Cleveland Foundation’s Eckardt Wins Prestigious National Honor

Release Date: 03.29.2010

The Cleveland Foundation’s Robert E. Eckardt has been named the Council on Foundations Distinguished Grantmaker for 2010, earning one of philanthropy’s most prestigious and respected honors.

Eckardt, the foundation’s senior vice president for programs and evaluation, will receive the award at the council’s annual meeting in Denver next month, said COF President and CEO Steve Gunderson. He described it as the highest individual award from the council, which comprises more than 2,000 private, family, corporate, and community foundations and charitable endowments.

“The award recognizes Bob’s incredible work, which sets the high standard for others in the field,” Gunderson said. “As people looked at his work, everybody who saw his accomplishments saw he was worthy of the award for his leadership in everything from courageous grantmaking to his insistence on impact and accountability.”

Eckardt was the six-member award committee’s unanimous choice for the 28th annual award.

The Cleveland Foundation nominated Eckardt because of his unwavering commitment to making Greater Cleveland a better place through careful and smart grantmaking, and strong, selfless leadership, said Ronald B. Richard, foundation president and CEO.

“I am honored and humbled by this award,” said Eckardt, 58. “I acknowledge the incredible support I have received from Ronn and the staff of the foundation, my foundation colleagues, and the amazing grantees I’ve been honored to support.”

Richard’s nomination highlighted a host of Eckardt’s accomplishments during a 28-year career at the Cleveland Foundation.

Among them was Eckardt’s pivotal part in Cleveland’s response to the AIDS epidemic. Beginning in 1985, he helped win communitywide support at a time when Cleveland and many of its peer Midwestern cities were perceived as intolerant toward homosexuals and AIDS was still misunderstood as a “gay cancer” rather than a major public health threat. Eckardt secured the funding and leaders to create a concerted public campaign to promote and coordinate services, treatment, advocacy, and prevention efforts. That national-model task force paved the way for the AIDS Funding Collaborative, which has distributed millions of dollars to private- and public-sector providers for research, treatment, and service.

“It’s not too great a leap to pinpoint those formative years, and Bob’s leading role during them, as the foundation for tremendous change,” Richard wrote in Eckardt’s nomination. “Today, the Rainbow Flag flies above City Hall in Cleveland, which was among the first major cities to extend domestic-partner benefits to employees, and which will host some 12,000 participants at Gay Games IX in 2014.”

More recently, Eckardt has led the foundation’s response to the ongoing economic downturn, which hit Cleveland sooner and harder than much of the nation. Eckardt and his staff held a series of community
conversations with some 250 charitable organizations to hear how grantees were faring and how the
foundation could help them weather the crisis. The foundation put its major-capital-grants campaign on hold and redirected the money to immediate needs. Eckardt then worked with grantees to streamline and shorten grant processing times to distribute foundation money more quickly.

He and Helen Williams, the foundation’s program director for education, have been key players and advisors as Cleveland and the state of Ohio struggle to implement sweeping student-centered reforms in the way schools are funded and run.

Nationally, Eckardt has been a pioneer in the creation and development of professional associations, known as affinity groups, to help philanthropic organizations share expertise and resources, set standards, and speak with louder collective voices. Among those he helped establish and lead are Grantmakers in Aging, Funders Concerned About AIDS, Grantmakers in Health, and the Grantmakers Evaluation Network. He serves on the boards of the American Society on Aging, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, and the Community Partnership in Arts and Culture.

Eckardt also is renowned as a mentor, especially by leaders at smaller foundations and nonprofits around the country who have sought him out for training and guidance.

As a collaborative catalyst, he nurtured cooperation within Cleveland’s world-renowned but highly competitive medical institutions in ways that have created dominant research collaborations and medical- education ventures.

Past winners of the Distinguished Grantmaker Award include luminaries from such renowned organizations as the Ford Foundation, the Melville Charitable Trust, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation. Eckardt is the third winner from the Cleveland Foundation, following former President and Executive Director Steven A. Minter (2003) and former Director Homer Wadsworth (1986).

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Established in 1914, the Cleveland Foundation is the world’s first community foundation and the nation’s third-largest today, with assets of $1.8 billion and 2009 grants of $82 million. The foundation improves the lives of Greater Clevelanders by building community endowment, addressing needs through grantmaking, and providing leadership on vital issues. Currently the foundation proactively directs two-thirds of its flexible grant dollars to the community’s greatest needs: economic transformation (including advanced energy and globalization), public school improvement, human services and youth development, neighborhoods and housing, and arts advancement.
 
For more information on the Cleveland Foundation, please visit ClevelandFoundation.org.