Ep 112: What Foundations Are Thinking Right Now (with Caryl M. Stern)

by Joan Garry

So many nonprofits are struggling. Facing crises that are existential. I wanted to know what funders, especially foundations, are thinking at this time.


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You know that old saying, “May you live in interesting times”?

Yeah, about that….

The times have been terrifying and surreal. In particular for those of us that fall into the category of “older Americans with underlying conditions.” Yeah, people like me.

But hope is medicine. And I find hope in the work of the nonprofit leaders I am privileged to serve. The juxtaposition of your immense struggles (read: funding, resources) and the exponential need for your work is like nothing I have ever seen.

I could tell stories for days of small and mighty nonprofits that are delivering against all odds – with resilience, creativity, collaboration and sheer grit.

That said, I get it. So many of you are struggling. Facing crises that are existential. Will we make it?

I wanted to know what funders, especially foundations, are thinking at this time. I’m imagining program officers inundated with requests for emergency grants.

And so I spoke with the Executive Director of the Walton Family Foundation, Caryl Stern. In 2018 this foundation awarded nearly $600 million(!) in grants with a focus on the environment, K-12 education and the place the Waltons call home, Northwest Arkansas. The foundation invests around the world, on farms and back yards, and in the kids who are the future.

For all of you nonprofit superheroes with tattered capes, this conversation is for you.

About Caryl M. Stern

Caryl M. Stern is the executive director of the Walton Family Foundation. Previously, she was president and CEO of UNICEF USA. A dynamic change-maker, Caryl has dedicated her career to helping others through education, compassion, advocacy and rolling up her sleeves. For 12 years, she served as president and CEO of UNICEF USA, an organization that supports UNICEF’s lifesaving work to put children first.

Caryl has traveled to more than 30 countries in support of UNICEF’s work and has spearheaded UNICEF USA’s emergency relief efforts for children affected by disasters, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 East Africa drought, the Ebola and Zika epidemics and the ongoing global refugee and migrant crisis.

A sought-after public speaker on the topics of Kids Helping Kids, children and philanthropy, anti-bullying and international development, Caryl was invited to present at the White House’s inaugural summit on The United State of Women and was named one of “25 Women Changing the World in 2017” by People Magazine, “20 Most Influential Moms of 2017” by Family Circle, “25 Moms We Love” by Working Mother Magazine and “Ten Women to Watch” by Jewish Women International.

She serves on the boards of directors of The Container Store and the We Are Family Foundation. In addition, Caryl is a member of the Advisory Board of Chime for Change and a trustee of The World’s Big Sleep Out. Prior to joining UNICEF USA, Caryl was an executive at the Anti-Defamation League, the founding director of it’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute, and the Dean of Students at Polytechnic University.

Caryl is an activist, author, executive, public speaker, mother of three and grandmother of two.