Leadership Profile: Community Foundation of New Jersey

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How a Foundation Went from Arms-Length to Hands-On
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Shining a Spotlight on New Jersey

In July 2008, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger in Newark, announced that it was forcing the early retirement of more than 25 percent of its staff to avoid selling the paper. Many of the 150 staff members who accepted the buyouts were respected, experienced journalists. At the Statehouse in Trenton, the press corps had collapsed over the previous decade from 50 to just 20. As the Community Foundation of New Jersey’s CEO Hans Dekker recalls, “They got rid of the education, environment and healthcare beats – issues that we cared about because they’re important to the health of our communities.”

The Community Foundation of New Jersey (CFNJ) board believed that the state’s residents were lacking information about the state’s most important public policy issues, and opportunities to engage on local decision-making. As then-foundation board member Ingrid Reed explained, “Communities really did not have access to information that would help them to understand the problems that they were facing and the solutions that they might craft. [We] needed some way for people to understand what was happening in Trenton and connect that to issues that affected their lives.”

In response to this challenge, the foundation made a program-related loan in the fall of 2009 to a small team of journalists who were proposing to start NJ Spotlight, a new online investigative news service focused on state policy issues. The foundation ultimately established a partnership with the group, becoming the site’s most significant investor and playing a founding role in the start-up and development of the enterprise. In the process, the community foundation shifted its role from that of a traditional grant-maker to a proactive partner and community leader addressing the community information and news challenges of the state of New Jersey.


Projects discussed in this publication

New Jersey Spotlight

To create a public information news service providing always-on website, weekly newsletter and tools for data analysis and web discussion forums

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