The Surdna Foundation’s Identity and Method statement articulates the role we aspire to play in the world and how we intend to implement our work. There is considerable agreement among board and staff about who we are as a foundation, how we want to work, and what matters to us.

We want staff to be highly collaborative, both internally and externally. Our mission requires collaboration across our fields. We believe that internal collaboration makes our thinking sharper and allows us to be more creative in how we support the fields in which we work. We want staff to be high-touch grant makers: to be connectors of people and ideas, to innovate, and to be attuned to local practice, national networks, and policies that foster just and sustainable communities. We support the growth and capacity of our grantees with technical assistance, peer learning, and feedback from staff. We are committed to spending time being active learners about our approach, methods, and mission.

While each program area has its own set of guidelines and strategies, Surdna aims to operate in a synchronized manner in service of our mission. In accordance with our social justice values, our grant making addresses systems, not symptoms. We understand that structural injustices marginalize some communities and we strive to decrease and eventually remove barriers impeding access to opportunity in these communities. We are interested in investing in emergent leadership in our fields, particularly to support those leaders addressing issues that directly affect them and their communities.

The following are key elements of our identity and method which reflect how we aspire to work.

  • We are a national family foundation with strong local and regional investments tied to our mission of creating just and sustainable communities.

  • We invest in emergent and sustaining strategies in fields. The kind of long-term social change we aim to advance through our mission requires both seeding new ideas as well as staying the course with longer commitments to under-resourced ones.

  • We approach strategy using a systems change framework, and we often engage in efforts to advance public policy. Our grants include work to identify and enable key levers for fostering lasting social change.

  • We make a difference by being knowledgeable and nimble and ahead of the learning curve in ways that attract other funders and stakeholders. We look for spaces where we can be early investors in ideas that bring others to the table.

  • We collaborate with other foundations to leverage our funding and support ideas that show promise of being successful at scale.

  • We have an engaged and educated board, interested in taking risks, learning from successes and failures, and holding the foundation accountable for achieving results.

  • We strive to be good partners with grantees. Staff serves a range of roles in relation to grantees—including advisors, collaborators, advocates and amplifiers of their work, and bridge builders with important decision makers and other funders. We approach our work with grantees with respect and demonstrate transparency, courtesy, responsiveness, and objectivity.

  • We invest in convening grantees for learning and collaboration to add value to their work and ours.

  • We are flexible with regard to how we spend our assets. We understand the importance of providing general operating support, along with project support.

  • We want our staff to listen to the field, build what they learn into responsive strategies, and bring ideas back to the field.

  • We value communication about what is being learned from the work. As a national funder, we can share lessons learned from our grant making to inform the field and influence national policies and programs as well as the replication of good programs across the country.

  • As an institution, we value supporting good ideas and making an impact over recognition. Promoting our “brand,” or name, is secondary to the work. 

Social Justice Principles

The Surdna Foundation’s commitment to social justice is grounded in and has evolved from the legacy of John E. Andrus and the Andrus family. In our mission, we have committed to using social justice as a compass, guiding the systemic change that we strive for. We believe that principles of social justice increase our impact and make us more effective.

As an institution working to foster sustainable communities, we know that thriving cultures, strong local economies, and sustainable environments simply are not possible without directly addressing structural discrimination. Sustainable communities must include access to fair opportunities and the processes that shape our lives and communities.

We strive toward a just and equitable society through transformative grassroots processes. We aim to help shift historic patterns of power imbalance. We observe persistent patterns of inequality and strive to address their root causes. We believe that inequity hurts everyone and that social justice yields benefits throughout society.

We work together with grantee partners and practitioners across our fields, focusing on:

  • Opportunity. We strive for equal access to opportunity, with barriers dismantled in communities that have been historically disenfranchised and systematically excluded.

  • Root causes. Systems thinking and history ground our work; we aim to address root causes. We work to transform the systems of inequity – particularly racism, classism, and sexism – that have shaped opportunity in society. We acknowledge the inequity that exists based on country of origin, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, and ability, among other group identities. In numerous ways, structures and institutions have unfairly impacted and continue to impact life experience and opportunity.

  • Power. We believe that the communities that are most affected should lead the structural changes they seek. Decision-making structures and processes must prioritize empowerment.

  • Leadership development. In order to shift power dynamics, we work with grantee partners to build emerging leaders and leaders from historically marginalized identity groups. We make investments in organizational capacity so that under-resourced organizations can fully participate as informed partners.

At Surdna, social justice guides our internal operations, our programmatic work, and our grantmaking partnerships.

Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.