If the cultural sector in your community were forever altered,
seemingly overnight, with a significant influx of investment…What would you do first?
This very dream came true at the end of 2021 for Western New York when the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced a $100 million commitment to create long-term sustainability for 13 designated cultural organizations. Numerous other organizations will also be able to benefit from a significant annual grant cycle included in this monumental gift.
The Wilson Foundation believes in the importance of a thriving, vibrant cultural sector and knows that it is a critical piece of healthy, strong communities.
While the Foundation’s primary areas of focus are outside of the arts and cultural sector, their forward-thinking view sees investment in a region’s cultural sector as a critical dimension of the local economy and an important way to systemically and sustainably uplift an entire community.
This vision is echoed by the data framed in a 2021 national research survey, conducted by La Placa Cohen, Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis. The survey found overwhelming support for the importance of cultural organizations to the fabric of communities. Yet participants also noted that the full potential of impact has yet to be realized, resulting in a strong call to action for cultural organizations to be agents of change.
The Wilson Foundation’s gift gives our cultural sector of Western New York the space to work through ideas, test out strategies, and take risks to meet this call to action.
Understanding how to achieve change is not an easy path for non-profits with strong historical roots and established methods and metrics. Additionally, research shows much of the stifling of the innovation process for non-profits can be attributed to pressures of funding budgets on an annual basis.
This gift embodies Innovation Philanthropy by investing in the strength of an entire cultural sector and designating funding to support operational costs, with a caveat that the beneficiaries intentionally commit to working towards sustainability and inclusion.
I could not come up with a better example of promoting transformative social change through philanthropy.
What are WE doing first?
The responsibility of the Wilson Foundation’s gift is bigger than any one organization can meet. As leaders, our Boards now and in the future, must commit to work together to ensure a legacy for future generations, to realize the vision of the intent of this historic moment. While the Western New York community doesn’t yet know what success looks like in the face of this enormous opportunity and unprecedented gift, we do know that we are up to the challenge.