The Cleveland Foundation

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 10, No 2 (Fall 1999)


The Cleveland Foundation, founded in 1914, is the nation's oldest community foundation. In 1998, the Foundation's assets totaled $1.5 billion and it made grants totaling $47 million.

Grants are made to organizations serving Greater Cleveland in the areas of arts and culture, economic development, education, health, neighborhoods and housing, and social services. Its priorities in arts and culture are (as taken from the Foundation's web site) “strengthening selected arts groups through the BASICS program, supporting effective arts education, improving awareness of the value of the arts, and expanding access to and participation in the arts.”

According to senior program officer Kathleen Cerveny, the Cleveland Foundation has been fortunate in not having had to do an enormous amount of fundraising in its long history. However, within the past two years the Foundation has begun to focus intensively on donor development. One factor contributing to the shift is the prolonged upward surge of the market and the opportunity it presents vis-à-vis individuals of wealth. Additionally, the Foundation recognizes it must now compete with other services being developed to serve wealthy individuals, most notably by the commercial sector.

This has led to some unstated tension within the nonprofit community, with some seeing the Foundation as a new source of competition for scarce funds. A number of Cleveland's major institutions were established at about the same time as the Foundation. These institutions have their own endowments, which are not held by the Foundation. The Foundation's strategy is to downplay the competitive aspect by emphasizing that the resources it raises are for the good of the community as a whole and that all organizations benefit when the climate for giving is enhanced.

Funding for arts and culture at the Foundation has seen dramatic growth over the past five years. The base for discretionary or strategic grantmaking is around $3 million, although grantmaking has gone as high as $7 million on occasion. The increase has been true for all grantmaking areas. Rather than dramatically increase its core grantmaking, the Foundation has chosen to create special initiatives in each program area so as to have a significant impact in a strategic area.

One such special initiative in arts and culture is a stabilization initiative (the BASICS Program) whereby the Foundation has allocated $10 million over five years to help strengthen seventeen organizations with whom it has long-standing relationships. Many of the groups have received annual funding for over twenty years and provide important, high-quality services for the community. All are currently facing significant challenges.