The Overbrook Foundation was established in New York in 1948 by Helen and Frank Altschul. The Foundation took its name from Overbrook Farm, the Altschul family home in Stamford, Connecticut.
In its early years under the leadership of Helen and Frank, the Foundation demonstrated a commitment to education (in particular, Columbia University, Yale University and Barnard College); health; human and civil rights; international relations; cultural, civic and social institutions in and around New York; Jewish causes and institutions; and the arts. The diversity of the Foundation’s grantmaking was a reflection of the broad interests and commitments to philanthropy of Helen and Frank. Among other notable accomplishments as philanthropists and citizens, Frank was a founding member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Helen is credited with leading the drive to put Barnard College on sound financial footing during her many years as a Barnard director. Both Helen and Frank served on innumerable boards and were recognized by their peers for their philanthropy and as pillars in New York civic society.
With the passing of Helen and Frank in the early 1980s, leadership of the Foundation fell to their three children, Arthur Altschul, Margaret Lang and Edith Graham as well as several of their grandchildren. The estates of Helen and Frank created the Foundation’s initial endowment of approximately $45 million. Between the mid-1980s and 2000, these directors continued support for many of the institutions and causes favored by the founders and began developing an Overbrook focus on environmental issues.
During this same period, the Foundation’s portfolio grew significantly. Directors recognized that the Foundation was evolving into a significant family philanthropy and began a systematic review of its mission, values, programs, governance and management. This led to a decision in 2001 to engage professional staff to further the Foundation’s development under direction of a Board of Directors now made up of three generations of family and one non-family member. With professional staff now in place, the Foundation continued its shift from making grants driven by individual board and family interests to a focus on defined program areas with clear strategies and intended outcomes.
Overbrook is now managed by its President and CEO and his seven-member staff. It remains a family-led foundation with most Board directors being third and fourth generation descendents of Helen and Frank Altschul. In 2010, the Board recommitted the Foundation to its mission as “a progressive family foundation that supports organizations advancing human rights and conserving the natural environment.” Its human rights programs focus on gender and LGBT rights, defending human rights defenders in Latin America, and media as a central component of a functioning democracy. Its environment program targets conservation of biodiversity in Latin America and sustainable consumption practices, especially conservation of energy, in the U.S.
Today, the Foundation has an endowment of approximately $130 million. It awarded approximately $6.1 million in grants in 2011. Since its inception, the Foundation has given away more than $160 million.