Special Projects

The Ellis L. Phillips Foundation has developed an institutional predisposition to be entrepreneurial and innovative in its work. The seed of this growth almost certainly was planted by the founder, Ellis L. Phillips, an engineer who made his fortune by creating innovations in electric power generation and distribution and then building successful businesses on the strength of them. His son, Ellis L. Phillips, Jr., recognized that the Foundation might have a greater impact for good by actively applying its resources to identify needs and create solutions, rather than passively relying on the initiative of supplicants who managed to find their way to the Foundation’s door.

In 1962, the Ellis L. Phillips Foundation undertook for the first time a program that was a response to its own analysis of need and its own design for a solution. This was the Program of Internships in Academic Administration, to provide opportunities for aspiring young men and women to spend part or all of an academic year at colleges and universities under the guidance of distinguished and experienced college officers. The Foundation saw that demographics, prosperity, and the implicit threats of the Cold War were greatly increasing demand for higher education, but that colleges generally lacked the kind of effective business practices in hiring and providing on-the-job training for middle management found in private corporations. The program succeeded both in its start-up and then in attracting the ongoing sponsorship of an organization with more extensive resources, the Ford Foundation.

Subsequently, the Phillips Foundation worked cooperatively with local interests to fund start-up programs that, like Program of Internships in Academic Administration, could grow and ultimately be sustained by ongoing support from other sources. One such program was Ithacare, a plan to convert an unused Ithaca College dormitory into an elderly nursing care facility where students program the college would participate in recreational and therapeutic programs for the residents. Once established as a “viable project,” Ithacare qualified for continued funding from the Federal Housing Authority.

In the 1980s the Foundation made significant early investments in the now well-established and highly regarded Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont. Early Phillips Foundation funding of the Montshire helped to attract a major Kresge Foundation grant at a crucial time. In the early 1990s, the Foundation played a lead role in developing “The Concord Program,” in which disparate non-profit organizations devoted to preserving the land and history of Concord, Massachusetts, began to work collaboratively to identify and promote the interests that were common to their missions.

Under the leadership of its former president, Larry Phillips, the Foundation has relied on a diverse board and professional practices to ensure effective cultivation and selection of grant applications. Yet, the major focus of its work for several years has been The Catalogue for Philanthropy, which the Foundation created from whole cloth. The Catalogue for Philanthropy began as an annual publication to present small and worthy Massachusetts charitable organizations to an audience of people who, though capable of giving, may be otherwise unaware of strongly appealing opportunities to give. The Foundation conceived the project, developed the model for the catalogue, found funding partners for the project, and carried out each phase of the publication cycle. The Catalogue for Philanthropy began in Massachusetts where the Foundation is now headquartered and where charitable giving has ranked near the bottom of the national “giving index,” but it is a model that can be adopted and adapted elsewhere. The Catalogue for Philanthropy is also published on the web. All issues since the original in 1997 are accessible, and a site visitor can make a contribution on the spot to any listed charity.

2004 was a transitional year for the foundation. After seven years designing and implementing the Massachusetts Catalogue for Philanthropy, we turned it over to a national organization of the same name. Our financial support of this fine project ceased in calendar 2004. Now we are actively pursuing another large project which itself was suggested by the catalogue.

One of the venture philanthropy projects included in the catalogue a few years ago is the Constellation Performing Arts and Film Center to be constructed in the Kendall Square area in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the large room will be placed a pipe organ based on an 18th century instrument that J. S. Bach himself admired in the central part of Germany where the master spent most of his working life. It is this instrument that the foundation has committed itself to funding over what looks to be a three-four year period. This will be our sole philanthropic concern during this period.

While research into this instrument’s design and location continues, the organ builder has been selected: Taylor & Boody, a Virginia firm (http://www.taylorandboody.com) well equipped to build the kind of instrument we and the organ consultant have in mind. In this venture we are all profiting from research made available since the opening up of former East Germany. The resulting organ will be the first of its kind in North America and as such will surely revivify organ studies and performances in this academic and cultural center. While the project is ongoing, the foundation remains enthusiastic concerning its fruition.