Alan & Judy Fishman
Stories of Brooklyn Giving
One of the reasons Brooklyn has prospered and changed, hopefully for the better, is because of what Brooklyn Org has been able to accomplish.Alan Fishman, Founding Board Chair
Alan and Judy Fishman have more than earned their reputation as “Mr. and Mrs. Brooklyn” over the years, thanks to their unmatched commitment to their home and its nonprofit community. Both have served on the boards of anchor institutions and cultural centers across the borough—Alan as the founding board chair of Brooklyn Community Foundation (today known as Brooklyn Org), as well as at Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Judy is chair of the Board of the Mark Morris Dance Group, was a Board member of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and past president of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue.
Today they are solidifying this local giving legacy through the Fishman Family Fund, a Donor Advised Fund at Brooklyn Community Foundation. Alan grew up in Crown Heights in the shadow of the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He met Judy while at Brown University in Rhode Island. After graduation, Alan convinced Judy to leave her native New England and follow him back to Brooklyn to start their lives together, to be near his father and pursue their careers in banking just across the river.
“I think a lot of the reason we’re so focused on Brooklyn has to do with the fact that we both worked in Manhattan and realized that Manhattan institutions have plenty of resources in Manhattan. That was not the case in Brooklyn,” reflected Judy. “When you live here and you care here you give here.”
In the early 2000s, as Chairman of the private foundation affiliated with the Brooklyn-based Independence Community Bank, Alan had an unrivaled perch from which to learn about the borough’s nonprofit sector. When the bank sold in 2006, he saw an unmissable opportunity to guide its evolution into a public community foundation solely dedicated to Brooklyn. “Brooklyn’s needs were so great,” he said. “When the Brooklyn Community Foundation was founded, it just brought everything together.”
As the first donors to the new Brooklyn Community Foundation, Alan and Judy were also among the first to establish Donor Advised Funds at the Foundation. “It makes giving very easy. It is so efficient and useful and simple,” said Judy. “It has become a real tool that allows us to keep track of what we are doing and also consolidate what we do. We make a phone call or send a note and we don’t have to worry about whether the payments will get there.”
Alan adds, “The fund fee goes to the Foundation which is a spectacular and efficient thing to do. The key differentiating factor between this program and a commercial DAF is, if we’re interested in elder care, we can call up a Brooklyn Org staff member and say, ‘we want to support this,’ and we get nine ideas. It’s fabulous. And all the ideas are local and all thoughtful and all sensible, most importantly and that service is available to everybody, not just us.”
Donor Advised Funds have also become a new Fishman family tradition. “We’re lucky enough to have grandchildren who are growing up in the community close by. For special occasions, rather than give the kids a new suit or a new bicycle, it struck us that the most valuable thing we could give our kids and our grandkids was the gift of Brooklyn,” added Alan.
“So when our grandkids had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, we gave each of them a gift by setting up a Donor Advised Fund in their name and letting them make gifts from their fund. We spend a little time with each of them and their parents talking about what their interests are. It has been an incredibly organic thing to do. I think it means a lot to them and they are getting into it. The money in the funds grows with its investment in the stock market. It’s a great legacy and it ties their parents to the community as well which has been really important.”
After stepping down as Chairman from the Foundation in October 2020, having stewarded the Board through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the creation of the Brooklyn COVID-19 Response Fund, Alan can now reflect on a job well done:
“Looking back, at the time it was a pretty out there idea. But, if you think about it, it made all the sense in the world to create a community foundation for Brooklyn. Brooklyn has tremendous resources, more resources every day, and at the same time it has tremendous needs. One of the reasons Brooklyn has prospered and changed, hopefully for the better, is because of what Brooklyn Org has been able to accomplish—through Hurricane Sandy, through COVID, for the underserved, immigrants, and elders—it’s just fantastic. It has been a wonderful addition to the community. As people hear about it and learn about it, they get it. It is getting to be less of an out there idea and more of an important one.”