The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) is a private foundation that funds left-of-center and Jewish organizations and used its endowment investments as a vehicle for promoting environmentalist and left-progressive economic policies. 1 It is a leader in left-leaning “shareholder activism” and is annually one of the most active sponsors of shareholder resolutions designed to push corporations into publishing information or taking actions that would benefit left-of-center policy goals and narratives. 23
History and Leadership
Nathan Cummings Foundation was started in 1949 by Nathan Cummings, the founder of Consolidated Foods (later Sara Lee Corporation), as a vehicle for his personal philanthropy. Cummings retired in 1968, and used his foundation as a vehicle for supporting mainstream organizations such as hospitals, the arts, Jewish causes (including organizations in Israel), and education. After his death in 1985, his foundation received the bulk of his estate, estimated at $200 million. 4
Under the leadership of his descendants, the Nathan Cummings Foundation began slowly moving away from Cummings’s long-time philanthropy model and into more left-leaning political advocacy causes, especially environmentalism.
In the 2000s, under president Lance Lindblom, a former executive vice president at George Soros’s Open Society Initiative and veteran of the Ford Foundation and J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, the NCF began to use its existing investment stakes in public companies to promote left-progressive policy priorities. 56 NCF moved beyond leveraging its existing investments and started actively investing its $443 million endowment to achieve policy goals in 2013 when it allocated $6.5 million to “impact investing.” 78
By 2014, it was one of the two most prolific activist investors in social causes, sponsoring 38 shareholder proposals that year. 9 That same year, its president Simon Greer announced that it was ending the “four core programs that have long defined the Foundation” — health care, Jewish causes, the arts, and environmentalism — in favor of a new focus on left-wing environmental activism and income redistribution. 10 During this time, the NCF produced a video that Greer said was designed to promote the idea that “without government involvement, we would not be able to grow together as a nation.” 11
By 2018, new NCF president Sharon Alpert announced that 100 percent of the foundation’s endowment would be invested in the service of left-of-center policy change. 12
The Nathan Cummings Foundation made $24,068,160 in grants in 2017. The largest recipients were:
- Union for Reform Judaism: $1,000,000
- National Domestic Workers Alliance: $762,500
- New Israel Fund: $619,000
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors: $585,000
- Bend the Arc – A Jewish Partnership for Justice: $535,000
- Jewish Funders Network: $527,950
- PICO National Network: $500,000
- New Venture Fund: $450,000
- org Education Fund: $400,000
- JOIN for Justice: $385,000
- Restaurant Opportunities Centers United: $375,000
- Movement Strategy Center: $360,000
- NEO Philanthropy: $314,000
- Tides Center: $280,000
- Fractured Atlas: $251,000
Much of the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s shareholder activism focuses on pushing energy companies and electric utilities to disclose information about their activities, especially disclosures related to lobbying and industry advocacy efforts that would normally be confidential. 13 14 Examples include:
- After a 2014 Duke Energy coal ash spill in North Carolina, the NCF led a group of investors that included state treasurers and union pension funds to pressure Duke into publicly disclosing its related lobbying, advocacy and political spending. 15
- In 2016, an NCF-led coalition forced a shareholder vote at electric utility FirstEnergy on a non-binding resolution asking the company to publicly report all its government and grassroots lobbying and expenses, including the amounts it contributed to organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. 16
- In 2017, a group of investors led by the NCF passed a nonbinding resolution at Occidental Petroleum’s annual meeting asking the company to predict what future risks it could face under a specific global warming outcome scenario. 17
- “Nathan Cummings Foundation.” Yale School of Management. April 22, 2019. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://som.yale.edu/case/2019/nathan-cummings-foundation.
- Burr, Barry B. “Surge in Shareholder Activism Straining Investors’ Resources.” Pensions & Investments. February 03, 2014. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.pionline.com/article/20140203/PRINT/302039979/surge-in-shareholder-activism-straining-investors-resources.
- Braverman, Beth. “The Nathan Cummings Foundation’s Role as Shareholder Activist.” Impactivate | The Impact Investing Exchange. May 08, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.impactinvestingexchange.com/the-nathan-cummings-foundations-role-as-shareholder-activist/.
- Hanen, Jonathan. “The Nathan Cummings Foundation: Another Foundation Skews Leftward after Its Benefactor’s Death.” Capital Research Center. December 2, 2013. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-nathan-cummings-foundation-another-foundation-skews-leftward-after-its-benefactors-death/.
- “Lance Lindblom.” Global Freedom of Expression. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/about/experts/lance-lindblom/.
- Lindblom, Lance E. “Changing Corporate Behavior through Shareholder Activism.” The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation Changing Corporate Behavior through Shareholder Activism Comments. October 9, 2010. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2010/10/09/changing-corporate-behavior-through-shareholder-activism/.
- “Financial Statements.” The Nathan Cummings Foundation. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://nathancummings.org/our-investments/financial-statements/.
- Field, Anne. “Nathan Cummings Foundation’s Going ‘All In’ Was A Long Time In The Making.” Forbes. March 20, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/annefield/2018/03/20/nathan-cummings-foundations-going-all-in-was-a-long-time-in-the-making/#2549ec806082.
- Copland, James R. “Special Report: Shareholder Activism by Socially Responsible Investors.” Proxy Monitor. 2014. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.proxymonitor.org/Forms/2014Finding4.aspx.
- Greer, Simon. “After 25 Years, An Exciting Strategic Direction for the Nathan Cummings Foundation.” EJewish Philanthropy. November 14, 2013. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/after-25-years-an-exciting-strategic-direction-for-the-nathan-cummings-foundation/.
- Greer, Simon, and Katherine McFate. “What Government Does for You.” Alternet.org. October 18, 2012. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.alternet.org/2012/10/what-government-does-you/.
- “NCF Commits to 100 Percent.” The Nathan Cummings Foundation. March 12, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://nathancummings.org/ncf-commits-to-100-percent/.
- Rauf, David Saleh. “Under Pressure: AT&T, Exxon Mobil, Range Resources Face Investor Calls for Political Transparency.” Dallas News. April 25, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.dallasnews.com/business/business/2018/04/25/pressure-att-exxon-mobil-range-resources-face-investor-callsfor-political-transparency.
- Minow, Nell. “Can Southern Company Shareholders Persuade Its Board to Stop Supporting Climate Change Denial?” HuffPost. December 07, 2017. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/can-southern-company-shar_b_7337236.
- Wireback, Taft. “Duke Investors Call for Internal Probe of Spill.” Greensboro News and Record. March 28, 2014. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.greensboro.com/news/duke-investors-call-for-internal-probe-of-spill/article_6e07f3e4-b5d0-11e3-affb-001a4bcf6878.html.
- Funk, John. “FirstEnergy Activist Shareholders Demanding More Say, Lobbying Disclosure and Liability of Coal.” Cleveland.com. May 16, 2016. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.cleveland.com/business/2016/05/firstenergy_activist_sharehold.html.
- Ailworth, Erin. “Occidental Shareholders Vote for Climate Proposal.” The Wall Street Journal. May 12, 2017. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/occidental-shareholders-vote-for-climate-proposal-1494616669.
- “SEC Filing: Discovery Communications.” SEC Filing | Discovery Communications. March 28, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://ir.corporate.discovery.com/node/14346/html.
- “Thirty Percent Coalition Receives $100,000 Grant from Nathan Cummings Foundation to Expand Efforts to Promote Women of Color to Serve on Corporate Boards | Markets Insider.” Business Insider. January 8, 2019. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/thirty-percent-coalition-receives-100-000-grant-from-nathan-cummings-foundation-to-expand-efforts-to-promote-women-of-color-to-serve-on-corporate-boards-1027850450.