Mrs. Elizabeth Benjamin passed at age 101 with instructions to create a family foundation with the bulk of her estate. She asked her niece, grand-nephew, and attorney to serve as the initial trustees of the Elizabeth and Barets O. Benjamin Foundation, and left them complete freedom to choose where to donate. The trustees found some wonderful organizations to support, but found that the process itself was not particularly satisfying. The family had never been involved with philanthropic activity at this level, and suddenly overnight had the responsibility to handle $600,000 a year. They didn't know how. So they brought in The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) to help the Foundation find ways to achieve greater impact and steward the resources in a more fulfilling way.
In the early planning sessions, the trustees reflected on what an amazing woman Elizabeth was. They wondered if there was a way to use at least some of the Foundation’s resources to support programs that would honor Elizabeth’s spirit and legacy. Building on her legacy as a strong, independent women who was ahead of her time in many ways, the trustees asked TPI to help them design a strategy that would support both adolescent girls and older women. The result was a grants program focusing on Women of Independence, Strength, and Education: The WISE Initiative. Implementation began in 2006 when TPI designed the initiative and requested the first proposals for the grant. Since then, the Foundation has dispensed more than $2.5 million in multi-year WISE grants. In addition to supporting women and girls, the Foundation wanted to honor Mrs. Benjamin by targeting more funding in the part of New Jersey where she lived the majority of her life – Monmouth County – and also decided to expand their focus to include youth development and college access.
The Benjamin Foundation has found creative ways to leverage its financial resources as well as the intelligence and experience of its trustees. Going beyond the larger grants, the Foundation has offered tailored support to WISE grantees including mini-grants to support staff development or build organizational capacity, and WISE is helping to transform lives in several of New Jersey’s low-income communities. And in 2016, the trustees asked TPI to design and launch a new scholarship program for youth involved in some of their grantee organizations. Now in its second year, this program is helping to make college more affordable for young people who have been selected for Benjamin Scholarships – reducing their loan burdens and enabling some of these students to attend colleges they would not have chosen without this support.