The Surdna Foundation (SF) was established in 1917 by John Emory Andrus (1841-1934), who served as the mayor of Yonkers, New York in 1903-04 and was a four-term U.S. congressman from 1905-13. Andrus also headed the Arlington Chemical Company, a producer of pharmaceutical products, and became one of the wealthiest men in America—amassing a fortune of perhaps $800 million by the 1920s. He gave away much of his money to colleges, hospitals, churches, and charitable endeavors geared toward helping poor and disabled people. Andrus eschewed publicity regarding his philanthropic activities, however. Indeed he selected the name of his foundation (“Andrus” spelled backwards) so as not to draw attention to himself.
George P. Morrill, author of The Multimillionaire Straphanger, a biography of Andrus, describes SF’s founder as “the complete laizzez faire businessman” who “believed in simple capitalism all his life.” Politically, Andrus was a moderate, and his philanthropy was not at all political in nature. His successors in the Surdna Foundation hierarchy took a very different approach, however. A particularly significant year in the Foundation’s history was 1989, when SF’s board of directors established an Environment and Community Revitalization program that focused heavily on funding environmentalist organizations that were hostile to capitalism’s allegedly inherent tendency to promote air-and-water pollution. This pattern has only intensified since then. As National Center for Public Policy Research analyst David Hogberg writes, SF today “violates the donor intent” of its founder not only “by giving to groups engaged in political activism,” but also “by giving to organizations that are hostile to the industries in which Andrus made his fortune, the very fortune to which the SF owes its existence.”
The Surdna Foundation’s current mission is to “foster sustainable communities in the United States—communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.” Emphasizing the need for societal reform and transformation, SF’s grant-making “addresses systems, not symptoms,” on the premise that the “structural injustices” that “marginalize some communities” and “imped[e]” their “access to opportunity” must be dismantled.
SF’s grant-making focuses on three major program areas:
1) The Sustainable Environments program “works to overhaul our country’s low performing infrastructure, much of it outdated and crumbling,” and replace it with a so-called “next generation infrastructure.” The latter is designed to “improve transit systems,” “make buildings more energy efficient,” “better manage our water systems,” and “rebuild regional food systems” by making it “easier to get local, sustainably produced food from our farms to the markets closest to where it’s grown, and to better connect food producers and consumers.”
2) The Strong Local Economies program, which seeks to “create just and sustainable economies,” strives to “spur the growth of local businesses, encourage equitable economic development, and improve the quality and availability of jobs for low-income people, communities of color, immigrants, and women.”
3) The Thriving Cultures program believes that “communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive [and] prosperous, and [that they] benefit from the rich cultural diversity of their residents.” Thus the program supports efforts to “encourage teens to explore the arts, involve artists in community development projects, and foster the growth and success of local artists as economic engines and agents for social change.”
In recent years, the Surdna Foundation has awarded grants to such entities as: ACORN, the Alliance for Justice, the Center for Community Change, City College of the City University of New York, Defenders of Wildlife, the Earth Action Network, the Earth Day Network, the Earth Island Institute, the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Media Services, the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Network, Human Rights First, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, the Movement Strategy Center, the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Planned Parenthood, Public Citizen, the Rainforest Alliance, Rock the Vote, the Sierra Club, TechRocks, the Tides Center, the Trust for Public Land, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Urban Institute, the Wilderness Society, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund.
To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of the Surdna Foundation, click here.
For additional information on the Surdna Foundation, click here.