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?

Jennifer and Peter have been active philanthropists since 1997. NoVo was created in 2006 after Warren Buffett pledged to donate 350,000 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stock to the foundation.

How large is the Foundation?

We have a small, close-knit core staff of dedicated and knowledgeable people and utilize consultants and intermediaries where appropriate. This structure allows us to stay nimble and minimize overhead so that more dollars can flow back to communities.

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 NoVo's leadership team?

NoVo’s operations, partnerships and finances are guided and led by a team rather than an executive director. The leadership team consists of the following individuals: Peter Buffett, Co-President; Jennifer Buffett, Co-President; Sangeeta Budhiraja, Vice President; and Matthew Tye, Vice President.

Who are NoVo's board of directors?

Peter Buffett, Jennifer Buffett and Aaron Stern.

Why is the board of directors so small?

With the fundamental belief that most decisions should not be made from the top down—and oftentimes board members have specific agendas—NoVo feels that a small board with the commitment to learning from the ground up is a more effective and responsive way to move our resources.

What has changed in relation to your grantmaking priorities?

Our mission has always been connected to moving away from domination and exploitation and rebalancing towards feminine ways of being. Unintentionally, this became codified into an identity of a movement, a movement that created a dependence on funding that, over time, was more harmful than helpful. Our role within the women’s rights and ending violence movements has been to build institutional strength. It has been a learning journey with varying degrees of success. Our hope was always that other funders would take up that space in deeper and larger ways, which has only recently begun. Since 2020, we are reconnecting and realigning to our original vision which has always centered historically and continuously marginalized girls and women and their allies.

In 2020, NoVo 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 was a seven-year funding commitment, announced in 2016 and launched in 2018 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.

Tides is bringing 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 through 2025 and is committed to strengthening the institutional capacity and resources of movements to transition from NoVo’s funding.

What happened to the Women's Building project?

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.

NoVo committed $50M to the community of women impacted by the ending of The Women’s Building development. Over the past number of years, the community has been meeting to create an organization to house and decide the best use of these funds. In addition, we understand the importance of physical space and in 2023 gifted NoVo’s former Brooklyn office space on State St. as a women’s building for office space and community use.

How has NoVo’s funding for Indigenous communities evolved?

Peter and Jennifer believe that you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from. Indigenous communities hold knowledge that will help lead humanity towards once again being in right-relation with the world.

While their support for Indigenous communities pre-dates the formation of NoVo in 2006 and has remained a constant over the years, between 2020 and 2023 NoVo doubled this support with an emphasis on Indigenous-led work, building relationships based on trust and respect. Our processes allow Indigenous partners to move in more culturally appropriate ways. In some instances, conversations and storytelling have replaced written grant updates and renewal proposals. Indigenous definitions of success are honored. Most importantly, community members are not forced to fit their needs into funder-driven priorities but are recognized as the experts in their own communities and help inform the work that is funded.

Because of this approach, the type of work that is supported varies considerably. Some examples include: wellness programs; shelters and advocacy programs for survivors of violence and exploitation; support for systems involved children; boarding school awareness and healing programs; Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives work; support for urban Native populations; legal support; language preservation; Indigenous schools and education programs; youth programs; storytelling and the arts; midwifery and doula work; alternative housing and energy programs; food sovereignty and sustainability programs; land and water recovery/restoration/return work; Indigenous-led climate work; eco-villages; community development corporations; support for Indigenous elders including ceremony and prophecy keepers.

How do we define regenerative bioregional communities?

Bioregionalism is an approach to change centered around the reintegration of human and natural systems at the scale required for truly sustainable societies. 

A bioregion can be defined as the entire biological context in which a life system can function. In other words, it is the area, defined via the geology and ecology, through to the human economic and governance systems, which can sustainably support a population in a state of ongoing balance with its environment. 

In the words of David McCloskey, author of the Cascadia Bioregion map: 

“A bioregion may be analyzed on physical, biological, and cultural levels. First, we map the landforms, geology, climate, and hydrology, and how these environmental factors work together to create a common template for life in that particular place. Second, we map the flora and fauna, especially the characteristic vegetative communities, and link them to their habitats. Third, we look at native peoples, western settlement, and current land-use patterns and problems, in interaction with the first two levels.

NoVo’s intention is to support individuals, organizations and communities who are working to regenerate their bioregion – particularly watersheds – in broad community with others and in ways that create new systems of human organization, from the relational to the economic. Said another way, people and communities who are not only helping develop regenerative economies and ways of living for today but are also planting seeds for a post-collapse world. 

This will be a sister-network to that of our Indigenous partners. The intention is to help support the coming together of these two ways of being and knowing so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can work together in ways that respect the wisdom and contributions of both, and all. 

Some of the ways we are seeing partners do this work include: Developing and using a bioregional framework for decision making; forging deep, respect-based relationships with the Indigenous people of a place and ensuring their voices, knowledge and ways of being are centered; nurturing an ecosystem of knowledge- and practice-sharing relationships across a bioregion, and between bioregions; creating new bioregional-scale systems and processes which are regenerative rather than extractive, from food and farming to finance and economics to governance; developing watershed administrative districts; developing commons based approaches to land and resource management; creating innovative financing facilities for bioregional regeneration; developing new decision making systems that Include every community impacted; exploring place- and time-appropriate technologies (including technology that might withstand collapsing energy, transport and communication systems).

How is our education work evolving?

NoVo’s work around ‘growing children’ is evolving and emerging after 13+ years of grantmaking in the public education sphere. As we wind down our support and building of the field of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and its implementation in the classroom by directly supporting educators, districts, and SEL program providers, we are now entering a learning phase around this shifting body of work.  

We believe children should be safe, seen, and celebrated, and that their natural imaginative, creative, and earth stewarding capacities should be nurtured and protected. We are inspired by nature-based, culturally appropriate, alternative, and nontraditional expressions of education and expanding the definition of learning. 

The majority of our education work currently sits within our Indigenous Communities portfolio,  supporting Native and community led schools and language nests, and culturally appropriate forms of learning.

Why does NoVo use the term “Indigenous Communities” and how is that term defined?

While not every community that the world calls “Indigenous” chooses to use that term to identify themselves, for the sake of simplicity we settled on a term that could broadly apply to as many groups as possible. Because we fund different groups throughout the United States and also globally, the decision has been made to use the term “Indigenous Communities” when referring to these groups collectively while acknowledging that when possible, groups should be referred to by the name that they call themselves. A document from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues provides a framework and definition that aligns with how we are using this term:

“Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They have a special relation to and use of their traditional land. The ancestral land has a fundamental importance for their collective physical and cultural survival as peoples. Indigenous peoples hold their own diverse concepts of development, based on their traditional values, visions, needs and priorities.”

Where can I learn about NoVo's work in Kingston, N.Y.?

Since 2013, NoVo has been working with a wide variety of community
partners to support Kingston to become a more resilient community. In
2023, NoVo established a new branch, NoVo in Kingston, which is
responsible for stewarding the Foundation’s local grantmaking and
special projects in the Kingston area, with a focus on Midtown Kingston.
For more information, visit NoVoinKingston.org.

How does an organization get a grant?

In general, NoVo does not accept unsolicited proposals for funding consideration. New 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.