Today, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development celebrates 30 years of leadership in service, a milestone that tells a story of resilience and radical philanthropy. Launched amid crisis on the heels of Hurricane Hugo in 1990, three decades later it is evident that crisis has both defined and inspired the journey!
The vision of a group of community activists, our founders were unlikely co-conspirators and friends. Along with a visionary founding board, the late Phillip Gerard, a native Crucian who had headed a Municipal Government Movement, and Michael Neuburger, a German retired aerospace executive, dared to do things differently. Despite the challenges our community was facing at that time (or maybe because of it), they recognized that to be an effective philanthropy in an isolated community, we had to be rooted in place and we had to be resilient. While they believed that a community foundation would be a perfect vehicle for St. Croix’s recovery, they also knew our unique philanthropic approach would be wrought with challenges.
Some of the crucial decisions made at our inception separated us from the rest of the field. Most notably, our founders embedded in our DNA an unwavering respect for civil society (the 3rd sector, nonprofits) and an irreverence for the status quo. They also honed a culture of courage to boldly advocate for strong, accountable island governance and social equity. But, perhaps one of the Foundation’s greatest distinguishing characteristics is that we have served as the fiscal sponsor for more than 250 nonprofits since our inception, which has nurtured enduring community relationships and afforded us deep insight of our community.
Today, we are incredibly proud to report that despite not being endowed and without any consistent national philanthropic investments, St. Croix Foundation has been the conduit of more than $42 million in strategic investments into the U.S. Virgin Islands. And the impact of those investments is visible throughout the territory:
• $16 million invested in Town Revitalization, Economic Development, and Public Safety
• $1.3 million invested in Youth and Education
• $1.8 million invested in Hurricane Recovery and Rebuilding
• $23 million managed and invested in Nonprofit Development and Fiscal Sponsorship
While we are a tiny place-based foundation, we pride ourselves on doing big things! Serving a small under-resourced territory, our strategies for success have been simple: leverage the heck out of every dollar, master the art of collaboration, and stay nimble, adaptive, and innovative. But, over the years, we have also done everything that traditional philanthropy does (grantmaking and donor fund development), leading from above and in front of complex social issues. And, in the process we’ve made miscalculations that forced us to self-correct. In the end, we have learned to lean into our own institutional evolution and growth.
St. Croix Foundation is unequivocally a unique animal in philanthropy. We speak a different language. We lead with different governing principles; with a firm belief in abundance over scarcity. We value collaboration over competition. And we are driven by an internal motto that says take only what you need and give more than you get.
On a more somber note, as we celebrate this milestone, we are grounded by the magnitude of this moment. We could never have imagined that 30 years after our inception, our community would be standing in the wake of TWO Category 5 hurricanes, while navigating a global pandemic. We could not have known that all the priorities we had set, and the strategic investments we had made (in healthcare, education and community revitalization), would be tested. And, we could never have fathomed that the field of philanthropy would be prodded to evolve; to do things differently like we had to three decades ago.
As we look ahead, we’re actually optimistic about the future. We have no doubt that the Virgin Islands cannot only recover, but thrive on the other side of this crisis, powered by the innate resilience and fortitude of our people. We are laser focused on expanding our Vision of Simple Abundance as we invest in innovative community models and build muscle and aptitude around new priorities like food sovereignty, energy and environmental justice, workforce development and civic engagement. We are convicted in our belief that (while counterintuitive) smaller is better and more sustainable for small island economies; that by moving away from industries too big to fail, we can ensure economic stability and prosperity like we’ve never known. We fundamentally believe that by building from the bottom up; by investing in PEOPLE first, we can harness untapped opportunities that drive sustained growth.
We want the community to know that St. Croix Foundation is here, steady as we have been for 30 years. We are collecting data. We are engaging a growing network of national partners, advocating for radical philanthropic investments into the territory. Leading in this moment of uncertainty and loss, we remain deeply grateful for the contributions of every board member, donor, staff, grantee and partner who made the last 30 years possible. They represent points of light that have guided and enabled us still to carry the torch forward and to hold the vision safe.
— Jonathan Williams serves as development coordinator for the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development.