Earlier this year, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation announced a $3 million grant to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to support the development of a new community space and provide free admission every Sunday for residents.
The donation, part of the museum’s $150 million expansion project, suggests that maybe — just maybe — museums are taking a turn. Instead of considering the existential threats induced by the pandemic on the ground, perhaps we can finally return to the debate about how donors can best support thriving cultural institutions, including the fruits of their efforts to improve access and risks of major investment projects.
At the same time, the announcement, which came six months after the foundation gave $50 million to the Cleveland Orchestra, served as a reminder of an important lesson we learned from the depths of the pandemic, one that may well serve the philanthropy in the future – that is, the importance of humble, local funders whose working-class support has sustained local organizations throughout the current crisis.
The Mandel Foundation falls squarely into this category. It may not be a household name, but it has been a major player in the Cleveland area for nearly 70 years, focusing on areas such as leadership development, nonprofit management , higher education, Jewish education and urban renewal. It has disbursed around $110 million in support in 2021, split almost evenly between the US and Israel.
As an operating foundation, Mandel operates its own programs and services, such as the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence and the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, rather than soliciting, evaluating, and granting applications. non-profit organizations in a structured way. President and CEO Dr. Jehuda Reinharz told me that this approach “gives us the opportunity to ensure that our programs operate in the spirit of the foundation’s mission.” As we’ll see, the foundation also partners with universities and organizations in fields such as health and humanities to “change the way a particular institution works for the better,” Reinharz said.
A fortune of auto parts
In 1940, three brothers – Jack, Joe and Mort Mandel – founded the Premier Automotive Supply Company, which later became one of the world’s leading distributors of industrial parts and electronic components. In 1953, they established the Mandel Foundation with a mission to help “prosper the United States and Israel as just, inclusive, compassionate, and democratic societies, and to improve the quality of life for all citizens of both countries”. In 1990, the foundation launched the Mandel Foundation-Israel.
Reinharz was born in Haifa, in what is now Israel, in 1944. He received his master’s degree in medieval Jewish history from Harvard University in 1968 and his doctorate. in Modern Jewish History from Brandeis University in 1972. He later taught and served as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Brandeis before becoming its President in 1994. It was during this time that Reinharz got to know Morton Mandel.
Reinharz joined the board of the Mandel Foundation in 2005. Four years later, Reinharz announced that he would step down as chairman of Brandeis. In 2010, the Mandel Foundation named him its new president. Reinharz assumed the role on January 1, 2011.
Leadership Development and Humanities
Reinharz explained to me the board’s interest in increasing the effectiveness of an institution’s operations and how this plays out in one of its priority areas, leadership development.
He noted that when a leader leaves a position, his superiors usually conduct an expensive national or international search for a replacement, given the lack of suitable internal candidates. When this research drags on in areas such as health care, it can lead to undesirable outcomes for patients. “Many people in the healthcare field are not trained to be leaders,” Reinharz said. “How do you run a department? How do you hire people? How do you manage daily operations? Many hospitals do not train interior professionals.
To bridge this gap, the foundation gave $23 million to the Cleveland Clinic’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Global Leadership and Learning Institute to prepare leaders around the world to address future challenges in health care delivery. The donation also created the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Global Leadership and Learning Pathway, a training initiative housed within the Mandel Institute that supports Cleveland Clinic’s top performing caregivers and nurtures them for future leadership roles. .
The foundation’s other top priority is to advance the humanities. In 2015, he donated $5.6 million to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to establish the Morton L. Mandel Program for Civic Discourse and Membership Engagement. The donation, which aimed to provide more opportunities for fellows to exchange knowledge and advance new ideas, was the largest in the academy’s 235-year history. “A lot of the world is interested in science, which is obviously very important,” Reinharz said, “but we believe that without the humanities, whatever field you’re in, you’ll never be successful. fully.”
Measure the impact
Reinharz told me that the board’s decision to partner with an institution often depends on the strength of that institution’s leadership. “It’s almost an unwritten law,” he said. “We need to trust leaders to not only communicate what matters to us, but also to make it happen on their campuses.” To ensure maximum impact, foundation staff make site visits and speak with the leaders of the institution and those who do the work. Institutions are also required to submit annual reports.
Like other funders working in the field, Reinharz acknowledges that the humanities can be “a much more complicated field to assess with absolute certainty.” As a result, Reinharz and his team hold in-depth discussions with the leaders of partner institutions to determine the effectiveness of a program, looking at how the money was spent and how the intended audiences benefited.
Let’s say a student participated in one of the foundation’s scholarship programs and said the experience was life-changing. Reinarz and his team are also concerned about what’s next. “What did you do with it?” ” he said. “How did you use the knowledge you acquired? What is the difference between what you have done and what existed before? He called this process “messy,” “long,” and “subjective,” but also absolutely critical in helping staff determine the value of their programs and identify areas for improvement.
Recent Big Giveaways
This all brings me back to the foundation’s $3 million gift to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Community Space, scheduled to open in 2024, will be located in the museum’s new education wing and will offer “a one-of-a-kind installation and museum experience that centers the visitor and illustrates the processes biological and planetary”. in a dynamic, non-linear and immersive way.
Reinharz told me that the museum approached the foundation for help. Given the foundation’s longstanding interest in the humanities, he noted that readers might find it odd that the board makes a grant to advance science. But the donation aligned with the foundation’s mission in two key ways.
First, of course, the museum is based in Cleveland. Additionally, the grant, which also funded free admission for residents of Cleveland and East Cleveland beginning in January, aligns with the foundation’s urban engagement work. “We insisted that about a third would be used to allow free entry to the museum for the next three years, to see how it works,” Reinharz said. “It is part of our interest to have an educated population. He noted that attendance has “jumped up dramatically” since the policy was enacted in January.
Reinharz mentioned two other donations that may not seem to fit the foundation’s mission. The first was the $50 million donation to the Cleveland Orchestra. The orchestra “is considered one of the best orchestras in the country, and probably one of the best in the world, but it has a very small endowment,” he said. And so the foundation earmarked $31.5 million of last year’s $50 million grant — the largest in the orchestra’s 104-year history — for endowment purposes. The rest of the support aligned with its urban engagement work by funding and expanding the orchestra’s programs and partnerships.
And last July, the foundation gave DigitalC, a nonprofit wireless internet provider, $18 million to bridge the digital divide by providing internet access to households in Cleveland’s underprivileged communities. “We felt it was important to build an educated citizenship because when families don’t have access to the internet, especially during COVID, their children can’t keep up with schoolwork and parents can’t take care of things. job,” Reinharz said.
Advice to association leaders
Reinharz encourages leaders to articulate a path to self-sufficiency in their discussions with funders. He provided a hypothetical example that the Mandel Foundation would commit to a six-year grant on the condition that after the fourth year the organization would begin to pay some of the program expenses and become fully self-sufficient upon the expiration of the grant.
It also recognizes that this approach may not be feasible for all nonprofits during a global pandemic. That said, the idea of getting organizations to fend for themselves resonates with the foundation’s board. “To my knowledge, no foundation – and I admit there may be exceptions – wants to fund a particular entity forever,” he said. “It’s much more exciting for us if we can help an organization change course and grow on its own.