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2022 Was Big for Brooklyn; What Will 2023 Hold?

Dr. Jocelynne Rainey

A group of people standing in front of a van.
2022 Spark Prize winner Black Women's Blueprint

As I reflect on my first year as President and CEO of Brooklyn Org, one thought that keeps me going is Shirley Chisholm’s rallying cry, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

This has been a year where we’ve rolled up our sleeves and put ideas into action. And none of this would have been possible without you. Now I realize people say that all the time—but today I’m going to scream it like I mean it: on behalf of the 2.6 million people who call Brooklyn home, thank you for supporting the nonprofits that are the lifeblood of our communities!

Let me take a brief moment to show you why we have so much to be excited about.

We can’t just be satisfied with our success in 2022—we plan to continue pressing for change, empowering local communities, and putting bold ideas into action. Dr. Jocelynne Rainey

In 2022, we saw unprecedented numbers in our grantmaking activity with a record $15.6 million in total outgoing funding for nonprofits. This included over $5 million through our donor-supported, community-led racial justice grant programs, which invested in five new Spark Prize changemakers including Black Women’s Blueprint (pictured above), as well as 110 other local organizations. And all of this was done through our singular participatory grantmaking approach. We’ve learned a lot about what it means to take on this new style of grantmaking, and we’re excited to share our lessons here.

Moreover, we managed an astounding $10.3 million in grants directed by our Donor Advised Funds, a 25% increase over the previous year! DAF grants supported 480 organizations with gifts ranging from $250 to $1.5M, with the average providing $14,500. While our fund holders have the freedom to give anywhere through their funds, an amazing 62% of grants went to organizations serving New York City.

And last but not least, in addition to our grantmaking, together with over 3,000 donors we raised $1.3 million through our #BrooklynGives campaign for 132 local nonprofits on Giving Tuesday!

Deepening Our Engagement With Communities in 2022

Last year was profound for me in many ways, especially thanks to the launch of our Listening Tours. Across 10 Brooklyn neighborhoods, we witnessed an outpouring of concern for our communities and of hyper-local generosity that was both humbling and inspiring. I want to give a special shout out to all the small businesses who hosted us, including Stars Café in Bushwick, Lifestyle Athletic Club in Canarsie, and Brooklyn Blend in Brownsville.

Through these annual Listening Tours, we’re not just hearing from organizations we fund, we’re also learning about those we don’t support yet—like Bay Ridge Community Development Center (BRCDC).

Did you know that Bay Ridge is home to one of the fastest-growing populations of Arab Muslims in New York City? Or that it has one of the largest populations of older adults in Brooklyn? As Bibi Esahack, Executive Director of BRCDC explains it, “Bay Ridge is a tale of two cities. It’s both immigrant and white, young and old, striving and struggling.”

But it’s also a community that lacks a community center.

Years ago, the Muslim community in Bay Ridge created a mosque, which has become a linchpin for so many people. By Esahack’s account, the mosque was doing important work—but there was a growing sense that they needed a place that would reach the entire community. “We want to reach not just Muslims. We want a center where everyone feels welcome,” says Esahack.

The decision was made. In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, BRCDC conducted a fundraiser through word of mouth and raised $2.6 million. The community was so energized about the idea of a community center that people shared what little they had to make a big impact. “Raising that much in such a short period of time shows how much the community needs this space,” Esahack shared during our Bay Ridge listening tour.

With the funds, BRCDC bought an old church at 99th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Founded in 1834, it was known as the Church of the Generals  and counted among its former parishioners Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Today, BRCDC is raising money to redevelop the building and reclaim its purpose as an inclusive community home built on justice and equity, to provide expanded programs and space for other local nonprofits to operate as well.

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the importance of spending time with people and just listening—which is something that was especially hard during the pandemic. Still, these opportunities to connect with one another are essential for our work. “We were so thrilled to speak with everyone at Brooklyn Org,” says Esahack. “It’s important for us to know that the Muslim American community in Bay Ridge may be small, but we’re not alone. We understand that BKO and the wider community are there and willing to extend that helping hand. It’s like that big sister organization looking out for the younger sister organization.”

Growing Our Philanthropic Community and More In 2023

Last year was great. But let me tell you, it will pale in comparison to what’s ahead. For starters, later this year, we’ll be unveiling a new brand and new website alongside our new strategic plan, which will provide the roadmap for the next phase of our work. In particular, we want to clarify how we plan to live up to our commitment to racial justice and be more responsive to communities across Brooklyn. Our work to date has been fantastic, and I think we can move the needle even further through a more visionary pursuit of our mission for Brooklyn.

We also plan to partner with more Donor Advised Funds to support Brooklyn and the cause of racial justice. We are thrilled with the growth of our DAF program to date, but we know that growth alone is not a measure of success. That’s why we are committed to engaging our DAF holders around urgent issues and strategic opportunities to create change here in Brooklyn, much like we achieved in Canarsie with NYC Kids Rise. Our Donor Advised Fund holders partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropy’s Greenwood Initiative to add an additional $1,000 to every first graders’ college savings account in School District 16—a direct investment in closing the racial wealth gap.

I also want to educate the community at large about the powerful benefits of DAFs for Brooklyn. As one Donor Advised Fund holder told me, “Making the choice to put my DAF with Brooklyn Org instead of at a financial institution means that I have the opportunity to learn about and support local organizations doing work right here in my community. I never would have learned about the opportunity to invest in college savings accounts in Canarsie without Brooklyn Org’s wide network and thoughtful, respected philanthropic advising.”

Now that 2023 is officially here, we look forward to growing our reach across this amazing borough. That means we’ll be launching our 2023 Listening Tour to visit 10 new neighborhoods in the months ahead. We’re also excited to begin the expansion of our strategic grantmaking through the Fishman Family Fund for Economic Opportunity, alongside additional initiatives.

2022 was a landmark year, and we’re committed to doing even more in 2023—pressing for change, empowering local communities, and putting bold ideas into action. Now is a great time to make a gift to Brooklyn Org or recommend a grant from your Donor Advised Fund to fuel the work ahead.