President's Message

president's message

January 31, 2017 - This year, Berkshire Taconic turns 30 years old. While this marker may not carry as much celebratory weight as a 10th, 25th or 50th anniversary would, it is a milestone nonetheless and an opportunity to take stock: What have we accomplished? What have we learned? And most importantly, what is most compelling about our mission today as we create a vision to guide the foundation? 

In this spirit, I want to highlight our area fund program—which consists of funds focused on specific geographies in our region, from single towns to entire counties—and how this program reflects the foundation’s mission and values.   

First, some context. The purpose of Berkshire Taconic is to bring together people and resources to address critical issues. Charitable resources provide the fuel to take care of people in need, for students to go to college, for nonprofits to succeed and creative ideas to take root. Combined, these charitable resources—and the donors and community leaders behind them—are a powerful catalyst for good in the region. 

Creating a community foundation to fulfill this purpose was the vision of our founder, Bob Blum, a longtime Salisbury resident and philanthropic leader. Over the years, this vision has been carried forward by countless volunteers and staff and it has inspired thousands generous donors, resulting in over $125 million in grants and scholarships from the foundation’s over 550 funds, which in total have just over $130 million in charitable resources.  

For understandable reasons, we are motivated to give back here in our local communities, where we have a strong affinity for our neighborhoods and the people in them. Area funds provide that place-based connection. They exist to serve communities in close proximity that share common histories, geographies, school districts and local economies. 

Local residents serve on area fund committees and lead efforts to build charitable resources and make grants, most often through a competitive process but also through targeted initiatives, using their deep knowledge of their communities and connections to benefit the local nonprofit sector. Area fund committees are core partners of Berkshire Taconic. They make our mission relevant and vibrant on the local level and, at the same time, they work together to lift our entire region. 

Through our area funds, our aim is to engage all residents in building permanent charitable resources to strengthen their communities, now and in the future. Everyone can truly be a philanthropist, since gifts range from $5 to $5 million and each is valued and recognized. This is grassroots community philanthropy at its best and in many ways the heart and soul of the community foundation. If philanthropy is sometimes viewed as a highbrow term, its meaning – the love of humanity -- reflects the true purpose of these funds. Through them, we can take a longer-term view to address underlying issues and solve problems, and the build off our communities’ assets rather than lament the challenges all communities and regions must face. 

The first funds of this kind, the Our Town Fund for Chatham and New Lebanon, N.Y., and the Adams (Mass.) Fund, were established in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Margery Barrett, a former schoolteacher, started the fund for Adams and the Chatham fund was launched by the indomitable Lael Locke, a longtime community leader, Berkshire Taconic Board member and the longest-serving Fund for Columbia County committee member when she stepped down in 2016 after 17 years of service. While our past and future area fund honor roll is too long to list, it would certainly include the following community leaders:  

  • Wendy Curtis from Millerton, who as a Berkshire Taconic board member provided tireless leadership to spread the area fund concept and was instrumental in starting the Northeast Dutchess Fund. 
  • The Hardman Family from North Adams, Mass. The families of James A. Hardman, Jr. and Robert Hardman established the James and Robert Hardman Fund to honor the memory of these two exemplary citizens, descendants of the earliest settlers of the area. For over 100 years, the Hardman family owned and published the North Adams Transcript. James and Robert were the last members of the Hardman family to carry on this long and honorable family tradition.
  • Janet André Block from Salisbury, who saw the need for more capacity-building support for area nonprofits from her involvement in the Northwest Corner Fund committee. Over 10 years ago, Janet worked with the committee to design and fund (along with two other area funds) the Nonprofit Leadership Institute, an innovative leadership development program for nonprofit boards and executive directors that has supported dozens of nonprofit leaders across our region. Berkshire Taconic’s experience with the Nonprofit Learning Program helped strengthen the programming through our Center for Nonprofit Excellence, which provides a suite of leadership development and capacity-building programs to our nonprofit partners around the region. 
  • Ellen Boyd from West Stockbridge is leading our effort to reset the South Berkshire County Fund and committee as the area fund that recently received a $3 million dollar bequest. The South County Fund serves 16 communities in Berkshire County south of Pittsfield. Ellen, who also sits on the community foundation board, represents the next generation of leadership and we are intentionally seeking to engage mid-career and younger residents on this new committee.  
In total, Berkshire Taconic has 11 area funds that cover our entire region, with the exception of Pittsfield and the adjacent community of Lansborough. Together, these 11 area funds hold $16.5 million in charitable resources. 

It’s a priority this year to assess the feasibility of establishing a Pittsfield area fund, recognizing that the community is well-served by one of the strongest United Ways in the state, as well as generous corporations and private foundations. We are looking at what value a Pittsfield-based effort can bring in the context of this philanthropic landscape, and what opportunities may exist to build new charitable resources to complement existing resources to strengthen the community. 

As we chart Berkshire Taconic’s strategic course at the start of its third decade, the input and active involvement of area fund chairs and committees will be critical, both to tap what they know about their communities and to partner with them on identifying issues that cut across our entire region. Area funds must continue to focus on local impact. At the same time, we will explore how they may be able to increase their impact by aligning a portion their activities in ways that benefit entire region’s civic and economic vitality. 

Peter Taylor