The Overbrook Foundation is a progressive family foundation that supports organizations advancing human rights and conserving the natural environment.
Honoring the vision and dedication of its founders, Helen and Frank Altschul, The Overbrook Foundation:
- Honors its role as a steward of both the public trust and the Foundation's mission
- Advances programs ethically, responsibly and respectfully
- Is transparent and open
- Engages in its work in a deliberate and thoughtful way
- Takes measured risks
- Employs diverse approaches to seize opportunities and respond to challenges
- Supports social justice and environmental sustainability
- Promotes advocacy, accountability and reform of institutions and government
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 family-led Board of Directors. With professional staff in place, the Foundation continued its shift toward making grants with a focus on defined program areas with clear strategies and intended outcomes.
Overbrook today is managed by its President and CEO and is supported by his six-member staff. It remains a family-led foundation with Directors being third and fourth generation descendants of Helen and Frank Altschul and their spouses. 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 focused 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 targeted conservation of biodiversity in Latin America and sustainable consumption practices, especially conservation of energy, in the United States.
Most recently, the Foundation has taken on initiatives to support progressive movement building and efforts in the United States to combat the undue influence of moneyed interests within government at all levels, local, state and federal. Beginning in late 2014, the Foundation engaged in a systematic process to review strategies and programs, hone those strategies and programs, and strengthen Overbrook as an institution. In November 2015, the Board re-affirmed its support for its mission, values and both the Human Rights and Environment Programs. The 2016-2018 Strategic Plan details the refinements made in both of these programs.
The Foundation's Environment Program will seek to access and adjust program initiatives to meet gaps in environment funding; utilize Overbrook's funding and influence to conserve the environment and counter climate change; and, consider climate, collaboration and interdependence when reviewing organizations and projects for potential funding. Likewise, the Human Rights Program will assess and adapt program initiatives to meet gaps in human rights funding and to effectively utilize Overbrook's funding and influence to advance human rights. The Foundation will seek to deepen its emphasis on advancing racial, ethnic and gender justice and equity in all initiatives. The Strategic Plan also affirms that the Foundation will look to strengthen movements within and across the social and climate justice and environment landscape by supporting organizations that bring disparate initiatives and leaders together into more impactful alliances.
Today, the Foundation has an endowment of approximately $150 million. It awarded approximately $6.4 million in grants in 2015. Since its inception, the Foundation has given away more than $182 million.
Header Photo: Helen Altschul - Courtesy of the Barnard Archives and Special Collections; Frank Altschul - Courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations, Portrait by Denne Keiler.