The Cleveland Foundation

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The Cleveland Foundation, based in Cleveland, Ohio, is the world's first community foundation and one of the largest today, with assets of $2.5 billion and annual grants of more than $100 million. Established in 1914 by banker Frederick Harris Goff, the Cleveland Foundation partners with donors to improve the lives of residents in Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties, now and for generations to come. The Cleveland Foundation is made up of more than 800 funds representing individuals, families, organizations and corporations. The current president and chief executive officer is Ronald "Ronn" Richard.[1]


The foundation was founded by Fredrick Harris Goff, a well-known banker at the Cleveland Trust Company, who sought to eliminate the "dead hand" of organized philanthropy. He created a dynamic, corporately structured foundation that could utilize community gifts in a responsive and need-appropriate manner. In 2019, 1,871 place-based foundations exist internationally, all adopting and adapting Goff's vision to harness the desire of people to help one another by sharing resources for the common good.

In its first decade, the foundation accomplished innovative projects to improve the quality of life for Greater Cleveland residents including conducting research surveys to promote public education reforms and understand the relationship between poverty and crime. In 1919, the Foundation's call for an expansion in public recreational opportunities led to launching Cleveland Metroparks.

In 1963, the Cleveland Foundation took over the stewardship of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the only literary prize in the country dedicated to honoring written works that make important contributions to our understanding of racism and appreciation of the rich diversity of human culture.

The foundation has taken a leadership role in fueling multiple revitalization projects including the resurgence of Downtown Cleveland in the 1950s, the rebirth of Playhouse Square in the 1970s and the Greater University Circle Initiative in the early 2000s.


The mission of the Cleveland Foundation is "to enhance the lives of all residents of Greater Cleveland, now and for generations to come, by building community endowment, addressing needs through grantmaking and providing leadership on key community issues."[2]


The Cleveland Foundation awards most of its grants to 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. Some grants are made to government agencies. Grants support Greater Cleveland projects and programs that benefit its citizens, meet community needs and test new ideas. The foundation generally does not make grants to individuals, for-profit organizations, small businesses, endowment campaigns, annual fundraising or membership drives.

The foundation proactively directs two-thirds of its discretionary grant dollars to these priority areas, with the goal of creating significant, widespread impact:

  • Arts and Culture
  • Economic and Workforce Development
  • Education
  • the Environment
  • Leadership Development
  • Neighborhood Revitalization and Engagement
  • Youth Development

The other one-third is awarded in response to direct requests from the community. In total, the foundation's grantmaking awards approximately $100 million annually.

Arts and Culture[edit]

The foundation works to build a world-class arts sector, support a climate that embraces working artists, and ensure that more neighborhoods have access to arts education and experiences. Major arts & culture initiatives include:

  • Creative Fusion: An international arts residency program that has brought more than 90 accomplished and emerging artists from around the world and from underrepresented cultures to Cleveland to work with a local arts nonprofit during a three-month residency.
  • Arts Mastery Education: The foundation partners with organizations who deliver year-round, mastery-level arts training that allow youth to develop the qualities they need in adulthood.
  • Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards: Established in 1935, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and diversity. Recently, it has grown into a year-round program that engages readers with the Anisfield-Wolf canon on campuses, at book festivals and on local trains.

Economic & Workforce Development[edit]

The Cleveland Foundation works to strengthen Greater Cleveland’s economy, with an emphasis on the core city, to ensure Cleveland’s resurgence is generating economic opportunities for all residents. This includes helping nurture and support entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow and collaborate with a focus on technology, innovation and diversity.


With its partners and donors, the foundation aims to reinvent public education in Cleveland and to significantly increase postsecondary readiness, enrollment and success among students and graduates of Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The foundation's support spans from building high-quality pre-schools programs to ensuring postsecondary access and success.

Continuing to support equity in education, the foundation played an instrumental role in fundraising for Cleveland to become a chapter of Say Yes to Education, a goal that was achieved in 2019. Say Yes Cleveland will bring comprehensive resources - including scholarships, support services, mentoring and more - to help students across the city further their educational ambitions and achievement.


As one of the largest environmental grantmakers in Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland foundation works to preserve, protect and restore our region's environment to ensure residents can lead healthy lives today and in the future. The foundation focuses its environmental efforts on improving water quality, especially Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, and building a clean energy economy.

Leadership Development[edit]

The Cleveland Foundation envisions Greater Cleveland as a place of opportunity, led by innovative minds from home and around the globe, starting from early childhood to retirement. The foundation supports youth development programs including high-quality pre-schools, group mentoring for middle school students and a work study program at the foundation's office. Opportunities such as the Cleveland Foundation Summer Internship Program, Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellowship and Cleveland Foundation Scholarships have been created to help young people gain the experiences they need to launch their careers and make an impact in the community. Mid to late career leadership development is also prioritized with the foundation's American Marshall Memorial Fellowship and Encore Cleveland opportunities.

Neighborhood Revitalization and Engagement[edit]

Place-based neighborhood work has always been a part of the Cleveland Foundation's vision. The foundation has invested more than $75 million since 1988 to help Clevelanders rebuild, revitalize and reimagine their neighborhoods. This includes investing in the following projects:

  • Parks, Public Spaces and Third Spaces: Supporting the development and revival of Cleveland Public Square, Cleveland Metroparks, and the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail.
  • Cleveland Neighborhood Progress: The Cleveland Foundation helped found the only local community development intermediary in the region in 1988.
  • Neighborhood Connections Program: Established in 2003 by the Cleveland Foundation, and one of the largest community building programs in the country that invests in resident-led projects in Cleveland and East Cleveland

Youth Development[edit]

The goal of ensuring Cleveland's young people are successful inside and outside of school, while responding to pressing community needs that affect young people and their families, frames the Cleveland Foundation's commitment to youth development. This includes investing in initiatives that support early childhood education, youth violence prevention and intervention, and faith-based community networks.

Digital Excellence Initiative The Cleveland Foundation launched the Digital Excellence Initiative in 2017 to ensure all residents can successfully participate in the digital world and economy, and to elevate Greater Cleveland's infrastructure, talent, and research prominence in digital technology and innovation. The initiative works to position Greater Cleveland as a leader in digital innovation and access by investing in five areas:

  • Creating a more connected community
  • Supporting digital skills development
  • Improving digital civic engagement
  • Elevating regional digital leadership
  • Encouraging technology innovation for social good


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