In the last few months, the world has changed, and all of us with it. The myriad issues philanthropy has spent decades trying to address on many fronts, and in every corner of the world, have converged and exploded in ways that are prompting funders of all kinds to reshape or even completely pivot their work.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and a global push for racial equity and social justice unfold, some funders already stand out for how they have adapted to upheaval and moved forward in ways that are both responsive and proactive. TPI is talking with a few of these funders, with different structures and approaches, to discuss their experiences and lessons learned so far, and to learn more about the questions they are grappling with. We hope these conversations will spark ideas and expand discussions within the broader field.

We start with The Russell Berrie Foundation, a long-time TPI client. Founder and CEO of the international toy and gift company Russ Berrie & Company, Russ Berrie created a private foundation in 1985 that invests in innovative ideas to tackle diabetes, humanism in medicine, and religious understanding and pluralism; supports Jewish communal life, and individuals who make a significant difference in the lives of others; and has worked to elevate the profession of sales. Russ and his wife Angelica chose New Jersey, Metropolitan New York, and Israel as primary geographic areas. Six years after Russ’ early death in 2002, the trustees selected Ruth Salzman as Foundation CEO. As Ruth shared in our interview, TPI founder Peter Karoff and his team “helped Russ to develop his philanthropic persona and worked closely with all the trustees to set priorities. When (Russ) passed away he was on a journey with chapters yet to be written, but he left guidance for trustees: ‘Step into my shoes, do what I would have done. Times will change.’” Nearly two decades later, the Foundation is applying that guidance in a very changed landscape. As of July of this year, the Foundation has awarded $5 million in emergency grants to address medical and healthcare needs, as well as food and economic insecurity, in an impressive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We sat down with Ruth Salzman to learn more.

Read the full interview here.


Visit the Foundation’s website to learn more about their efforts in response to COVID-19.

Stay tuned for future interviews as part of our new Adaptable Funders blog series.