A revered name in Tampa Bay philanthropy will be calling it quits soon.
The Eckerd Family Foundation, endowed with $100 million from Jack Eckerd's fortune from his Eckerd Drugs store chain, is winding down its long-held mission to help troubled youth and foster children.
The Tampa-based foundation plans to spend the remainder of its funds by 2012 and close its doors no later than 2014. The foundation's board met to approve that decision this month.
In the best of philanthropic circumstances, that means an end to one key source of grants and funding to area groups like "Connected by 25" (it helps foster youth after the age of 18 to age 25), which received $365,000, or the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, which received $100,000, or Tampa's less established Starting Right, Now group that helps homeless families, with $10,000.
These groups and dozens of others received more than $6 million from the Eckerd foundation in the fiscal year ending June 2009, IRS records show. That's big money, by regional standards, especially lately when the stock market decline damaged many foundation investments and the recession weakened the Tampa Bay business community, forcing it to give less to causes.
The Eckerd Family Foundation was designed from Day 1 to eventually go out of business, spending all its money in a set period of time.
"In our case, we tried to identify three or four areas that we are really interested in, focus on those areas and see if we can make an impact within that period of time," says Joe Clark, 62, foundation president and a son-in-law of founder Jack Eckerd.
"In a cynical kind of way, one might ask: If we can't set a few goals and not make them in 15 years," Clark says, "what is the point of going on?"
As of last summer, the Eckerd foundation had about $20 million remaining that it needs to spend by its 2012 deadline. Foundations choosing to wind down their operations need to spend all of their endowment; otherwise the IRS imposes a 100 percent tax.
Most philanthropic foundations are created to last in perpetuity, which means the organizations must by law give money but not so much that it drains a foundation intended to last forever. Stock market hits to foundations resulted in an overall decline in philanthropic giving in 2008 and 2009. Giving appears more stable so far in 2010, but investment managers of foundation funds are still wary.
Only 12 percent of foundations are, like Eckerd's, designed from the start to use up their funds and close, hopefully achieving along the way their goals of making a significant difference to society or a specific piece of their community.
"I'm not aware of another large or prominent foundation in Florida that is planning to spend down its funds" and close, says David Biemesderfer, CEO of the Florida Philanthropic Network, a statewide foundation association that includes Eckerd Family Foundation. "This is not a trend."
Statewide, the Eckerd Family Foundation ranked 33rd — fourth in Tampa Bay — among foundations based on the amount of grants paid out in 2008. But by clout, brand name and as a role model for smaller givers, the Eckerd Family Foundation is a heavyweight.
"They are well known," Biemesderfer acknowledges. "They have a national reputation for the notable work on issues of foster care and youth in the foster care system."
The coming end of the foundation is also a loss for the formidable Eckerd name in Tampa Bay history. At one time, the name appeared prominently on the major regional Eckerd Drugs chain, which was sold and absorbed by others. The name most prominently remains as Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall performing arts center and Eckerd College, the former Florida Presbyterian College renamed in 1972 after a $10 million donation by Jack Eckerd, and in the foundation's name.
Foundation president Clark says Jack and Ruth Eckerd's seven children are active on the foundation. But, in addition to Florida, some are living in North Carolina and Delaware, prompting the foundation to spread some of its grants to these states. Clark denies this is a form of philanthropic dilution. "We do not look at it that way," he says, suggesting the foundation brings "leverage" by targeting youth programs in multiple states.
So what are the lessons learned in directing a wealthy foundation so focused on helping troubled youth and those in foster care? Clark reflects for a moment.
"I think we've had great deal of success in addressing youth aging out of foster care, some success in addressing issues kids have coming into and out of the juvenile justice system, and some success in education as well, particularly non-traditional vocational and career education," he says.
The biggest contribution by the foundation is helping to change bureaucratic systems, be it foster care or juvenile justice. "It's not just about investing money year after year, but getting the system to work better," Clark says.
That's easier said than done. Clark says the Eckerd Family Foundation is run, just as Jack Eckerd built his drugstore empire, like an efficient business searching for the best and most cost-effective ways to get things done.
In the world of social services, he says, "it does not work that way. And that is a big, big challenge."
And when the Eckerd foundation finally shuts its doors, it will be the end of a big, big era.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.