Jim welcoming Jane Chu blurred

A Year in Context

A look back at my first year at the Barr Foundation.

This week marks a year since my arrival as Barr’s president. Since last May, I have sought to use this space to provide regular updates and will continue to do so. Yet, this one-year mark also offers an appropriate time to reflect upon the broader evolution of the Barr Foundation.

Among the many reasons I relocated from San Francisco to Boston was the opportunity to work for a foundation with a strong reputation, poised for its next stage of evolution. During the past year, I have met with our many partners across the nonprofit, philanthropic, public, and private sectors, and I have seen first-hand the progress and impact of activities that Barr has been privileged to support in its arts and culture, climate, education, and global programs.

This offers us a solid foundation upon which to shape the next stage of Barr’s contribution. We do so with a focus on building on our strengths and an orientation to embracing change as more of an evolution than a revolution. As a first step, we devoted this past year to getting clear—and, we hope, being clear—about our answers to fundamental questions about why we exist, what we believe, and how we work.

As I have shared in previous blog posts, we crafted a new mission statement, articulated a set of core values, committed ourselves to our three domestic programs, and determined to approach our work through a more regional perspective. With these important decisions behind us, we are now engaged in strategic planning across each of our core program areas and will share the results of these efforts as they unfold, beginning later this year.

We have undertaken this work in the context of a foundation that has been steadily evolving toward more openness and broader external engagement. This year, we made several strides in this respect. We launched a new, more engaging website, and we have established an active presence on social media (@BarrFdn on Twitter). We have been using these tools to communicate about our work with greater frequency and depth. We have also pursued targeted opportunities to lend Barr’s voice and perspective to our fields of work and to the broader issues Barr focuses on. My Boston Globe op-ed earlier this month with NEA Chairman Jane Chu is just one example.

These activities do not reflect an interest at Barr in seeking credit or attention for its own sake. Indeed, humility remains one of our core values and, in our view, is essential to effective philanthropy. At the same time, addressing climate change, expanding educational opportunity, and promoting cultural vibrancy are all important and urgent issues, and they demand that philanthropy apply its many resources to addressing them. To advance the issues we care about most, we are committed to deploying the full range of tools at our disposal. These include not only investing grantmaking dollars, but also lending our voice and perspective, sharing the knowledge and insight of our partners, and serving as a constructive partner to others who share our goals. We firmly believe that greater openness and transparency, and a willingness to deploy a range of tools as appropriate, amplifies our ability to have impact.

As I enter my second year and, together with my fellow trustees and staff, look toward the future, Barr’s evolution will continue. As it does, we remain committed to sharing our plans openly, and we will welcome the ongoing engagement and thoughtful counsel of many in this community who share our aspirations.

Thank you again for the warm welcome so many of you have provided to me in this first year at Barr. I look forward to our continued partnership in the years ahead, and, as always, I value your thoughts.

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