The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

For the good of New York

by James Leach

For 20 years, Lorie Slutsky ’75 has spent her days getting and giving to make life better in the City of New York.

Only the third president in the 73-year history of The New York Community Trust, Slutsky coordinates the efforts of a 43-member staff that receives charitable gifts from a wide assortment of donors, manages those gifts for the greatest possible return, and distributes the proceeds to address the issues facing New York City.

Beginning as an intern while she was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research, a year out of Colgate, Slutsky worked her way through the chairs at the trust, from program officer, to vice president for special projects, to executive vice president and chief operating officer, to (since 1990) president.

"I have enjoyed every job I’ve had here," she says, "and having given it a fair amount of thought, I haven’t come up with a place that I’d rather work. The New York Community Trust is a fascinating institution, designed to do good, with a pool of money underneath it to support good ideas. Our ability to effect change is limited only by our good ideas and our energy, because we’ve got the money."

At the end of June, the trust’s assets totaled $1.5 billion. It is the largest fund managed by the more than 500 community trusts located primarily in the United States, but also in countries around the world.

First created in the early 1900s to relieve banks of the administrative responsibility of finding the right charities to benefit from the funds the banks held in trust for their patrons, community trusts have developed over the years (and as the result of tax legislation) to become agencies that also receive and manage gifts from living donors that are given in support of the community. The trusts provide donors the maximum tax advantage for their generosity, and experienced staffs and boards research areas where the gifts can be put to the most effective use for the community.

"After the tax reform act of 1969 community trusts began to educate and help living donors in a community give back to that community," Slutsky explains. "Where they once focused on administering charitable bequests and reading wills, community trusts began working with living donors to understand what they wanted. Because there are many people who can set up $5000 funds during their lifetimes, the emphasis on living donors has fueled the growth of community foundations around the country."

The New York Community Trust administers nearly 1,300 individual charitable funds, and works with more than 800 living donors. "There is no typical donor," says Slutsky, "not in New York. Our donors range from the titans of Wall Street to esteemed lawyers to a luggage maker in Queens, a lingerie manufacturer on 26th Street, and a couple of fashion designers from 7th Avenue."

Similarly, the trust’s grants are far-reaching and varied. This year the agency will award 9,000 grants totaling more than $85 million. From seed grants of $100 to multimillion-dollar grants, the trust will assist thousands of non-profit agencies in delivering services that fall in four general categories: children, youth and families; education, arts and humanities; community development and the environment; and health and people with special needs.

A grant to the Doe Fund will provide work experience and training for homeless men. A grant to St. Dominic’s Home will fund a program to prevent substance abuse among foster children. With support from the trust, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity will challenge inequalities in the state’s educational finance system, and the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association will mount a campaign for fair wages and enforcement of labor laws. The University Neighborhood Housing Program can expand its efforts to eliminate lead paint poisoning, Project Reach Youth can extend its HIV-prevention program for immigrant youth in Brooklyn, and Integrated Children’s Services can develop a managed care plan for children and adolescents with serious psychiatric illness — all as the result of support from the trust.

"One of the great things about working at the trust," Slutsky writes in her annual report, "is that we are surrounded by people who do trust: donors who believe that their generosity can make a difference; grantees who are committed to making their programs work; and partners who are willing to try new ideas." They are people, she writes, with a "faith in making New York City a safer, healthier and more caring community."

On the money-getting side, the trust has taken in an average of $165 million in each of the past two years. Through careful management of those funds, the trust has grown from assets of approximately $200 million when Slutsky was an intern, to today’s $1.5 billion.

From the outset, Slutsky’s work has put her in contact with New Yorkers as diverse as the city itself. Her conversation is laced with references to the neighborhoods, to the special problems that face Caribbeans in Brooklyn or Dominicans in northern Manhattan, and she is clearly attuned to the challenges of what she acknowledges is a "city of immigrants." The Statute of Liberty, which has appeared for years on the cover of the trust’s annual report is, says Slutsky, "a wonderful symbol of what this city has meant to people. It’s also what makes this job so interesting."

The scale of New York and the size of its issues puts the trust’s endowment in perspective. When Slutsky joined the trust she made education grants. To this day she sees education as one of the city’s great challenges. But with 1,100 school buildings in a system where one million students speak 89 dialects and languages and the annual budget is $9 billion, Slutsky says, "you have to be strategic about where you spend the dollars. Foundations need to find ways in which they can be even more effective." The trust has organized a group of national and New York City foundations to make multiyear grants that will reintroduce the influence of parents on the public school system, in the way the PTA influenced education before work patterns took both parents out of the home.

The trust is not only a treasure for New York, but a model for community development in other parts of the world. Its headquarters on Park Avenue has become a mecca for international visitors and Slutsky has advised representatives from Mozambique, the Philippines, India, Japan, Eastern Europe and Moscow and other parts of the world on the intricacies of community philanthropy in a democracy.

Lorie Slutsky’s enthusiasm for her work is evident from the moment The New York Community Trust comes into discussion. "I get to see an incredible slice of New York City and I learn something new every day. The donors are all different, the grantees are all different. They come in every size and color from every quadrant of the city. What motivates them to give and what they want to accomplish is fascinating. There is something incredibly personal about what people want to do and why they want to give."