Trustee Chair's Letter

2018 was a year of transition and continuity for the Altman Foundation. Our longtime Executive Director, Karen Rosa who worked for the Foundation for 32 years has retired. We thank her for her dedication, vision and thoughtful concern for the grantees we funded under her leadership. After 23 years as President, I have transitioned to chair the Board of Trustees. We welcome Deborah Velazquez, who joined the Foundation in 2008, as our 6th President. Her professionalism, experience and deep commitment to New York City prepare her for new approaches as our grantees face uncharted challenges.

This is an historic transition and the Foundation remains committed to a willingness to consider new approaches and take risks yet honor our history of consistent and stable support to some of New York's City's most venerable institutions. As the implications of the present political turmoil in the United States continue to play out among the constituencies the Foundation serves, it is a particularly critical time to remain true to Benjamin Altman’s legacy.

Benjamin Altman - his life, his approach to his business, his generosity - has always been the inspiration for how the foundation he established in 1913 conducts its work. Altman, whose department store was a household word for most of the 20th-century, left a legacy beyond his store -- his two gifts to the people of New York: his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum and the creation of the Altman Foundation, fulfilling his desire to improve the lives of the underserved in the city. His personal giving offers a roadmap in the areas of education, health, strengthening communities and the arts that continue to be the Foundation’s focus today.

New York City in 2019 is very different from the early 20th-century city that Altman knew and loved. He might find our philanthropic world puzzling. His philanthropy was from the heart and driven by his personal interest in New Yorkers in need. Outcomes, evaluations and metrics were not concepts that entered into philanthropic decisions in 1913. Many charities were in a formative stage. Government support and regulation of the organizations he supported were not factors in their financial sustainability. Although a different city, New York’s vibrancy and energy is similar and the needs of many of its citizens are perhaps more urgent.

As a dynamic institution, our challenge is to both evolve as the times require and hold fast to core principles. Our grantees are our partners. Inclusion, diversity, and access have always been central to our mission. Leveraging dollars, looking at program-related investments, collaborating with other philanthropic organizations and the public sector, providing capacity building grants, making multi-year grants and taking risks are some of the creative ways we support grantees in a volatile financial and political environment. High standards of excellence were a hallmark of Benjamin Altman’s personal philosophy and our outcomes approach reflects this value. At the same time, hard-to-quantify aspects of programs or projects remain important considerations. These include governance and the commitment to delivering quality services, as well as the wisdom to change approaches and ways of delivery as times and conditions warrant.

We honor our peers and partners, the philanthropic and not-for-profit organizations that help make our city—with its constantly evolving and changing population—compassionate, effective and vital. Altman trustees and staff will continue to lead this work with foresight and determination to continue Benjamin Altman’s vision and our 106-year history of enriching the quality of life for all New Yorkers. We face the future with hope and energy.

Chair Signature

Jane B. O'Connell
Chair


February 2019

Jane B. O'Connell Jane B. O'Connell

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