Ball Brothers Foundation Ramps Up Visibility and Clarifies Mission

Celebrating 85 years

Ball Brothers Foundation ramps up visibility and clarifies mission

By Jud Fisher

No one can predict how the budget-trimming efforts in Washington will play out, but one thing is certain—painful cuts to charitable organizations are inevitable. Community-based agencies, already struggling to do more with less, face the challenge of finding new means of support to make up for decreases in federal funds and dips in private donations.

This became apparent in March at Ball Brothers Foundation (BBF) when our semiannual invitation for grant requests yielded 87 responses. If that number is any indication, we are on pace to review the most applications ever received in the history of the foundation. More sobering: The funding requests added up to $9.2 million, an amount that far exceeds our entire grant-making budget for 2011. To put this into perspective, last year we made 55 grants that totaled about $4.7 million.

In many ways the economic downturn has served as a wakeup call for family foundations such as BBF. It’s caused us to realize that we haven’t always told our story well. If people misunderstand what we do and how we do it, the fault is ours. There still exists the misperception that a private foundation is a remote, even mysterious, organization with pockets deep enough to support every worthy cause that asks for help. That wasn’t true in the past and it isn’t the case in 2011.

This is a new day for family philanthropies, a day marked by heightened opportunities and increased expectations. Foundations are assuming responsibilities that go far beyond allocating funds twice a year. They are convening stakeholders, building coalitions and serving as catalysts for change. Transparency is more than a buzz word; it’s a way of doing business. Federal law now holds foundations accountable for where funds are directed, and foundations hold grant recipients accountable for how funds are spent.

As Ball Brothers Foundation prepares to mark its 85th anniversary, we plan to ramp up our visibility for the purpose of highlighting the organizations we support, clarifying our mission, and attracting partners who share our goals. We know that an organization such as ours cannot work alone. We also know that making small grants to random agencies has minimal impact. Only by forging collaborations, pooling resources and leveraging funds can we tackle major initiatives that will positively affect the entire community. For that reason we are committed to supporting broad-based programs related to workforce development, urban renewal and education. If these efforts are successful, the benefits will be enormous. The results will have a favorable effect on nonprofit organizations, large and small.

Ball Brothers Foundation is here for the long haul. Unlike a “sunset foundation” that pays out its assets and closes its doors, ours is committed to being part of East Central Indiana’s future just as it has been part of its past.

And we think that future looks bright.

Jud Fisher is president and chief operating officer of Ball Brothers Foundation, a Muncie-based family philanthropy.