband, which is now a basic human need, a basic utility as water and electricity are.
So those things were what we were able to do in the short term. And then as the pandemic continued to evolve, we were able to pivot, focus on, again, some of the access to healthcare, some of the business recovery that was needed. We were able to set up a grant program focusing on small minority businesses, and female- and veteran-owned businesses, which have historically been underserved and overlooked, and try to help them keep the lights on. So there were just a variety of things, and I couldn’t be more humbled about the response, again, from our donors, and our partners, and really our staff and our board of directors that allowed us to be a force throughout the year plus that we endured this pandemic.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that when we saw what happened with the murder of George Floyd last year, and how that moved a nation and a world, what it did for us was underscore the fact that we had already centered ourselves on addressing those inequities and disparities that are based in race, place, and income. And it allowed us to start talking about it more with greater clarity, where we now find ourselves strategically committed to dismantling structural racism and increasing social-economic mobility. And that couldn’t have been more present and more important than throughout this COVID pandemic.
We think it’s important to partner with, help strengthen organizations that were born and are rooted in that experience in ways that we still aspire to be, in ways that we will stand alongside them, but recognizing that there is no replacing organizations that are led by Black or Latinx individuals– whose board of directors, whose origins, whose existence is completely around the experience.
Denver: And even all those things you just mentioned were really trying to address the inequities in society – that free child care and those learning hubs, broadband and WiFi, kids are falling farther and farther behind. I know you did that in partnership with Dalio Philanthropies, not to mention with the school district and small business. So you really looked at a couple of focus areas and took them and addressed them.
Picking up a little bit on what Hartford Foundation is doing. You’ve put about $2.5 million to form two foundations that are helping boost opportunities to improve the life of Greater Hartford’s Black and Hispanic communities. Tell us about each of those foundations.
Jay: We’re very excited. In fact, the foundations were already formed, but what we did is make an investment in a notion of The Prosperity Foundation, which was a Black community foundation serving the Black and African American community, and The Hispanic Federation, which is a group of organizations serving to lift up the Latinx community.
And what we realized is that while we have been operating in this space, we have been doing so not with the closeness or the level of expertise of organizations that were birthed out of the Latinx experience or birthed out of the Black experience. We have invested millions of dollars in both the Black and Latinx communities. But that being said, we think it’s important to partner with, help strengthen organizations that were born and are rooted in that experience in ways that we still aspire to be, in ways that we will stand alongside them, but recognizing that there is no replacing organizations that are led by Black or Latinx individuals– whose board of directors, whose origins, whose existence is completely around the experience.
So, to that end, we don’t see them as competitors. We see them as partners. We see them as peers that we want to invest into, that their expertise, their judgment on how to help strengthen and build capacity within those respective communities is something that strengthens all communities… because when you have a stronger Black community, when you have a stronger Latinx community, you have a stronger community writ large.
So those two organizations, that was a commitment that our board made. Couldn’t be more proud of the board’s commitment to that, making a $1 million investment, and not a traditional grant where the wealthy community foundation grants this money and sort of has all these strings attached to it and the expectations. This was a conversation between the Hartford Foundation and TPF, The Prosperity Foundation, and the Hartford Foundation, and The Hispanic Federation.
And then the other half-million dollars went to two organizations that are a part of the Hartford Foundation, our Latino Endowment Fund and our Black Giving Circle, which are comprised of donors who have committed themselves to helping to bring philanthropy into new and different ways, and very participatory philanthropy. So we made a quarter of a million-dollar investment in each of those two internal organizations, but really with the idea of giving them greater independence and insights to bring their time and their talent and their treasure. So collectively, it was $2.5 million, and we couldn’t be more excited about really trying to help continue to strengthen and build the capacity in those arenas.
Denver: Let me get your insight on this, if I can, Jay. I think with these racial disparities that really captured everybody’s attention, more and more funders want to do something and are doing something, but they’re having difficulty with power-sharing. How do you really get into the relationship where you’re sharing the power as opposed to just supporting the cause?
Jay: Great question. And that was exactly how we saw this investment as a step toward that power-sharing. Because when you think about foundations, the power of foundations is often associated with the wealth that they possess, and it requires a degree of humility. It requires a degree of recognition and acknowledgment that we are often in the positions we are because back decades ago, the wealth that was generated was not generated in a playing field that was level.
It was not generated where everyone could bring their best ideas, generate wealth and pass that wealth on. The structures and the systems disallowed, disincentivized, and made illegal, oftentimes, the accumulation of wealth by people of color. And that isn’t an indictment of where people are today, but it requires an acknowledgment of the structural inequities that existed, that allowed wealth to be accumulated and amassed in one community, and robbed and a deficit in another community.
So, in sharing that power, it’s acknowledging that wealth doesn’t mean you know best. It doesn’t mean that you sit in a place of judgment or that you can sit in a place of the old axiom of: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” It’s the antithesis of that. So, it’s not easy, but you’re absolutely right. This isn’t just about – well, we’re willing to support, but when you really want to talk about power-sharing, that makes us uncomfortable so we’re backing away from it. Until and unless organizations get to that point, the change and the equity that we are seeking that is necessary for us to continue to move forward as a country is going to be a struggle.
So I would never acknowledge that it is something that’s just easily done, but I would absolutely insist that it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but a necessary conversation. The steps can and will have to be incremental, but they are undeniable in my opinion when we talk about if we’re really going to reconcile and come to terms with the history of this country, and then try to figure out how to move forward in the most productive and unified way.
Denver: You’re absolutely right. And I think those who have power will give up the power and say “I’ve given it up,” but they really haven’t given it up. They’re not going to know it’s going to take three or four times to say, “Well, you think you have, but you really haven’t.”
Well, you know what, maybe a step in that direction is your Greater Together Community Funds where you’re really… tell us a little bit about those and how that interacts with the community.
Jay: Absolutely. So, as I referenced earlier, we serve 29 communities, and a couple of years ago, we announced after doing a listening tour and having conversations with each of those communities in their town halls, their libraries, their churches, their town squares– really just having a humble conversation about: How can we be a more valuable partner? Where have we come short? Where can we do better?
The idea originated that “Wouldn’t it be wonderful or a powerful tool if these communities could do their own grantmaking?” Again, grantmaking where we would make an initial investment and then follow-up investments, but the decisions on how to grant those funds were vested wholly and completely in volunteer members of committees, making sure that our only requirement with those committees were diverse and inclusive, that they reflected the makeup of their community in a meaningful way. We provided them some guidance on how to do grantmaking in an efficient way. And that’s an ongoing process, but we couldn’t be more excited.
Because of the participatory nature, communities have looked introspectively and realized as they began to set the table, that the table wasn’t as inclusive and diverse as they perhaps thought it would be or wanted it to be. So they’d gone back and made sure that they brought in more voices to the table… When they are in the process of grantmaking, realizing that there are always more demands than there are resources. So how do you prioritize? How do you make sure that the loudest voice isn’t the voice always driving the conversation?
So, more than a dozen of those communities are actually right at the cusp or in the grantmaking. The other dozen are very near, but I can tell you that the feedback that we’ve gotten has been humbling and that these communities have really appreciated an opportunity to help chart their own destiny, to help take a look at introspectively themselves in a way that has been, I think, a learning experience.
And the board’s excited, and we made the initial investment of $100,000 in each of the 29 communities, which is $2.9 million, which isn’t world-changing, but it was also clear that that was just the initial investment, and we see this as an ongoing way to really anchor ourselves in those communities and have them participate in the grantmaking and a power, a way that grants and allows them to exercise power as they see appropriate for their respective communities.
Our mission is about putting philanthropy into action and creating lasting solutions that result in vibrant communities across the Greater Hartford region.
Denver: I applaud that effort. I really love it. And I think number one, they’re probably going to learn that it’s not all that easy when they get involved in it. But number two, we have a lot of best practices in this sector. And I bet we’re going to get some new best practices from people who’ve never been at the table and given the chance to practice. And they’re going to find new approaches that are not only going to help their community, it’s going to inform every community because they’ve approached things from a completely different way.
You mentioned systemic racism before. It was a top priority of the Hartford Foundation. Now, maybe it’s the “top priority” of the foundation. Tell us some of the things you’re doing in that regard.
Jay: That’s a great question. So, right. Our mission remains the same. Our mission is about putting philanthropy into action and creating lasting solutions that result in vibrant communities across the Greater Hartford region. But we also recognize that we can’t do that if there are barriers that are rooted in these inequities, and the racism, and the geographic location, and the socioeconomic stratification. And in doing that, the data demonstrates that these inequities and disparities are adversely impacting communities of color. But we also recognize that we can’t do it alone. We have to operate within our space. We have to operate in a collaborative effort. And we can do it humbly, but we can do it also with an ambition to begin to dismantle that structural racism and increase social-economic mobility in our space.
And some of the ways we’re doing that is by identifying some outcome areas where we believe through our partnerships and through collaboration, we can move the needle. And just very quickly, the five outcome areas have to do with higher opportunity neighborhoods, both within the city of Hartford– increasing the opportunities and the viability of those neighborhoods through partnerships, and in neighborhoods throughout the region for those individuals who might want to live in other communities, where right now, there isn’t necessarily the accessibility or welcomingness that one would want to see in other communities. So the higher opportunity neighborhoods have to do with lower crime, employment, better performing schools, childcare, amenities – the things that we all aspire to have in our neighborhoods.
The second being pathways to employment, particularly for young people of color. And this has to do with both formal education, K through 12, post-secondary education, but also recognizing there are paths to careers that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. It could be a certification, or it could be a path through a community college. How do we begin to ameliorate the barriers that young people of color often face, whether they’re financial, social, or cultural barriers, that ultimately put them in a position to have a skill set that allows them to be gainfully employed and move into a career?
The third outcome area is arts and culture. Arts and culture are the glue that holds a community together. It’s an economic driver. It can be used as a mental and physical and social and emotional health mechanism, helping to ensure citizens have a voice, a table at which to raise their voice and lend their own leadership. So it isn’t just always the usual suspects or those who are a part of the in-crowd that are the ones in the policy-making space.
And then finally, basic human needs, which is a thread that runs through all of those other areas, because if the basic human needs, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, If you’ve got housing insecurity, if you don’t have access to basic health services, all the other things don’t matter until you get those things in order. And particularly, it’s critically important if you’re talking about parents who are trying to provide that for their children.
So those are the five outcome areas and in each of those, the focus is on where the inequities and disparities are rooted in the structural racism that we’ve endured in this country.
The biggest threat to the Hartford Foundation wasn’t whether or not we were going to have an endowment. We’ve got fiscal stewardship and are managing the resources. Our biggest threat was the threat of relevance.
Denver: For sure. And getting back to the beginning of your answer about your mission and how your mission hasn’t changed, but your mission has evolved, and I really find that to be interesting because mission drift has got such a bad connotation. But I’ve had a lot of conversations lately where if you don’t evolve your mission, you could become irrelevant. And it’s not an abandonment, but it’s like you have an ecosystem outside your doors, and if you’re not responsive and tweak a little bit, you’re going to be left behind.
Jay: You are right on point. And that’s exactly where we’re beginning to have that conversation now, about the tweaking of the mission and evolving. The biggest threat, and I said this from day one– the biggest threat to the Hartford Foundation wasn’t whether or not we were going to have an endowment. We’ve got fiscal stewardship and are managing the resources. Our biggest threat was the threat of relevance. Were we going to continue to be relevant and impactful? Or were we going to be this dinosaur that said, “Oh yeah. They give grants. They give out money”? But when you look at the landscape and the needs, and you look at where they are in terms of their mission or their strategic focus, there’s a disconnect there.
So, fortunately, with the board’s blessing and with the collaboration of the leadership team and the entirety of the staff, we have been able to evolve, and that evolution through our strategic focus and the coming evolution of the mission is exactly what you highlighted, which continues to make us a relevant, impactful, humble, but yet ambitious organization in our region.
Denver: And it’s never going to end. It’s just going to keep on going faster and faster. And one other thing on systemic racism, I know that you’re doing something in partnership with the Travelers Championship this summer on police training. Talk about that a little bit.
Jay: Absolutely. Again, and what you talked about, that’s what this is about – collaboration and partnership. The Travelers Championship Foundation, which has been around for a number of years, was very, very thoughtful in terms of how they wanted to collaborate, particularly in this area of the relationship between the law enforcement and the communities of color, specifically our young people.
So through a collaboration with the Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven, the Travelers Championship Foundation, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, we are funding a program that is providing training to frontline police officers in terms of how to engage young people of color in a culturally competent way, not compromising the fact that law enforcement is a necessary part of our communities but moving from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality, a guardian of communities.
And that guardianship is a collaborative effort. It requires collaboration on both sides. We are pleased that many of the police chiefs in our region have signed on to this. That it is not being perceived as an us-versus-them mentality, but rather being seen as a collaborative approach. And it is being championed and headed by an individual who happened to be a former police officer. So, in that regard, the expertise of that individual, the expertise of the Tow Youth Justice Institute, and with the generosity of the Travelers Championship Foundation along with our donors, we’re excited about that and believe that that can also be a model for other communities, and police officers throughout the state of Connecticut really are excited about that prospect.
Denver: Wow. That’s a great program. I want to keep my eye on that. You have a 10-year-old son. Have you sat down and had a talk with him about the police?
Jay: I do. It is an ongoing conversation. And knowing my own experiences growing up as an African American, I can tell you that even as the Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio– and I appointed a police chief and oversaw all of the safety forces– I still talk about the discomfort that I had walking into the police department as mayor, not because any particular officer had done something, but just because of the historic relationship. I would share the nervousness that I would have when a police car would pull up behind me — Was my seatbelt on? Was I doing all the right things? And it wasn’t because I had committed any infraction.
So yes, the conversation with my son is necessary. I would love to get to a point where fathers or mothers or guardians need not have to have that conversation with sons and daughters of color, but it is absolutely necessary. And it’s a tough conversation because he doesn’t fully understand why if he’s not doing anything wrong, why he has to be extra, extra vigilant… why something that might be innocuous with a group of his friends with him could turn into something much more tragic.
So, imagine at 10 years old, trying to make those subtle nuances and differences. And at the end of the day, saying, “Listen, at some point, son, Ethan, you’re going to be 16. You’re going to be in a car with your friends. Something’s going to happen. And I need you to know how you need to conduct yourself, which might seem overly cautious and over the top, but unfortunately, in our society, is still necessary.”
Denver: And I can understand that, too. I mean, as a dad, you don’t want to dispel the innocence of a young child who’s only 10 because we know how tough the world is, and they’ll find out soon enough. But they don’t find out soon enough. You have to really alert them to it.
Let me get your take on donor-advised funds. That’s always a big, controversial issue. I think donor-advised funds, I think the increase at community foundations was up like 41% over this past year. But then you also hear they’re sitting on pots of money and stuff like that. So let me have you put your mayor’s hat back on and tell me what your take on donor-advised funds are.
Jay: Absolutely. Listen, I think donor-advised funds, DAFs, are an important tool, and clearly, I’m biased. At community foundations, we do not typically have the type of activity that has become a criticism of those who are saying that donor-advised funds are being used as havens to just sit on significant amounts of resources, to take an immediate tax benefit, but not provide immediate benefit to the community.
Our donor-advised funds, just both as a matter of course, but as a matter of our practice, we do not allow for them to be inactive for an extended period of time. Our development staff is constantly in communication with our donors. When we see that a DAF Fund has not made distributions in a prescribed period of time, we are very proactive in engaging and in encouraging the donor to ensure that those funds are being deployed. If they aren’t finding inspiration, we try to provide that inspiration. If they are saying we just need some, a little time or guidance… it’s a regular conversation.
Because what you see sometimes with the commercial DAF funds or the private foundations is that the distributions aren’t necessarily being made with a degree of regularity. So, some people say it’s a distinction without a difference, but I disagree. It is important to distinguish community foundations and their DAFs versus some of the other distributions from a private foundation.
So is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But do I want to see community foundations punished or penalized or put in a difficult position because of the behavior of perhaps what’s going on on the private side? No. I do think that it’s important that we raise that, that we point out where we’ve been successful, that we acknowledge that certainly there can be some improvement, but that we don’t sort of throw the baby out with the bathwater to put us all in one broad category of criticism.
Denver: Got it. You announced pretty recently, I guess, it was a new structure to maximize the foundation’s impact in the community. That’s really caught my eye. Tell me what are some of the things you’re doing to optimize that impact?
Jay: So, we had an internal realignment that really saw what was previously known as our community investment division, now referred to as our community impact division, both in terms of marrying that with our research and evaluation.
So the young lady, the woman who oversees that, Elysa Gordon has historically been involved and had overseen our learning and evaluation. But now, having her and her team– she, individually, but then she has a leadership team– marry our community impact, which are our grantmaking, our capacity building, our public policy, and our learning and evaluation into an absolutely dynamic team. And we believe that it will allow us to learn more quickly and more effectively about what works and what doesn’t. And then how do we make adjustments or tweaks, that allows us to report back to our stakeholders, our donors, our board, our community partners in a way that we hope they will find useful? It integrates our capacity building and aligning that with our strategic outcomes.
So that realignment, I think, puts the tools that we have in our quiver. And that includes our traditional grantmaking tools. It includes our impact and investing subsidiary, HFPG Impact! Greater Hartford that we formulated a couple of years ago, and really, I think, aligns us in a way that hopefully, again, gets to that meaningful, measurable impact that ultimately, at the bottom line, keeps us relevant and potent as we move forward in the coming years.
Denver: Jay, what’s been the toughest, most difficult decision you’ve had to make since the beginning of the pandemic, and how did you go about making it?
Jay: Boy, that’s a great question. And first of all, let me credit the staff because the staff and the board who– the board in this pandemic really helped to empower the grantmaking to be more so done at the staff level. Again, at my level here, recognizing the need to be very nimble. I’m sure that there have been multiple difficult decisions when it comes to resource allocation. There are always, again, more demands– appropriate, authentic, bonafide demands– for funding than we are able to provide basically, based on just the limited funding.
So I’m not sure of one that jumps out particularly, but I know that in the height of the pandemic, nonprofits were having to close their doors because of the lack of funding. And we could not fund every request that came in. So, for those that we were unable to fund, those nonprofits that did not emerge from the pandemic, that’s heartbreaking because they were serving a niche or a need in the community. So, I think just the collective notion that we were not able to fund all the things that came in.
I certainly know that we all struggled with the learning loss that the students, particularly the Hartford Public School System experienced, which has a wonderful superintendent, but with enormous challenges. So I know that there was a period where there were a number of the students…they were just having difficulty getting them accounted for in terms of signing on online because they were no longer in class at the height of the pandemic.
So decisions around how to try to improve that are always difficult. There’s a personal element in that that we know a lot of the staff wrestled with. So I think that that’s just something that we continue still to try to figure out how to be the best partner we can to the Hartford Public School District and all of the other alliance school districts.
Leadership and knowledge isn’t vested in a position or a title. People bring their lived experiences, their expertise, their passion to an organization.
Denver: Having gone through this past year with the challenges that you faced, how has that informed your leadership? And how do you think you’re going to come out of this as a different leader going forward than you were going in?
Jay: Well, let me talk about the organization. I think the most important thing as a leader is to empower those who he or she or they need, to ensure that they have the resources and support necessary that they can bring their best selves. We are going to emerge out of this pandemic as a stronger, more nimble, more relevant, and impactful organization. I have no doubt about it. We would have never picked this path to emerge as a stronger organization.
Denver: This wasn’t the plan.
Jay: This wasn’t the plan. The plan was to evolve over the course of the next year, but the reality was we needed to pivot and evolve over the course of several weeks and just a handful of months. And while we wouldn’t have chosen to do it this way, we were fortunate to be able to take advantage of the circumstances and emerge more relevant, more impactful, more nimble. A more learned organization. A more ambitious organization, but a more humble organization. Now, I don’t see ambition and humility being mutually exclusive ideas. I think that in that humility, we still are more committed to the community than we’ve been. And I say that because I think we’re more well-equipped to serve the community.
So, as a leader, I try to be more empathetic, more appreciative of those individuals on my leadership team who I’m fortunate to be surrounded with and the individuals that are on their respective teams. And leadership and knowledge isn’t vested in a position or a title. People bring their lived experiences, their expertise, their passion to an organization. And for that, I am exceptionally grateful. And the board support, the donor support. But I am, as we emerge out of this, we are better off having gone through this than we would have otherwise been.
I would like people to say that the Hartford Foundation that is now 100 years old is built upon a significantly different Hartford Foundation than when it started in 1925, because it is leading on issues of dismantling structural racism. It is amongst the most ambitious of community foundations in the country but also having a sense of humility, that it learns in collaboration in ways that are meaningful and impactful.
Denver: All right. Let me close with this, Jay, then, and ask you to crystallize what you just said by asking you: What do you want to say about, and what do you want people to say about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving on the anniversary of your centennial in 2025?
Jay: I would love for people to say that this is an organization that matters. It matters more now than it has over its past 100 years. And that’s taking nothing away from all of the accomplishments that have occurred over that past century, but that we would now have put this pandemic in our rear-view mirror, and it would be three- or four years behind this at our 100th anniversary.
And that while I’d like to think that we would have resolved this notion of structural racism, the pragmatic side of me imagines we’ll probably still be wrestling with it. But I would like people to say that the Hartford Foundation that is now 100 years old is built upon a significantly different Hartford Foundation than when it started in 1925, because it is leading on issues of dismantling structural racism. It is amongst the most ambitious of community foundations in the country, but also having a sense of humility, that it learns in collaboration in ways that are meaningful and impactful.
So people can say that this is not the Hartford Foundation of a hundred years ago, but in a way that excites them, that inspires them, that has us talked about even beyond our region because the things that we’re doing within the Greater Hartford region have relevance in other similar situated places – I will be pleased. They don’t have to remember my name, who I was, anything that I did, but if they know that this is an organization that is spoken of in that light, I think that we’ll have done our service to this community well.
Denver: Reminds me of that old Oldsmobile commercial, which says “This is not your great-grandfather’s Hartford Foundation.”
Jay: Absolutely. That’s it.
Denver: For listeners who want to learn more about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, tell us a little bit about your website and the kind of information they will find there.
Jay: Absolutely. Our website is hfpg.org. So the first letter of our name — hfpg.org. You will see there hopefully a dynamic presentation of what we are currently involved in in terms of our strategic plan. You will see an announcement of our recent launch… or our soon-to-be launch, Our Action Fund for Racial Justice. You’ll see those outcome areas.
And what you’ll see, and I hope enjoy, our pictures of our donors and the wonderful, diverse, and talented staff and board of directors that we have. And you will see something hopefully that will inspire you if you are in our region to contact and reach out to us. And if you’re not in our region, to contact and reach out to your local community foundation. Because although clearly, I’m biased and leading the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, there are hundreds of community foundations. Every community in this country is covered by a community foundation somewhere. So, if you don’t know, look it up and reach out to them.
Denver: Well, thanks, Jay. Or maybe I should say Jay Williams so people don’t forget your name. It was such a pleasure to have you on the program.
Jay: The pleasure is mine. I’m honored, and thank you for everything that you do. And I look forward to continuing to see the success of you and this program, Denver.
Denver: Thank you very much, Jay.
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