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A Brief History of The Trust

Since 1924, The New York Community Trust, through the generosity of its donors, has built a permanent endowment to support the nonprofit organizations that make our City a vital and secure place in which to live and work. 








1914: First community foundation founded
The world’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, was founded by banker Frederick Harris “Judge” Goff.

1920: A community trust in the making
Frank J. Parsons, vice president of the United States Mortgage and Trust Company, began speaking about starting a community foundation in New York. In his words, “the charitable problems of each generation can better be solved by the best minds of these generations rather than through the medium of the dead hand of the past.”

1924: The New York Community Trust is founded
Parsons invited 20 banks to serve as the Trustees’ Committee, 11 of which adopted the Resolution and Declaration of Trust Creating "The New York Community Trust."  Alvin W. Krech, president of the Equitable Trust Company, is chairman of the trustees’ committee.  An 11-member distribution committee was then appointed.

  • Thomas Williams, chairman.
  • Ralph Hayes, director.
  • John Giraud Agar, appointed by the president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
  • Dr. Walter B. James, appointed by the president of the New York Academy of Medicine.
  • Clarence H. Kelsey, appointed by president of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York.
  • Judge E. Henry Lacombe, appointed by senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
  • Charles J. Peabody, appointed by president of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
  • Mrs. August Belmont, appointed by Trustees.
  • Homer Folks, appointed by Trustees.
  • Ernest Iselin, appointed by Trustees.
  • Felix M. Warburg, appointed by Trustees.

    “…The Community Trust is an endeavor to substitute contemporary wisdom for foresight; and that is particularly important when we reflect that we are living in a world which has changed more rapidly and in more of its fundamental conceptions within the past dozen years that it has ever done before in as many centuries. The plan has my hearty endorsement and I prophesy for it limitless opportunities of usefulness to New York and to the country.”

    Newton D. Baker, former City Solicitor and Mayor of Cleveland, and former Secretary of War
    From the Resolution and Declaration of Trust Creating "The New York Community Trust":
  1. To provide a perpetual trust free from the blight of the “dead hand,” calculated to meet the changing needs in which benevolence may seek to promote the well-doing and well-being of mankind with flexibility in the power of distribution of the funds available without the necessity of application to the courts.
  2. To afford an opportunity to benevolently inclined persons, whether rich or poor, to make their several gifts to trustees of their own selection more effective by providing for the distribution of income and/or principal as an aggregate fund;
  3. To assure as far as possible the wise application of the fund by providing for an impartial and changing committee of persons chosen for their knowledge of the educational, charitable, or benevolent needs of the time; and
  4. To safeguard and provide for the permanent security of the principal of all such gifts.
Ralph Hayes, first Trust director
1924: First director, first fund, first grant
Ralph Hayes
, a former aide to Judge Goff, is appointed director of The New York Community Trust. Later that year, the first fund was established and the first grant was made. Mrs. Rosebel G. Schiff gave $1,000 to create the Theresa E. Bernholz Fund in memory of her beloved principal at P.S. 9. She asked that a prize go to a girl from that school who had “earned the highest respect of her teachers.” Girls from the school continue to receive the award today.

1928: John D. Rockefeller Jr. sets up a fund with $2,500,000 in memory of his mother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, to ensure that a part of her wealth would serve the City's charitable organizations.

Laura Spellman Rockefeller
Laura Spelman Rockefeller
1929: The Rise of the Community Trust
“It is my conviction that the Community Trust is economically sound, socially desirable, and functionally efficient. From the points of view of the individual who makes a grant, the lawyer who defines it, the financial institution which manages it, and the recipients who are the beneficiaries of it, the Community Trust is one of the signal developments of recent years.

These are not hurriedly made conclusions…I have had opportunity also to observe the growth of this movement in other cities and am convinced there is evidence to support the measured statement of Colonel Leonard P. Ayres, of the Cleveland Trust Company, that the Community Trust may come to be regarded as “the most important single contribution of our generation to the art of wise giving.” - Evans Woollen of the Indiana Bar, From “The Community Trust as Viewed by Lawyers:  The Story of The Community Trust Number 51929.


1931: First donor-advised fund in the nation
With the help of Mr. Hayes, William S. Barstow, an electrical engineer who learned his craft with Thomas Edison, started the first donor-advised fund in the nation at The Trust.

During the Great Depression, The Trust focuses all available discretionary funds on helping the unemployed.

1938: A legacy to help the hungry
Although he never went hungry a day in his life, Wilhelm Loewenstein wanted his money to establish “cafeterias where cooked food may be obtained for a nominal charge by all orderly persons applying regardless of race, color, or creed.” Today, The Trust continues to use Loewenstein's bequest to feed the hungry. In 2009, a $1.5 million grant was made from the Wilhelm Loewenstein Memorial Fund to the Food Bank for New York City for emergency feeding programs to help those struggling through today’s economic crisis.

Lucy Wortham James

1938: Lucy Wortham James leaves her estate to The Trust. Born in St. James, Missouri to a mining family whose business failed in 1876, she moved to New York when she was 14 to live with her uncle, Robert Dunn, a founder of Dunn and Bradstreet. She traveled widely, and was a charter member of the Theatre Guild and an influential member of the boards of Greenwich House and Memorial Hospital. Today, her fund supports a variety of nonprofit activity in New York City, and maintains her family’s land in the Ozarks through The James Foundation, which was created by The Trust in 1941 for that purpose.

1944: A grant of $40,000 helped the Visiting Nurse Service of New York establish itself as a separate agency from the Henry Street Settlement, one of the City’s first settlement houses.


Laura Spellman Rockefeller
David Warfield

1951:  The famous Broadway actor David Warfield left his estate to The Trust. Blind when he died, he asked us to help others with vision impairments. Today the fund supports services for the visually impaired such as computer and mobility training, health and social services, and employment assistance.

1957: Landmarks of New York
The Trust installed the first of 309 ''Landmarks of New York'' plaques on architectural and historically important buildings all over the City. View a slide show of the historic plaques>>

1967: A change in leadership
Herbert West
becomes the second president of The Trust when Hayes retires after 44 years of service. Prior to becoming president, West was vice president and account supervisor at the ad agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn. He also served as chairman of the board of the American Branch of the International Social Service, and as a trustee of United Community Funds and Councils of America.

A surge in growth
Twenty-four new funds are set up in The Trust, bringing the total to 239, with assets of almost $100 million. The following year, The Trust made more than $4.6 million in grants, more in a single year than the combined total of grants in its first 20 years.



1975: The Westchester Community Foundation was founded as a division of The Trust. After starting off around a kitchen table, it moved into donated space at Pace University. 

1977: As part of his efforts to bring together the philanthropic community, Herb West helps found the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, now known as Philanthropy New York.

1978: The Long Island Community Foundation was founded as a division of The Trust in offices near the Stony Brook University campus at Old Westbury.

1979: The New York State Legislature allocated $15 million from the Exxon restitution settlement to The Trust’s energy conservation program. The Trust then channeled money to 15 community foundations across the State that helped nonprofits become more energy-efficient.

Revitalizing neighborhoods

Lorie Slutsky, then a program officer, helped create the Neighborhood Revitalization Program to help poor communities recover from the recession that left hundreds of thousands of abandoned properties. Since then, The Trust has helped grassroots groups improve hundreds of low-income neighborhoods throughout the City.

The Trust gave Citymeals-on-Wheels its first grant.  Today, the organization continues to deliver meals to poor and homebound seniors on weekends and holidays, when the City-run Meals-on-Wheels program does not deliver. In 2008, it served more than 2 million meals. The Trust continues to support the organization.

Funding early AIDS research
The Trust makes one of the first private grants to study AIDS. The funding went to Dr. Jeffrey Lawrence, who now directs the laboratory for AIDS research at New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.  The money came from the Francis Florio Fund, set up in 1974 for research on blood diseases. Read about other scientists who have received Florio Fellowships>>

The Trust gives Resources for Children with Special Needs its first-ever grant. Today, the organization provides a wide range of services, helping families understand and navigate educational and human service systems; providing a database of schools and services for young New Yorkers with disabilities; holding community events; advocating for improved educational and social opportunities; and offering consultation and training.

Back Wards to Back Streets: the Deinstitutionalization of Mental Patients.

1987: Developing distribution methods for documentaries
The Trust made a grant to WNET for public distribution and screenings of Robert Weisberg’s film, Back Wards to Back Streets: the Deinstitutionalization of Mental Patients. Curricula and resource guides were developed, and the documentary were screened in schools, community centers, and other institutions. This grant pioneered a community distribution and involvement method that public television programs, such as P.O.V., still use today. 

Helping immigrants
Lorie Slutsky, Trust President
The Trust started The Fund for New Citizens, a joint grantmakers' effort to help undocumented immigrants take advantage of the Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986, which offered amnesty to millions. Today, with 21 funders, it has given more than $13 million to strengthen immigrant-led organizations; challenge punitive immigration laws; promote pro-immigrant policies, and provide immigrants with legal services.

1989: Long-time Trust staff member, Lorie Slutsky, is named president of The Trust, (effective January 1, 1990). 

Helping people with AIDS
The Trust starts the New York City AIDS Fund, which is made up of grantmaking organizations in the City that work to increase private funding to fight the AIDS epidemic and the spectrum of HIV illnesses, and to improve the coordination and targeting of resources in the City.


1991: The Trust makes a grant to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to challenge the State funding formula for education that shortchanged City students. Read more about this two decade-long effort>>

Victor Heiser
1992: Spelman College, the historically black college for women in Atlanta, received its largest gift ever—nearly $44 million—from the Dewitt Wallace/Spelman College Fund in The Trust.

Mapping the leprosy genome
The Trust funded a five-year project that successfully mapped the leprosy genome. The funding came from Victor Heiser, who set up a fund in his will to help cure leprosy and diseases like it. Today, The Trust is supporting development of the first diagnostic test for leprosy.

1996: The Trust played a pivotal role in starting the Center for Arts Education. As of 2010, it had awarded nearly $40 million to partnerships between 553 public schools and 520 cultural organizations to support the arts in schools.

A national and international environmental program
The Henry Phillip Kraft Family Memorial Fund was established in The Trust. It has helped organizations working nationally and internationally to tackle the biggest and most complex environmental challenges, such as toxic chemicals, global climate change, and species extinction.

1997: Strengthening immigrant organizations
In response to a 1996 immigration bill that imposed harsh restrictions on asylum-seekers and curtailed due process protections for individuals in deportation hearings, The Trust and our Fund for New Citizens helped many small immigrant organizations offer legal, policy, and advocacy services.
The Croton Reservoir, a source of City drinking water.

Protecting the City's drinking water

Building on two decades of work to safeguard the City's drinking water, The Trust helped the Natural Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper win an agreement with the EPA to protect the purity of the City’s drinking water in an unfiltered state. Throughout the next decade, The Trust helped limit expansion of potential sources of contamination. In 2009, the Catskill/Delaware and Croton watersheds again face pressures, this time from gas-drilling interests that use dangerous chemicals to extract the fuel from deep layers of shale. The Trust is supporting the New York State Gas Drilling Protection Project to make sure that tough laws are passed to keep any drilling at a safe distance.

Creating a summer child care program for poor families
After the federal Welfare-to-Work program took effect, thousands of participating parents needed low- or no-cost child care, especially in the summers when school was out.  The Trust started Summer in the City to expand quality child care for poor kids whose parents were now in job training or working. The City’s Human Resources Administration and the Administration for Children’s Services joined the group and contributed millions in public money. In 2001 it became a year-round program and coordinated with other child care and educational programs to provide care.  In 2002, management of the project was transferred to the Agenda for Children Tomorrow and the City’s Human Resources Administration.

Cleaning up brownfields
The Trust convened the Pocantico Roundtable for Consensus on Brownfields. From this historic meeting sprang alliances that shaped brownfields legislation locally and nationally. Members of the roundtable developed a program called Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOAs), which was adopted by the State in 2003. The program has revitalized contaminated sites and the land and communities surrounding them. To date, more than 100 Brownfield Opportunity Areas throughout the State are supported by $14 million in grants, with $11 million more in the pipeline for 25 new projects. The Trust provided start-up funds and supported New Partners for Community Revitalization through 2010, a group focused on improving low-income neighborhoods blighted by industrial contamination. With its former co-director now at the EPA, the group has developed a model for revitalizing neighborhoods now being replicated nationally through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Creating good jobs and providing training to fill them
The Trust made its first grant for workforce development, and two years later, formed the New York City Workforce Development Fund, a funder collaborative with 13 partners. Since then, the Fund has raised $4.3 million and made 96 grants that strengthened and improved the workforce development system. Beginning in 2004, the Fund started sectoral employment projects that have connected job seekers with training organizations and employers in fields such as health care, biotechnology, transportation, and construction.

  The September 11th Fund
By the end of the day the towers fell, The Trust had co-founded the September 11th Fund. The first grants were made 11 days later. When the fund closed in 2004, it had written 45,000 emergency checks to victims and their families, served 343,000 hot meals to rescue workers at ground zero, provided mental health, employment, and other services for 200,000 individuals, and gave nearly 1,000 loans or grants to small businesses and nonprofits to help them rebuild. In total, The Fund awarded 559 grants totaling almost $528 million. Download the final report>>

Trust grants helped the National Alliance on Mental Illness win parity in insurance coverage for mental health care. Trust support helped the organization conduct studies on the cost of untreated mental illness and helped it lead a coalition that persuaded legislators to pass Timothy’s Law, which helps families maximize the benefits their insurance will cover for mental health care.

Wolfie Langway on the High Line
2003: The Trust makes one of the first private grants to Friends of the High Line, enabling it to hire a fundraiser to attract money for the park, resulting in commitments of $74 million in City, federal, and private money. Read more>>

Protecting New Yorkers from colon cancer
In response to the higher rates of colon cancer deaths in black and Latino New Yorkers, five grants totaling $1.65 million to the Fund for Public Health of New York helped start a colon cancer screening program at public hospitals citywide. The program was then expanded to 16 hospitals, and has contributed to nearly half a million New Yorkers getting tested for the disease, an eighty-fold increase from 2003. Read more>>

2005: To address the lack of testing for Chlamydia in teen girls, an $85,000 grant to the Fund for Public Health of New York funded a pilot program that brought STD testing into public schools. Based on the success of this pilot in testing, treating, and educating teens, the City committed $900,000 annually through 2011 for the continuation of the program, now in 125 schools. Read more>>

2006: The Trust started the One Region Fund, another funder collaborative, to advance and support transportation planning in the tri-state region in order to reduce traffic and its impact on the environment.

A 2009 safety-net grant to United Neighborhood Houses helped maintain programs for the elderly in New York's settlement houses.
2007: The Trust makes a grant of nearly $70 million from its DeWitt Wallace Fund to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center to improve the understanding and treatment of mental illness through basic and clinical research and training. This particular fund was created in The Trust in 1984 to ensure that psychiatric practice was informed by substantive scientific research, and was designed to terminate after 20 years with a final grant. It is one of a number of funds set up in The Trust by Mr. and Mrs. Wallace, founders of the Reader's Digest.

Strengthening the City's safety net
In response to the economic crisis, The Trust made $8.76 million in grants to help needy New Yorkers who were hit hardest by the recession.

2010: Getting New Yorkers counted
The 2010 Census Funders NYC Initiative, co-led by The Trust, granted nearly $600,000 to 35 grassroots groups to improve response rates in traditionally under-counted communities.

Summer Saved:
Two thousand middle school children from low-income families faced a summer without free programs. But with grants from The Trust, the Youth Funders Network, and Trust donor-advisors, the City restored some funding and these kids had a great summer. This funding partnership worked so well that it was repeated in 2011.

Why let the Billionaires Have all the Fun? The Trust ran an ad campaign that got the attention of Forbes magazine, fellow New Yorkers, and community foundations across the country.

(above) seniors involved with bringing healthy food to their communities. (below) Hunter's new Silberman School of Social Work
 Rockaway Waterfront Alliance was one of dozens of neighborhood groups that received Trust grants for Sandy recovery.

2011: June 23 - Mayor Bloomberg Honors "Healthy Communities through Healthy Eating" program. Read about the project, watch the video, and read the proclamation>>

Hunter School of Social Work moves on up the East Side

With $48 million in proceeds from the sale of the school’s former home on 79th Street by The Trust’s Silberman Fund, The Trust made a $30 million grant to CUNY to help pay for construction, and put the remaining $18 million in an endowed fund to benefit the field of social work.

October, 2012: Superstorm Sandy hits New York City. The Trust responds>>

December, 2012: The Trust recieves a $42 million gift from the estate of Brooke Astor to educate young New Yorkers.

2014: The Trust created The New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows Program at Baruch College School of Public Affairs. 

2015: Working with the Queens College Kupferberg Center for the Arts, The Trust helped start the CUNY Dance Initiative: Professional choreographers and dance troupes get residencies that include rehearsal and performance space, artist fees, and production costs. 

2016: Trust Communications Department wins American Graphic Design Award for Grants and Results Newsletters. 

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The New York Community Trust is a 501(c)3 public charity.