Thinking Big & Bold: How the Kendall Foundation Is Transforming New England’s Food System

By Mary Anthony, 1772 Foundation

In late summer of last year, Andy Kendall put foot to pedal on a Trek bicycle in Portland, Oregon. Forty days and 4,000 miles later, he rolled into Portland, Maine. At the 1772 Foundation, we were not surprised to learn of his feat: a two-wheeled version of the significant accomplishments he has made at the Boston-based Henry P. Kendall Foundation. Though established in 1957, this foundation crackles with the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up company.

Five years before the cross-country trek, Andy and his staff began to put pedal to the metal to meet monumental challenges in the New England regional food system. We have been following Kendall’s success with great interest as he exemplifies what we believe are the best qualities of effective, dynamic philanthropy.

UMass dining hallOne of the best examples of Kendall’s impact is at UMass Amherst where the foundation is behind a bold transition, made possible by one of the many strategic food system grants they have made throughout New England. This campus has a total food budget of more than $21 million. With help from the Kendall Foundation, they have made a firm commitment to sourcing food thoughtfully, using local whenever possible, with back-up defaults to regional sources and those using “sustainable, humane and organic sources.” This effort resulted in a 38% increase in local sustainable food purchases by the largest university in Massachusetts.

This project and others funded by Kendall exemplify the aspects of dynamic philanthropy that we try to emulate:

Food VisionVision with a strong footing. Recognizing the merits of, and providing support for, a report entitled A New England Food Vision, Kendall Foundation embraced the vision of “50 by 60” (from Food Solutions New England). That is, by 2060, 50% of New England food will come from New England. This document is a thorough, pragmatic look at what it will take to reach that goal in terms of acres of farmland, types of food, dietary requirements, etc.

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After 400 Requests for Funding, We Refined Our Grantmaking Goals in These 4 Steps

By Mary Anthony, 1772 Foundation

Ever thought about doing an in-house “quick and dirty” strategic plan for your giving? To be honest, I hadn’t either. But after receiving 400 requests for funding in the first year after establishing an additional focus of sustainable agriculture and food systems work, we knew we had to do something.

The requests covered a wide array of projects: urban farming, barn restoration, new farmer training, heritage breeds protection, food hub development, and farmer’s market development, to name just a few. Clearly, we had to narrow this down to a field in which we could work diligently over time to make a real impact. Because it was just one segment of our granting portfolio, and not our main focus of historic preservation, we decided to tackle the process of narrowing this field ourselves.

Using a very practical, measured approach (and avoiding as many strategic planning buzzwords as possible), we were able to develop a focused plan for the sustainable food systems segment of our granting. We engaged in the following process:  

1. We asked trustees individually about desired impact:

  • Why does this field of interest matter?
  • What is the change you would like to see in the world within this focus area? (invoke Magic Lamp if needed)
  • What would success look like?
  • Who are the “thought leaders” or stakeholders in this field you would like interviewed?
  • Which programs or organizations do excellent work in this area?

2. We compiled all the answers and sent a “ballot” to all trustees asking them to choose the three they felt were most important. We tallied results and sent them back out to trustees. 

3. We chose 5-10 “stakeholders” to interview based on results of the trustee survey. We asked the stakeholders: What will it really take to make these desired changes happen? Is it foundation money, or is it something else? We compiled the information gleaned from the stakeholder interviews and sent the results to trustees.

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