WALNUT CREEK -- The Thomas J. Long Foundation, which has quietly given away millions over the past 40 years, wants to help create some definitive societal change. And the foundation's board is willing to spend every last penny in its coffers in a short amount of time to do it.
The Walnut Creek-based foundation, started by Longs Drug Stores co-founder Thomas J. Long in 1972, will likely be out of the philanthropy business by 2022.
The board announced Wednesday a plan not only to give out its typical $15,000-a-piece community grants to various organizations, but to disburse multiyear major money grants for initiatives in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Areas of focus for those grants include education, disabled services, senior services and safety net services.
With this new direction, the foundation plans to spend its entire $90 million endowment in the next eight years.
"This strategy reflects the 'tradition of caring' that Longs Drug Stores was known for," said Sidne Long, chair of the board and daughter of Thomas J. Long, in a news release.
In 2012, the foundation celebrated its 40-year anniversary. It was then that the trustees looked at the $50 million it had spent over its history and realized that while the small grants helped various organizations, issues such as homelessness or hunger were not getting better and in many cases, worse, said foundation board trustee Hank Delevati. So the board decided the best way to honor the mission of the foundation was to spend money on programs that will create lasting change.
"We are about making an impact and affecting change in these (above) four areas," he said. "It's called 'giving while living.'"
This nonprofit model is how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation operates.
"To some extent, those organizations end up losing their perspective and objective of the original founders and are living in perpetuity in spite of themselves," Delevati said.
Thomas J. Long never indicated if he wanted the foundation to go on forever, he said.
Foundation officials are looking to fund programs or services that can create measurable change. An example is their 2009 effort funding First 5 Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, to which the foundation gave $15 million over five years to provide preschool for low-income children. Those preschoolers, now in third and fourth grades, are 1,000 vocabulary words ahead of their peers, and statistically less likely to drop out of school, Delevati said. And First 5 was able to use the Long grant as leverage to get more money from the federal government.
Over the next several months and years, the foundation will actively go out, unlike in the past, and search for organizations, government agencies or other foundations that would use the moneyto make big changes, he said.
In the past, programs such as Aim High Oakland, Diablo Regional Arts Association and Bay Area Legal Aid have all received money. Last year, the foundation awarded 230 grants totaling more than $6 million.
While the larger grants may be used on capital projects, the board has found that they didn't have the impact the preschool funding did, he said.
"We are not interested in spending money to build the Long Senior Center in downtown Walnut Creek," he said.
The foundation will still dole out the smaller community grants at the same time, and in some cases may even make those a bit larger.
But eventually those organizations will no longer be able to count on the smaller grants. But some aren't worried.
"I think because it's a 10-year horizon I am not immediately concerned and because they have supported us for so long," said David Gerson, executive director of Loaves & Fishes of Contra Costa, a hunger-fighting nonprofit that has received about $20,000 annually for years. His organization is trying to expand, to offer more services to its clients, and hopes to buy a building in Martinez.
"We may have the thought to apply for an additional grant with our expansion," he said. "So it's great news and could be a great opportunity."
The Long foundation's executive leadership team is being shaken up as well, with Executive Director Bob Coakley moving over to be vice president, finance and administration, for the foundation. The search for a chief executive officer, likely one who has handled the wind-down of a foundation, is underway.
For more information go to www.thomasjlongfdn.org.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.
Walnut Creek-based foundation gives around $6 million community grants annually
Here is a partial list of 2012 grant recipients: