This year, we are thrilled to celebrate the centennial of the Surdna Foundation, Andrus Family Fund’s parent foundation. AFF’s Program Associate, Jennifer Kaizer, reflects on the history of Surdna and philanthropy and shares her thoughts on the future of social justice and AFF.
One hundred years ago, what did “philanthropy” look like for the Andrus family?
John Emory Andrus established Surdna—“Andrus” spelled backwards—in 1917 to provide grants for those in need. Shortly thereafter, the foundation established the Julia Dyckman Andrus Memorial home, an orphanage in Yonkers, New York, as tribute to John’s wife, Julia, who was orphaned as a child. Over the years, Surdna developed a social justice framework and established a mission to foster sustainable communities across the United States.
As a personality, it seems John Emory Andrus was accessible, humble and forward thinking. His nickname was the “multimillionaire straphanger” because he preferred to commute by train to his office rather than by private car.
How do you think the Surdna Foundation has evolved over time?
Surdna became more institutionalized in the late 1980s when the first full-time Executive Director, Ed Skloot was hired. At this time, the foundation began to build strategic grant-making programs. The Andrus Family Fund was established in January 2000 to engage more than 400 extended family members between the ages of 25 and 45 in public service and organized philanthropy.
Surdna’s approach to grant making, and by extension AFF’s approach, is collaborative and focused on building authentic relationships, which is part of the John Emory Andrus legacy.
What has been your favorite part of the Centennial celebration?
The dinner celebration on May 8th was my favorite Centennial event because it brought together family members, grantees, colleagues, former and current staff to celebrate John E. Andrus’ legacy. It was such a pleasure to meet extended Andrus family members, some of whom I’ve only seen on mailing lists or corresponded with via email. It was a great portrayal of what Surdna is today.
How do you define social justice and how has that definition changed over time?
Google defines social justice as justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society. At AFF, we look at social justice through a racial lens because our grantee partners work with youth in juvenile justice, foster care and other disruptive systems— who are mostly youth of color. This disparity is not new. People of color have historically been impacted by unjust systems. Therefore, we must view social justice through a racial lens in the work we do in order to implement real change.
What excites you most about working in philanthropy?
I love serving as a resource for grantee partners and anyone who comes our way. If a grantee or board member calls, I’m the first person they talk to. I also provide programmatic support to Leticia and Manuela. They have more experience in the field, so I’m learning from them, especially about relationship building.
What do you see for the future of philanthropy in general?
I expect the future of the sector to shift toward better support for grantees in the long term. We are seeing that the current political climate has an impact on grantees’ organizations and the sector will need to respond with both strategic funding and resources for capacity building.
What do you see for the future of AFF?
As AFF’s influence expands, our impact will continue to grow. Our grantee partners will benefit from our ability to connect them to bigger foundations and more resources to help them build capacity and be sustainable. We want to see them continuing the legacy of John Emory Andrus and making a positive impact 20, 40, 50 years from now!