The Duke and Dodge family fortunes nurture the arts, the land and the people.

Spreading the Wealth in the Skylands

by Ken Branson

If a little money can be made to go a long way, surely a lot of money can be made to go a long, long way. Those portions of the great Dodge and Duke fortunes reposing in the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation nurture the arts fine and practical; the land, pristine and scarred; and the people ­ their health, their minds, and what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of their nature.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation ­ Morris County's Angel

Elliott D. Lee is in the business of handing out money in Morris County. It's not his money; it's the Dodge Foundation's money. Lee, based in Morristown, is Dodge's program officer for Morris County. No other geographic entity ­ certainly no other county in New Jersey ­ has someone assigned mainly to make Dodge grants there. Why is Morris County so lucky?

"The big reason was that Geraldine R. Dodge lived in Madison and was a great benefactor in Madison," he says. "She didn't specify it exactly in her will, but made it clear that she wanted the foundation to pay attention to some of the local philanthropic interests. So, ever since the foundation has been around it's always had some local funding."

Indeed, Geraldine Dodge's home town is liberally sprinkled with her legacy ­ the borough's government, its library, and its YMCA all received grants in the last cycle.

As a whole, Morris County is nobody's idea of a poverty pocket, but in terms of income, ethnicity, and land-use, it may be New Jersey's most diverse county. The Dodge Foundation made 39 grants, totaling $1,295,765 in its 2002 grant cycle. Most of them were modest -- $10,000 to Harmonium, a classical choral society based in Morristown; $5,000 to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Morris County. The biggest is $157,165 to the Arts Council of Morris County. These grants, and all the grants in between, are part of a strategy to make Morris County a saner, better educated, more civilized, more humane place.

Lee and his colleagues see Morris County as a microcosm of the nation. "How can we make society more humane and the world more livable?" Lee asks. "We see Morris County as a kind of living laboratory. We can do some things at the local level that we may not be able to do at the statewide level to help us understand, not only what's going on in Morristown, but take some ideas to other parts of the state."

Lee has written an essay, "Towards a Philanthropy of Place," which appears on the Dodge Foundation's website (, in which he elaborates this view of Morris County as the nation, writ small.

"Like the U.S., it is a place of tremendous wealth, yet it is pockmarked by genuine poverty," Lee writes. "It is a place of understated comfort, but many of its residents despair about securing decent childcare, affordable housing and jobs. It is a place where diversity produces abundant riches, but also stokes an animosity that undermines the will to find and cultivate common ground."

An idea that works in Morris County, therefore, might work elsewhere in the state or in the nation. For example, the Foundation is very interested in finding ways to build communities in the teeth of demographic and social change. Morristown One Community received $67,000 in one cycle. Morristown One Community sponsored a series of nine community gatherings through the fall of 2002 which brought together people from all the town's stakeholders ­ business people, residents from every neighborhood, members of every ethnic group, advocates for every vision of Morristown's future. At the end of March, the group brought people from all those meetings to report on the main issues coming out of each meeting. Morristown's issues ­ demographic change, childcare, affordable housing, education, the pros and cons of development ­ are replicated in communities around the country.

Also, something that works elsewhere might work in Morris County. For example, the Dodge Foundation has granted $37,000 to Northern New England Tradeswoman Inc. (, a non-profit organization based in Essex Junction, Vermont, that helps women train for an enter such traditionally male trades as construction. NNETW runs a three-week summer day camp that introduces middle-school-aged girls to carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing and other such skills, and the grant will allow them to explore the possibility of exporting their summer camp to Morris County.

Ideas, wherever they originate, are starting points for the foundation's efforts to make the county and the world more civilized and humane. But the Dodge Foundation tries hard to spread more than money around the county. It spreads competence. Considering the current state of philanthropy in the country, competence may have more long-term impact than money.

"These are tough times right now," Lee says. "For many, many non-profits, it's the perfect storm. Most of their funding sources have contracted at the same time. This underscores our notion that, if we can help groups be better managers of their resources, we can do their jobs better."

This concern about competence involves both specific expertise and general administrative know-how, and is exemplified by the foundation's grants to Pro Bono Partnership (, a Newark-based organization that provides legal services to community-based non-profit organizations. The Dodge Foundation gave Pro Bono $25,000 in its last funding cycle. "We're very high on Pro Bono," Lee says. "They're very good at what they do, and for most non-profits, who can't afford to pay for (legal services), it's a way to leverage resources."

The Volunteers for Morris County, on the other hand, serves as a clearinghouse for all sorts of management expertise ­ from young people looking for a summer volunteer experience to managers to board members.

"Non-profits tend to be understaffed on the management and administrative side," says Carol McKinney, Volunteers for Morris County's executive director. "They need people who can understand human resources. They need lawyers. They need accountants. They need marketing professionals. We help the agency find out what they need to do what they do, and we help them find people who do it."

Uniquely, Volunteers for Morris County also finds board members with the same kind of expertise. They run ads in newspapers and on radio stations searching for potential board members, and then match their abilities with the needs of non-profit organizations. They offer formal training sessions for board members, either on a corporation's premises or off-site.

There isn't one skill, because every one needs a complement," McKinney says. "You don't want five lawyers on your board. The basic need, the biggest need, is understanding what organizations need. You don't want somebody's Aunt Sarah. Aunt Sarah may be lovely, but you don't want her if she doesn't have a skill you need. You wouldn't hire Aunt Sarah just because she's a lovely woman; you don't want her on your board for that reason, either."

So Dodge's money brings together people who might not otherwise meet, to work on solutions they might not otherwise consider. It leverages the skills of people like McKinney, and the people she recruits. And civilization carries on.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation ­ Conserving Open Space

New Jersey is an "end-game" state as far as the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is concerned. That is, the pressures of development and sprawl have been so intense here for so long that there is a relatively short time in which to preserve open space in the state.

New Jersey also happens to have been the home of the late Doris Duke, heir to the great fortune accumulated by James Buchanan Duke, who acquired an enormous estate in Somerset County called Duke Farms. That estate is one focus of the Duke Foundation's impact on the region. Consisting of 2,700 acres, the Duke home, several other historic buildings and the Duke Display Gardens, Duke Farms is itself a massive experiment in conservation.

"Think of it as a bull's eye," says Priscilla Brendler, program director for Duke Farms. "The center is 700 acres, and around that, another 2,000 acres along the Raritan River ­ lowlands, wetlands, farm fields and woods. There is farming, but a lot of the 2,000 acres is kept in a natural state."

The original estate, Brendler says, was developed by James Buchanan Duke as a country retreat. He designed it to resemble a prosperous North Carolina piedmont farm, and he was not interested in leaving it in a wild state ­ though his landscape architect worked hard to make it look that way. His landscape architect was Frederick Law Olmstead's firm ­ the firm that created that quintessence of unnatural beauty, Central Park. According to Brendler, Duke wanted to share the estate's beauty with his neighbors, and he opened it to the public for picnics and weekend strolls. But the public was not gentle with the property, and Duke closed it in 1919. This summer, for the first time since Duke closed it, the estate will be open to the public for limited tours.

Visitors will see the waterfalls, lakes, fountains, bridges, meadows and woodlands created by Olmstead's firm on the original property.

What the public will see is the original 700-acre bull's eye, the 1902 hay barn, and ­ at a distance ­ the mansion. Visitors will see the waterfalls, lakes, fountains, bridges, meadows and woodlands created by Olmstead's firm on the original property. The tours will run Wednesday through Sunday from June 4 to November 15. The display gardens, which reflect the cultures and climates of a dozen different regions around the world, are not open during the summer. They're housed under an acre of glass, and the temperature under that glass in July is too hot for the hour-long guided tour Duke Farms offers during the other three seasons of the year.

The bull's eye and the garden are eye-candy, to be sure, but Duke's lasting impact on the region begins on the non-public parts of the estate and extends to the rest of the Skylands.

At Duke Farms, the foundation allows scientists to make "baseline" studies of the natural environment. These studies determine what "natural" is for the region, and Duke Farms is a good place to do that because, while malls and highways and housing developments have run right up to the fence, much of the estate has been left undeveloped.

Beyond the fence, the foundation has funded the activities of non-profit groups interested in preserving open space, endangered species and recreational opportunities against encroachment. In December 1999, the Duke Foundation announced grants totaling $14 million to organizations protecting open land and encouraging "smart growth" in New Jersey and Rhode Island. New Jersey's share of that money was $8.4 million. (The Duke family, in addition to Duke Farms, had homes in Rhode Island and Hawaii.) The foundation called this initiative the Land Conservation Initiative, or LCI.

The foundation's strategy was to protect, one way or another, 10,000 acres of open land in New Jersey over four years. Of those acres, 7,500 had been preserved by last summer, and 2,260 of those acres are in northwestern New Jersey. A couple of local examples indicate the foundation's approach.

Consider Valley View Farms and PMI projects in Sussex County, near Newton and Andover. According to a report the foundation issued in the summer of 2002, Valley View Farms was about to become the site of two major developments, totaling 420 new homes. This was "several times the number of building permits issued in these towns (Fredon and Andover townships, and the Town of Newton) in any given year." To put it mildly, these houses would have put considerable strain on local municipal services, not to mention the loss of wildlife habitat and other environmental stresses.

Valley View Farms was adjacent to the Muchshaw Pond Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy eventually bought both Valley View Farms and the PMI site, totaling 333 acres, for $4.25 million, of which $1.15 million came from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. As a result, a farm was preserved, wildlife habitat was preserved, and sprawl ­ at least this sprawl ­ was checked in its tracks.

This was a "leveraged" effort ­ that is, Duke's money was part of it, but not all of it. The foundation likes to work on projects that have other supporters, and so it encourages its grantees to find support from other funders besides Duke. In fact, in Duke's Land Conservation Initiative (to give the 1999 effort its proper name), the ratio of non-Duke to Duke funding has been 10 to one, compared to the four to one ratio typical in such projects.

A considerable part of the $8.4 million Duke allocated to preserve land in New Jersey has gone to help conservation organizations do their jobs better, in much the same way that the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation's grant to Volunteers for Morris County helps non-profit organizations handle the business and administrative side of their work. In Duke's case, this money goes toward what its 2002 midterm report calls "building relationships" between various non-profit groups and people who might not think of themselves as natural allies ­ local government officials, for instance, and farmer's organizations. In the case of Valley View Farms and PMI, this relationship building eventually led to the passage of Sussex County's land conservation tax. In addition, working through such grantees as New Jersey Future and the New Jersey Conservation Association, Duke is helping to "build capacity" for non-profit and local government groups to identify critical open space and buy it before developers do.

Duke's midterm report on the progress of the LCI suggests that other tactics may be useful in the future preservation of open land. It suggests that the Land Conservation Initiative put its money where the pace of land conservation can be sped up, and the pace of development slowed down. That means picking battles that are worth winning in terms of biodiversity, acquiring parcels that connect other, already-preserved parcels, and encouraging local officials to adopt "smart growth" policies.

The necessity of picking battles, even for an organization with the Duke Foundation's resources, is clear from a glance at a map showing the land affected by the LCI so far. Seventy-five hundred acres are a lot of acres, but a tiny portion of the land under threat. It's clear that even Duke's money, and all the money Duke money can attract, is not enough to preserve all the open space that needs preserving, and stop sprawl entirely. According to Duke's midterm report on the Land Conservation Initiative, the Valley View Farms project cost $11,000 per acre to preserve, and PMI cost $14,000. "While this particular landscape...had high ecological value, it is worth recognizing that LCI's resources are scarce," the report says. "In fighting sprawl by buying out planned developments, is there a threshold LCI would be unwilling to cross?"

This story was first published: Summer, 2003
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