Profiles of GIA Members

UNUM Foundation

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Kathleen Cerveny

The UNUM Foundation operates as a private foundation supporting organizations in the Greater Portland (Maine) area. The foundation has six target areas of interest: aging, disability, education, family issues, AIDS, and economic development and the arts. It is funded by the UNUM Corporation, the world leader in disability insurance and among the world's leading special risk insurers. The UNUM Foundation was established in 1969. The original corporate entity was the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company, founded 150 years ago this year. The company name became UNUM in 1986.

UNUM has always supported the arts, but in 1992 the foundation began to apply a more strategic focus to all its grantmaking. It wanted to target its giving to add the greatest value — both to the community and to the organizations it supported. After conversation with the cultural community in Portland, UNUM developed an “arts and economic development” strategy for its cultural grantmaking.

UNUM supports projects that help the arts improve or enhance the economic development of Portland and the quality of life of its citizens, and it responds to projects that help organizations build their own internal capacity to better sustain themselves. Within these overarching objectives, UNUM has no restrictions on the kinds of projects it will consider. The foundation has supported efforts as diverse as a Young Playwrights contest, a capital campaign to bring the Maine College of Art into downtown Portland, and a strategic plan for the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance — the local arts council.

Proposals are reviewed against four criteria. 1) Investment. Does the project get to the core of a problem and present a sustainable solution? 2) Participation. Do the people affected have a role in the solution? 3) Communication. Does the request have clear objectives that meet the foundation's priorities? 4) Accountability. How will success of the project be measured?

While the foundation does not generally support operating costs, it will consider such requests if there is a compelling strategic reason. It is willing to consider renewal of support for organizations and projects it has funded before, but does not see itself as a permanent funder of any program or institution.

The foundation has a commitment to the community that helps make its business a success. UNUM's grantmaking in 1997 totaled nearly $1.7 million. On an annual basis, about 25 percent of UNUM's grantmaking supports its arts and economic development strategy and its other economic development philanthropic interests. In 1997 this was $350,000. In addition to its strategic grantmaking, UNUM has a matching gift program for its employees and a scholarship program. Matching gifts amounted to over $147,000 in 1997 and scholarship grants were about $55,000.