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Heckscher Foundation for Children


Last Updated: 2017-01-10

At A Glance

Heckscher Foundation for Children

123 E. 70th St.

New York City, NY United States 10021-5006

Telephone: (212) 744-0190


Type of Grantmaker

Independent foundation

Financial Data

(yr. ended 2015-12-31)

Assets: $287,462,688

Total giving: $11,222,881






Incorporated in 1921 in NY - The history of the Heckscher Foundation for Children is a multifaceted story with three principal participants. Charles August Heckscher, a visionary who achieved great financial success, believed that wealth should be shared with others less fortunate, and thus as one of his many benefactions started the Foundation. Arthur Smadbeck, a friend of August Heckscher and fellow philanthropist, reluctantly took over a shattered financial and management structure and made possible the survival and emergence of The Heckscher Foundation for Children as a major benefactor. Ruth Smadbeck, who ran the Foundation for more than 50 years brought to its philanthropic activities a lifelong dedication to and love for children. The Heckscher Foundation was founded in 1921. The assets consisted of land at Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets in New York City and securities intended to provide funds for the construction of a building on the site and for its operations. The original Foundation building opened in 1922 but not long thereafter was far exceeding its operating costs. As the Depression deepened, the Foundation assets were in default, and the Foundation itself was on the verge of collapse. August Heckscher turned to Arthur Smadbeck and Ruth Smadbeck, financial equals who shared his deep dedication to public service. Arthur Smadbeck was one of the first and most prolific suburban real estate developers of the era. Until his death in 1977, Arthur Smadbeck donated his time and efforts to building an endowment and creating a profitable platform on which he positioned the Foundation to support major outside charitable efforts, while at the same time running his own successful businesses and extensive philanthropic endeavors. Ruth Smadbeck began as a volunteer several years after the Foundation's building opened and ran the Foundation for over 50 years, including its multifaceted programs of dance, orchestra, exercise, swimming, the purchase and distribution of necessities for indigent children, a kindergarten, a theater, a craft room, a senior lounge, a photography group, a library, and a thrift shop, while at the same time broadcasting two radio programs a week offering advice and guidance on child care. At Ruth Smadbeck’ s death in 1986 distributions to charity had grown to $1,169,219 and assets had grown to $22,072,773. Louis Smadbeck, a renowned real estate entrepreneur and civic leader in his own right, became Chairman of the Heckscher Foundation in 1986 and continued in this capacity until his death in 1992. Virginia Sloane was elected President in 1986 and President Emeritus in 2012. A new generation assumed leadership roles in 1997. Howard G. (Peter) Sloane became Chairman and CEO and continues to preside over the Foundation's many philanthropic projects. Today, the Foundation’s assets have grown to well over $300 million and distributions to charity have dramatically increased.

Purpose and Activities

The foundation defines its mission as "leveling the playing field for underserved youth." Its goal is to foster venture philanthropy using three principal funding strategies: 1) Catalytic Giving identifies approaches that have the potential for wide application but which have not reached a scale broad enough to attract investment by larger private foundations or government; 2) Strategic Partnerships promotes collaborations between not for profits, for profits and the public sector toward a common goal; 3) Targeted Problem Solving defines a specific challenge that has a practical solution attainable within a reasonable time and budget, and that encourages creative problem solvers to test that solution. The challenge often addresses barriers to equal opportunity either overlooked or under appreciated. .

Program Area(s)

The grantmaker has identified the following area(s) of interest:

Arts Education

The foundation believes that the primary arena for excellent arts education is the classroom, and that arts organizations should work consistently and strategically in schools and with teachers, understanding the demands of existing curricula and official standards. In superior programs, teachers and artists work together closely and over time so that, eventually, partner teachers consider themselves artists and participating artists consider themselves teachers. Programs should be able to demonstrate how participation helps to further the foundation's mission to "level the playing field" by providing exposure to and experience in the arts for children who might not have such opportunities. The foundation is particularly interested in programs that lead to increased knowledge about the arts and positive behavior outcomes through the arts such as: 1) Increased school performance as a result of integration of arts education; 2) Literacy skill-building; 3) Acquisition of arts skills; and 4) Avoidance of risk and problem behaviors.

Capacity Building & Technical Assistance

The foundation provides support for organizations to meet challenges of infrastructure, board issues and strategic direction through partnerships with expert consultants specializing in helping high-potential organizations improve the services they provide to children in need. Capacity building and technical assistance includes hands-on support where needed, working with a variety of stakeholders for collaboration and exploring the complex needs of organizations seeking to move beyond the seed phase to fully scaled programming and infrastructure. Positive indicators of an organization's increase in impact to become more effective, efficient and stable may include:1) Growth and leadership strategies; 2) Establishment of coalitions or alliances; 3) Creation of evaluation strategies and outcome tracking; and 4) Improved fiscal management and financial analysis.

Education and Academic Support

The foundation funds programs in superior public, private, parochial and alternative schools, as well as those that prepare students for success as they transition from one school or academic level to another. It does not endorse any particular educational model but rather supports a variety of organizations that insist on student achievement using tools such as extended time schooling and enrichment activities specifically connected to curriculum. When assessing academic programs other than schools, the foundation looks for curricula correlated to the NYC/NYS academic standards that extend in-school learning, activities that make meaningful connections between the regular school day and the "real world", and those that achieve outcomes that compare favorably to average NYC/NYS results. When a program is housed in a school, the foundation will also consider its relationship with the host institution. In deciding whether to fund a program or school, the foundation will give substantial weight to those that critically assess their own performance using objective criteria. The foundation is particularly interested in programs that plan to demonstrate concrete behavioral outcomes such as: - Improved grades - Significant measured gains in grade-level literacy and avoidance of "summer slip" - Improved SAT or other standardized test scores - High school graduation - Admission to college - Graduation from college. Those applying for funding should offer evidence that the particular educational interventions they propose employ, or at least do not conflict with, recognized best practices and science-based interventions shown to be effective. The foundation funds programs that address the opportunity gap through rigorous academic preparation, college admissions guidance, and ongoing support to manifest not only a degree but post-graduate success. When assessing college access and success programs, the foundation looks for programs that use a comprehensive approach and strive to incorporate the numerous attributes.

Health, Recreation & Social Services

The foundation's mission to "level the playing field" for needy youth is based on the premise that many young people lack the fundamental resources that more fortunate youth take for granted. The programs the foundation supports combine an emphasis on soft skills (resilience, independence, problem-solving) with hard skills acquisition. It looks for its grantees to assess their outcomes in both areas, with a relentless focus on demonstrable outcomes toward a better life. The foundation is particularly interested in funding social services projects that impact or correlate with positive behavioral outcomes in academic improvement and toward economic stability. Such examples may include: interventions for children with special needs and health challenges, supports for youth navigating court involvement, and recreational initiatives using sports or other physical activities as a "hook" to initiate interest in academics, college or careers. The foundation seeks to identify projects and programs in social services that demonstrate positive outcomes in alignment with particular special populations of children and youth served, such as: 1) Improved academic performance and achievement; 2) Reduced rates of recidivism; 3) Improved nutrition and increased exercise; 4) Measured improvements in children with social-emotional delays in early childhood; 5) School progress and improved grades, SAT or other standardized test scores; 6) Decreased or eliminated need for the support service or system; and 7) Economic self-sufficiency.

Workforce Development

The foundation has two primary criteria for assessing initiatives in the career and employment readiness area: 1) proposed interventions should be operated within a youth development framework; and 2) programs must be prepared to demonstrate concrete outcomes of improved readiness for, and performance in, the world of work such as: securing a job; maintaining a job at 3 months, 6 months, 1 year; and advancement in a job. The foundation funds workforce development (WFD) programs that address the challenges of training young adults in a difficult economy while meeting the complex needs of disadvantaged, urban youth. Successful programs build the academic, occupational, and life skills of participants, while forming dynamic relationships with industry partners in order to shape their training around labor market demand. When assessing workforce development programs, the foundation looks for programs that use a comprehensive approach and strive to incorporate many or all of the following attributes: 1) Industry sector-based training to facilitate access to full-time employment. Programs that offer industry sector-based or job-specific training for targeted certifications and occupations, rather than seek to increase a young adult's general employability. 2) Jobs that enable economic self-sufficiency. Programs that guide participants toward jobs that meet standards of self-sufficiency, even at an entry-level, to avoid reliance on other subsidies or charities. 3) Relationships with industry partners. Collaboration with employers, employer networks, and the like so that training is directed at labor market demands. 4) Limited cohort size. Programs with cohorts of fewer than 100 youth and that focus exclusively on workforce development. 5) Address educational requirements needed to secure and maintain employment. This includes baseline education (e.g. high school diploma/GED), soft skills, and any vocational credentials needed to enter a competitive labor market. 6) Job developers that interface with both clients and employers. 7) Paid internship, transitional employment, or on-the-job training ideally at sites that are willing to hire. 8) Professional environment. Programs that immediately set expectations of conduct and enforce consequences if participants do not adhere to them. 9) Job retention efforts. Staff dedicated to follow-up contact; continued availability of wrap-around supports and job search services; alumni network and events.10) Data tracking: job placement and retention. Job placement data should include employer, position, and salary (starting and advancements). Retention should be an ongoing measurement.

Fields of Interest

  • Arts education
  • Employment
  • Health care administration and financing
  • Sports and recreation
  • Youth services
Population Groups
  • Academics
  • Adolescents
  • Children
  • Children and youth
  • Economically disadvantaged people
  • Ethnic and racial groups
  • Female children and youth
  • Infants and toddlers
  • Low-income and poor people
  • Male children and youth
  • Students

Financial Data

Year ended 2015-12-31

Assets: $287,462,688 (market value)

Expenditures: $15,416,459

Total giving: $11,222,881

Qualifying distributions: $13,302,823