Established in 2006, the NoVo Foundation was created from the core belief that humanity is at a crossroads and our current culture is deeply out of balance.
Historically, NoVo has had a reputation for being “at the margins”—speaking up when asked and amplifying wherever needed. Supporting the spirit and agency of girls and women (specifically Black, Brown and Indigenous) everywhere was a clear way to rebalance an intensely patriarchal global culture. We are grateful to an extraordinary team that helped bring so many of these voices to the center over the last two decades.
We know that this current moment has been created by a complex set of entangled systems that have subjugated, oppressed and ignored many for the benefit of the few. And continuing divisions—through political, social and economic means—only fuel the furthering of centralized power.
The edges now are where binary thinking dissolves. Complexity and ambiguity is embraced. Our senses and intuition are valued as highly as things quantified and measurable. Us vs. Them gives way to Us and We.
This time the margins are falling off the edge into a new (old) way of being. As the pandemic has revealed the fragility of our supply chains, our education systems and our well-being, communities have come together in solidarity and a willingness to imagine together.
This cannot be scaled. “The next big thing will be a lot of small things.”
And we are not looking for “wins.” Ultimately, our work is not about what we accomplish, but what we set in motion for future generations.
NoVo believes that the next 500 years starts now.
Who is NoVo?
What does the name "NoVo" mean?
“Novo” is a Latin word that can mean to make anew, refresh, revive, change, alter, invent. It captures the essence of our mission, which is to create a more balanced world through collective imagination.
Who are Jennifer and Peter Buffett?
Jennifer and Peter are the Co-Presidents of the foundation. They also co-chair the Board of Directors. Peter Buffett is the youngest son of investor Warren Buffett.
How does the gift work?
Unlike most foundations, NoVo’s annual budget is tied directly to the stock market rather than a percentage of a corpus. At the time of the pledge, the gift was worth approximately $1 billion. The pledge was doubled in 2012. Because Warren has made a gift of stock that will be delivered over time, the value of the gift will be determined by the underlying value of those shares, which are delivered in annual installments of 5% of the total remaining shares. By law, we are required to spend 5% of the amount received. We have strived to spend 100%.
Were there any directives of the gift?
From Warren’s 2006 pledge letter:
“A couple of thoughts (but not directives): Focus the new funds and your energy on a relatively few activities in which NoVo can make an important difference. Concentrate your resources on needs that would not be met without your efforts. Conversely, avoid making small contributions to the multitude of worthwhile activities that have many possible funders and that would likely proceed without your help. Consider working with your siblings on important projects. Pay attention to your home community, but favor a broader view. Judge programs by how they fit with your goals and their chances for success, not by who makes the request. Expect to make some mistakes; nothing important will be accomplished if you make only ‘safe’ decisions.”
How long has NoVo Foundation been in operation?
How large is the Foundation?
How does NoVo decide what to fund?
Peter and Jennifer Buffett hold the meaning of the word “philanthropist” (“philo” – the love of, and “anthro” – human beings) as a core value.
In deciding what to focus on, they wanted to step back, look at the big picture, and address root causes to maximize their philanthropy’s lasting impact. They met with hundreds of “thought leaders”, and traveled around the globe to observe, listen, and learn. They sought to understand systems and interconnections (and history) so as to make catalytic, holistic, and thoughtful funding choices. Strong patterns became clear all based on systems of domination, competition, and exploitation. They looked for ways to support changes that fostered greater collaboration and partnership in all spheres of life.
Who is the leadership team and what is shared decision-making?
Who are NoVo's board of directors?
Why is the board of directors so small?
Do you have an office?
At this time, NoVo’s staff works remotely and we do not have a central office from which we operate. Most of NoVo’s staff work and live in the New York Hudson Valley region.
Transitions at NoVo
Have you divested in women and girls?
Our mission was always connected to rebalancing feminine ways of being throughout our culture and that got codified into an identity of a movement. A movement that created a dependence on funding that, over time, was more harmful than helpful. We are now reconnecting and realigning to our original mission that will always have historically and continually marginalized girls and women at the center.
Additionally, we have millions of dollars committed to the Adolescent Girls and Ending Violence initiatives through 2024. We are not rescinding those commitments (signed grant agreements). Our role within the women’s rights movements has been to build institutional strength. It hasn’t been perfect and was not taken up by others as we had hoped until very recently.
What has changed recently in relation to your portfolios?
We have moved the Adolescent Girls Rights portfolio to Tides. Though we announced in May 2020 that this specific program area would not continue under our leadership, we immediately ensured that the funding would. The Adolescent Girls Rights portfolio is a seven-year funding commitment, launched in 2016 to build girls’ power and create communities supported by organizations and individuals that put girls’ needs, dreams and futures at the center. The transition of this body of work to Tides, renamed the Advancing Girls Initiative, was completed in October 2020, during the fourth year of our seven-year commitment.
We understand that this has not been visible, and we know that the imperfect transition—as well as informal commitments—have caused pain for people and organizations. We know that Tides will bring their full strategic thinking and donor engagement to this body of work to create more long-term funding sustainability. NoVo remains a dedicated funding partner and is committed to strengthening the institutional capacity and resources of movements to transition from NoVo’s funding.
We are in conversation with our partners in the Ending Violence portfolio and with donor colleagues with whom we share a commitment to this work. We are committed to helping bring more resources to this work.
Have you divested in Black leadership?
I heard NoVo is shutting down. Is that true?
What happened to the Women's Building project?
We know that The Women’s Building garnered incredible passion and excitement, but as the project progressed the budget was considerably over the initial estimate and our ability to build in that space became increasingly challenging. We would not have seen a building of any kind for many years and many hundreds of millions of dollars later.
We have committed $50M to the community of women impacted by the ending of The Women’s Building development. An advisory committee is currently meeting to decide the best use of these funds. In addition, we understand the importance of physical space and have gifted our former Brooklyn office space on State St. as a women’s building that is ready for occupancy now.
With your shift, what can we expect in terms of future support?
For the last 6-8 months, we have been in a process of discovery that has been difficult and illuminating. We realize there were enormous gaps between what was promised and the resources available. We recognize that informal commitments have been made well into the future. And those commitments had impact. We have been trying to remedy that—mainly through 1:1 conversations to talk about those promises/expectations and our ability to fulfill those commitments.
Is NoVo still going to be funding Indigenous Communities?
Kingston, New York
Why Kingston of all places?
Kingston as a community is unique, Kingston as a small city in America, however, is not. And as the Foundation’s work to help build new systems for community self-reliance stretches far beyond Kingston, the work we support here can learn from others and be an inspiration as well.
What can I do if I disagree with the work being done?
Secondly, we encourage all organizations we support to be responsive to the communities they are part of. If you disagree with any work being done, we would suggest addressing the organizations directly.
Beyond that, we believe as much power as possible should be in the hands of communities and organizations themselves. This means that organizations sometimes use the resources we provide in ways we might not always agree with, and sometimes others in the community may not agree with. This is the nature of community; we must live, love, work and be together through good times and bad, agreements and disagreements.
What does success in Kingston look like to NoVo?
We don’t have a series of defined outcomes. There are some project specific intentions—like a suitably refurbished and functioning Metro building that will provide inspiration and opportunity for the young people of Kingston as architects of the economy and community of tomorrow.
But at a general level, we don’t have defined outcomes so much as a long term orientation towards helping create a radically more self-reliant and equitable community that lives in harmony with its environment.
How that happens is largely in the hands of the community. We do know that, in a healthy, connected community, life will feel different than it does in a divided community with historical and ongoing trauma. There will be, for example, more children playing safely in the streets. These are the sort of conditions we are hoping will emerge over time. And we will all know it when we see and feel it.
What are you doing to address the housing crisis in Kingston?
It would be a tragic and deep injustice if this community was changed beyond recognition by the forces at large that are driving up housing costs and prices and driving down affordability and availability. Our challenge has been how to support meaningful change in a particular neighborhood without those changes inadvertently contributing to those forces driving out the very people who were meant to benefit.
What is your relationship like with the local government? Are you funding its operations / services?
What is your time commitment to Kingston?
Aren't these big projects contributing to gentrification in Kingston?
What level of investment is NoVo making in Kingston?
Beyond that, we provide some general operating and project support to around 60 local organizations who are doing work in a variety of focus areas, from health to education to youth support and civic participation.
I'm not comfortable with a private Foundation having this much influence in my community. The money is needed and welcome, but isn't this the exact problem with the current system? Too much power in too few hands?
Yes, we agree that this is a deeply problematic feature of the current system. Peter Buffett published a guest essay in the New York Times that spells out how the Foundation understands the systemic challenge here. To put it simply, at an individual level, philanthropy can do a lot of good; at the level of the system, it is a sign of its failure.
The work we are doing aims to change this dynamic as much as any; this is why we work the way we do, are committed to helping democratize the local economy and spread wealth and influence more broadly as a feature of all the economic development work we support, and are working on projects ourselves like the Community Fund.
Does NoVo set the pay rates of staff of funded organizations?
How do you choose the organizations you fund? Who are you listening to? How do you ensure the community is being heard?
In general, partnerships are formed by way of slow and trusting relationship building, and through our own research and analysis based on specific strategic priorities. In addition, with NoVo’s team being quite small we are unable to manage an open process.
This is true for all the Foundation’s work and especially so in Kingston, where we are in deeper, more ongoing relationship with our large network of grantees and partners than in other settings, meaning we are in continuous dialogue with many parts of the community.
How do I become a grantee?
In general, NoVo does not accept unsolicited proposals for funding consideration, preferring instead slow and trusting relationship building.
That said, if you have an idea that you think will help make Kingston a radically more self-reliant and equitable community that lives in harmony with its environment, we would love to hear from you. You can email [email protected].
What are you doing to stop NoVo from being the next IBM? What is stopping you from leaving at any time?
We are also looking to establish a Community Fund that will put funding decisions directly into the hands of the community. And finally, we are developing a support service for our grantee partners that will increase grant writing capacity across the network, so that a more diversified funding base can be established over the next decade.
We encourage all our grantee partners to build a diversified funding base, and will be working with them to ensure this happens more and more in the coming years.
Have staff or grantees been required to sign an NDA? Why?
Staff are asked to sign an NDA as part of their employment. Being a large Foundation, with a small staff team, all team members have access to large amounts of sensitive information about a wide range of organizations and we take these steps to ensure sensitive information is safely and confidentially held. NDAs spell out the boundaries for how we can ensure that happens.
Are you funding POC-led organizations in Kingston?
What is NoVo's broad view on growth and sustainability?
One way or another, this is going to change. If we don’t change our habits, nature will force change upon us. Or, we can decide to figure out ways to live more harmoniously together, in balance with the planet, and avoid the worst case scenarios.
Either way, the status quo is going to change. Our grandchildren will have a very different relationship to materials and energy than we have today. Right now, despite decades of awareness of climate change and ecological damage, we are actually growing the amount of energy and materials we use every year (with some small dips caused by the pandemic, already quickly rebounding), so coming back into balance with the environment means reducing those amounts, and that can be seen as a form of ‘de-growing’. That said, we don’t think it’s particularly helpful language as it centers the idea of loss, which people instinctively react against. Far better would be to center ideas of what we can gain from changing the way we do things; there is a large and rapidly growing amount of evidence to suggest that our lives can actually get better if we move beyond the way we live right now.
Does NoVo ever seek PILOTS or other tax incentives?
Does NoVo pay taxes on the properties it owns?
Does NoVo take a position on local issues?
Does NoVo support Defund the Police?
We recognize the urgent need to rethink community safety, especially for people of color and other marginalized groups, and support communities going through the hard process of figuring out what works best for them.
Defund the Police is, no doubt, a provocative phrase. It has the potential of causing division when a collaborative solution is necessary. We support the process of communities examining and debating all ideas in good faith, however challenging they may appear to be.
Why is NoVo buying so many properties in Midtown?
General Grant Seeker Info, Grant Guidelines and Miscellaneous Questions
How does an organization get a grant?
NoVo will occasionally launch emerging projects which require open or partially open Request for Proposals (RFP) processes. These are often related to moments in history (see Radical Hope grants); program cohorts (Move to End Violence program); to build out an initiative (Indigenous Communities); or for recurring annual awards (see NoVo and Education First’s SEL In Action Awards).
Why doesn't NoVo accept unsolicited proposals?
How does NoVo monitor and evaluate its grantees?
In some instances, we work with outside evaluators to assess the progress of our grantee partners, especially as it might relate to NoVo’s overall mission and objectives. We also offer support to several grantee partners to evaluate their own advocacy and organizing work.
I do not want to submit a proposal, but I would like to tell NoVo about my organization's work. How can I do this?
NoVo is always interested in learning about new and innovative approaches to the issues upon which we are focused. If you wish to communicate about your organization, please do so through the Contact Us form on our home page.
Are you still making multi-year grants? Are you still making international grants?
Our international grants have been reduced slowly over time and that will continue.
Does NoVo give general support or project support grants?
How many grantees do you have?
How long will it take to get a response from NoVo staff?
We also believe it is important to move from a place of trust and encourage less administrative burden for our grantees. Sometimes this translates as “lower touch” partnerships which do not require frequent updates and lengthy reporting, rather relying on the renewal period or short reports as a way of learning. We know our partners’ focus and energy is best put towards their work and communities rather than NoVo’s “monitoring”.
How do I find out about NoVo's jobs and volunteer opportunities?
Who do I talk to if I have a question?
General questions can be sent to the [email protected] inbox which is regularly monitored. Your question will be routed to the appropriate team or person for response.