In 1999, George and Jane Russell sold the Frank Russell Company, a global investment advisory firm based in Tacoma, Washington, to Northwestern Mutual, the Fortune 500 insurance business. With that liquidity event, the Russells converted what had once been the company’s corporate foundation into a full-fledged family philanthropy. The Russells saw the Russell Family Foundation as a way for their extended family to make a quiet, positive impact in the community. With assets of nearly $150 million, the Foundation sponsors three grantmaking programs, each targeting a different geographical area and theme: the George F. Russell, Jr. Fund works globally on peace and security issues; the Environmental Sustainability program focuses regionally in western Washington on environmental education and green business; and Jane’s Fund supports local grassroots leadership and selected nonprofit organizations in Pierce County. It is Jane’s Fund, established to honor the memory of Jane T. Russell, Foundation co-founder, which demonstrates the Russell Family Foundation’s qualities of embedded philanthropy.
For several years, Chapin Hall has been working with a group of foundations that have an uncommon approach to their philanthropic mission. These foundations are applying many of the principles identified as key for foundations attempting to promote positive community change. We have dubbed their operating style embedded philanthropy because what distinguishes them from conventional philanthropies is an unusually intimate and enduring engagement with the communities in which they live and work. A long-term, place-based commitment is the first criterion for embedded philanthropy. A second criterion is a commitment to direct and ongoing community engagement and relationships with a range of community actors. Thirdly, embedded funders don’t think of these relationships as incidental or secondary aspects of their community work; they constitute the very means and method through which embedded funders do philanthropy. Finally, whether or not monetary grants are part of an embedded funder’s approach, their community engagement and change efforts consist of a good deal more than grant-making. Beyond these four defining features, embedded funders tend to share several other characteristics: an unusually flexible and adaptive approach to their work; a high tolerance for uncertainty; an emphasis on respect and reciprocity in their approach to community relationships; and a willingness to sacrifice a measure of the power and authority that foundations ordinarily possess. In a philanthropic climate of growing eagerness for new perspectives and departures, embedded philanthropy deserves greater attention from the wider philanthropic community. Its distinctive operating approach offers novel insights and leverage on the challenges and dilemmas faced by all philanthropic foundations.
- Northern America