In philanthropy, the willingness to adapt and change is important to funders that want to be more effective in addressing significant social needs.
Over the past year, the board and staff of The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation scrutinized grantmaking practices and refined the focus of our grant programs to have greater impact. The foundation decided to double the size of competitive grants, to continue our focus on education and the arts, and to concentrate our competitive grantmaking in the Triangle region.
In 2018, we will provide $350,000 in competitive funding — up from $82,500 in 2017 — to nonprofits in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties.
In 1956, Mary Duke Biddle, the only daughter of industrialist and philanthropist Benjamin Newton Duke, established the foundation with stock worth just over $100,000. Over the past six decades, the Biddle Foundation’s endowment has grown to $30 million and it has awarded about $43 million in grants. Yet, other than grants to Duke University, which under the foundation's charter receives half its funding, most of our grants have been small, typically $5,000 or less. And because Mrs. Biddle lived in North Carolina and New York, we have funded organizations in both states. Although we valued this history, we decided to assess our grantmaking in order to support nonprofits and their missions more effectively.
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In 2018, the foundation plans to award $175,000 for education and arts education for underserved students in kindergarten through 12th grade and $175,000 to strengthen the region's cultural sector and develop its artistic talent. It is important for all students, particularly the underserved, to have the types of educational experiences that will prepare them for success in the future, whatever type of work or career they do. The arts are essential to strong, vibrant communities, offer personal enjoyment, and give voice to the human condition. And, education and the arts were important to Mrs. Biddle and to her daughter, the late Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, and her late husband, Dr. James H. Semans, who led the foundation for nearly 50 years.
We will double the size of our competitive grants to $10,000, and may make larger grants, possibly over multiple years. We will no longer make competitive grants in New York City or in other parts of North Carolina. The foundation will continue to fund four organizations in the Triangle and one in Winston-Salem it has supported for many years, as well as two churches in New York and one in Durham that were important to Mrs. Biddle.
We will also award $40,000 a year, possibly teaming up with other funders, to help build the organizational capacity of Triangle nonprofits and to support promising initiatives.
Compared to many other philanthropies, the Biddle Foundation is not large. But by being more focused in our grantmaking, increasing the size of our grants, and finding new funding partners, we hope to help Triangle nonprofits be more effective in improving the lives of more people and strengthening the region overall.
Mimi O'Brien is executive director of The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham. Details about the foundation’s new grantmaking focus are available at www.mdbf.org