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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.

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