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What’s the Future of Boston Philanthropy?

Nov. 29, 2022

It’s a tradition as American as apple pie: Every July Fourth since 1974, the Boston Pops have descended on the Hatch Shell for an evening of orchestral magic, followed by the red glare of a bombastic fireworks display. More than a million people flood the Esplanade each year to watch the spectacle unfold, and millions more tune in to the national broadcast on TV.

For years, this event was produced and personally bankrolled (to the tune of $1 million-plus annually) by its founder, philanthropist David Mugar, who remained inextricably tied to the event as an adviser even after his retirement in 2016. Just five months before the first Fourth of July celebration in Boston since COVID, though, came tragic news: The $600 million Star Market heir had died.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has since pulled together funding from other benefactors to cover the cost of the event, including the global asset management firm Eaton Vance, Bloomberg, and Mass General Brigham. Yet Mugar’s death at 82 nonetheless put him on a long list of iconic Boston philanthropists who have recently passed, including healthcare exec Thomas Shields, real estate bigwig Robert Beal, and diplomat Elaine Schuster. In March, the city lost perhaps its most generous benefactor: Fidelity kingpin Edward C. Johnson III, the namesake behind a large percentage of millions in “anonymous” donations across Boston that have been crucial to budgets at institutions such as the MFA, the Peabody Essex Museum, and many more over the years.

It’s not just individual philanthropists’ priorities that are changing; it’s also the priorities of the local organizations that fund many of the city’s nonprofits. Pelton, for his part, points to newer grantmaking outfits such as the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund (which is held at the Boston Foundation) as an example of how the city’s philanthropic community is adapting to meet the needs of the city. Led by 19 Black and brown executives, New Commonwealth has set a goal of raising $100 million to support nonprofits led by people of color and has support from some of the city’s biggest companies, including Bain Capital, Fidelity, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and State Street. The organization has already raised $30 million toward its goal and has given out more than $2 million in community grants. “There are spaces being created for more experimentation and more blending of models of investment,” says Makeeba McCreary, who was named president of the New Commonwealth Fund in 2021. “There are more conversations about leveling the playing field for people of color who have historically been left out.”

Read full story in Boston Magazine.