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The Baum Foundation: A unique approach to charitable giving

From left: SF Camerawork’s Chuck Mobley, 2009 Baum Award winner Sean McFarland, 2012 Baum Award winner Eric William Carroll, The Baum Foundation founder Glenn Bucksbaum photo: courtesy sf camerawork

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.” If you remember this proverb, you will understand the heart of a unique organization housed in the Presidio.

The Baum Foundation is the brainchild of Glenn Bucksbaum and his wife, April Minnick-Bucksbaum. In 2003, Glenn was working in commercial real estate and April was a marketing executive in the film industry. Though successful in their fields, both realized they wanted to make a difference in the world – to improve the quality of people’s lives by supporting specific tangible programs in the arts, education and environment.

With some seed money from other foundations, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation, the couple created The Baum Foundation out of their San Francisco apartment.

The foundation, says executive director Jen Melcon, “contributes its time and resources to nurture artistic talent, provide youth with educational opportunities through art and the environment, and to support the conservation and preservation of the planet’s diversity.”

Since its inception, The Baum Foundation has worked globally to improve the health of the planet and the human condition by supporting programs that build awareness, shift public attitudes, and expand the implementation of sustainable solutions for the environment.

As Melcon explains, The Baum Foundation does more than give monetary grants. It also provides strategic mentoring, interns and advisors to help an organization achieve goals compatible with the Baum mission.

“While we do act as a fiscal sponsor to organizations, we also serve as a strategic mentor to those who need a nonprofit umbrella to go forward,” she said. “There are many people out there who have great ideas that are in sync with our mission, but they don’t know how to go forward. One way the foundation helps to fulfill its mission is by helping other organizations who have an idea and want to turn that idea into a nonprofit foundation, complete with 501(c)(3) status, which is often a complex procedure.”

A key concept in the foundation’s mission is networking. The Baum Foundation seeks out appropriate experts in the fields of art, education and the environment, primarily through networking. Getting its grantees in contact with appropriate experts is critical, because the staff of The Baum Foundation has no direct professional experience in the areas it seeks to improve.

One example is The Global Ocean Alert System, which seeks to reduce the amount of trash polluting the oceans. The Baum Foundation facilitated its delivery of a computer-generated tool that creates awareness of the problem in communities around the world. Those communities are then able to recruit aid in taking action against ocean trash “hotspots.”

The Meridian Foundation in San Rafael has relied on The Baum Foundation to help their foundation grow and has seen firsthand what a positive impact Baum has on their programs. CO2 Cubes (visual depictions of what one metric ton of carbon looks like) were delivered for the U.N. climate change treaty talks in Copenhagen in 2009 with the help of The Baum Foundation. An exhibition at Rio+20 in June 2012, showcasing solutions and visions for a more sustainable world, was another example.

“The Baum Foundation essentially mentored Meridian in how to run and operate our foundation. The most wonderful aspects of this relationship have occurred not only in tutorials, meetings and the sharing of information, but in the field, on projects where Meridian was graciously invited to partner with Baum,” said Deanne LaRue, executive director of the Meridian Foundation.

In the arts, Sean McFarland was the sixth winner of the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers.

“A $10,000 award [is] given to one of a total of 50 nominees each year,” explained McFarland. “In addition to the award, the artist is given a solo exhibition. When I received the award, I was struggling with debt and simply couldn’t afford the tools and materials to make work in the way it should be made. The money allowed me to pay down debts and supply [my] studio with new equipment. The award helped tremendously, but more importantly it contributes to the advancement of arts and culture as a whole.”

“What they are doing is absolutely essential for emerging artists to make work, especially in the contemporary cultural and economic environment,” added McFarland.

“Sean exemplifies our hope to reach an artist at a critical moment in their career and to support them in pursuing their dreams to be an artist,” says Melcon, Baum’s executive director.

Melcon herself is amazed at The Baum Foundation’s success. While the group has moved from the Bucksbaum’s apartment to a Presidio office, the entire staff consists of only five individuals plus two interns.

“It’s incredible how much we’re able to achieve with so few of us,” she says.

A wide variety of groups are working as Baum partners to help achieve mutual goals including The Nature Conservancy, the United Nations, Ocean Gate Foundation, The Aspen Institute, Camerawork, and a number of others which can be found at www.baumfoundation.org.

The enormous variety and scope of programs that The Baum Foundation has aided around the globe can also be found on their website, showing how these dedicated individuals are teaching other individuals and organizations “how to fish.”

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