Taking the long view
By Katie Fiorelli
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our grandchildren.”
This guiding principle – and mantras like “What would the Nipperts do?” – have helped focus the philanthropy of the Legacy Foundations of Louis and Louise Nippert, which include the Greenacres Foundation, the Louis and Louise Nippert Charitable Foundation, and the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund.
Their strategic investments made these foundations an exceptional fit for the 2021 Outstanding Foundation Award from Cincinnati’s chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Called “patient investors” by the Beech Acres Parenting Center, the trustees guiding the Nipperts’ legacy think in terms of decades, not years. And nowhere has that strategy born more fruit than for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“In 2011, the Nipperts provided philanthropy to help catalyze the adoption of nine fiscal policies to build a balance sheet for a rainy day,” said Dr. Carter Randolph, president and trustee of the Nippert Charitable Foundation. He was instrumental in putting together a plan that brought philanthropy, the Symphony’s board and management, and the musicians’ union to a unique agreement 10 years ago.
The pandemic validated that approach. “The policy of having a charity set aside funds to create reserve accounts really did work,” Randolph said. “From what I understand, the Symphony is able to recruit the best candidates from around the world because musicians like the stability created by the fiscal policies we’ve put in place. In five years, people are talking about the Cincinnati Symphony as the number one symphony in the nation.”
“When it comes to how our foundation invests,” Randolph said, “we look at it like, if we borrowed this fund from our grandchildren, isn’t it our obligation to leave it to them with a little interest on it? The first thing I think of is, ‘What would the Nipperts do?’ and then I think about what they taught me when I was pretty young.”
A weed-pulling education
Randolph’s family moved down the street from the Nipperts when he was an adolescent. His mom sent him to pull weeds on the Nipperts’ property because “she thought it was good for me.”
This was more than a menial task. “I had no idea they were actually educating me at the time. Their philosophy was reflected in Mr. Nippert’s taking over the Greenacres Farm in Indian Hill. At the time it was a spent farm that he joked grew better mushrooms than beans. Mr. Nippert introduced cows, which contributed to regenerating the quality of the soil by bringing back nutrients. That’s part of giving something to your grandchildren, you’re building the soil so they have better food.”
Greenacres Farm is still active, teaching over 30,000 students per year the benefits of regenerative agriculture. The Nipperts’ funds also support Beech Acres and many other arts, environmental and education nonprofits.
“There’s a little bit of independence between Greenacres and the L&L Foundation,” Randolph said, “but not very much, as they share the same guidelines: Funding decisions should reflect the grants made by the Nipperts during their lifetime.” Their three focus areas were education, the arts, and sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship.
The Greenacres Foundation runs the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund, where most of the money goes to the Symphony, Cincinnati Ballet and Cincinnati Opera, with the rest to other community arts organizations. Mrs. Nippert launched this fund based on her belief that the Symphony was foundational to a world-class arts program in Cincinnati. By providing live music for the Opera and the Ballet, the Symphony could draw the best musicians in the world, who would be attracted to stable, year-round work.
The funding philosophies are strategic and generous, based on sage advice from Mrs. Nippert.
“When we decide to fund a grant application, we generally give what’s requested,” Randolph said. “Years ago, a charity requested funds and the trustees said, ‘We’ll give them half.’ Mrs. Nippert responded, ‘You can’t cook a cake for half the time and expect to get anything good. Shouldn’t we give them what they need?’ ”
Easy choices, painful choices
Randolph emphasized that a foundation should reflect the wishes of its creators. He also highlighted the value of due diligence in funding. “You need to make decisions based on solid facts, not just the current rumor mill or beliefs. I listen to the people engaged in activities on the street. The people on the front line offer different views than you might get from a media source.”
The choices vary from incredibly easy to painful.
“We start by asking, ‘What would the Nipperts do?’ as we evaluate. That makes some applications relatively easy to pass on, either because there’s not a lot of bang for the dollar or not a pressing need, or in some cases they’re not from 501(c)(3)s.
“The foundation trustees take a lot of time to go through all qualifying applications and vote. We have $4 million to give, and $20 million in requests. We have to consider which applications are the strongest to ‘get it done.’ ”
As time passes, trustees get further from personal relationships with the original funders. Strategies are in place to stay true to the Nipperts’ goals.
“Those who come after me will need to recognize that fiscal responsibility is very important,” Randolph said, “and that the value of paying it forward to your grandchildren should always be in your mind.”
The NPD 2021 Honorees
Philanthropists of the Year: Rosemary & Mark Schlachter
Volunteer of the Year: Debbie Brant
Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising: Suzy Dorward
Organization of the Year: Legacy Foundations of Louis & Louise Nippert
Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy: Mitch Stone (in memoriam)
Innovator of the Year: United Way’s Champions of Change