1996 – 2000

From a $100,000/year fund created by Peter’s parents, we began to research and learn about local Milwaukee non-profits and the people they served. Jennifer oversaw most of this work as Peter was continuing his career as a composer and music producer.

2000 – 2006

A pledge of 10 million dollars was given to Peter and Jennifer and the Spirit Foundation was created. Over these years, the pledge grew to 100 million dollars. With no full-time staff, the oversight was held by Jennifer with Peter’s increasing involvement. These years focused on three broad areas—girls and women, indigenous people and culture, and early childhood education, always with an eye towards building local, resilient communities using those “sectors” of focus.

Another thing we learned in this time was that general operating, multi-year support and minimal reporting with trusted partners was a way to minimize the foundation’s “footprint” on how an organization was able to do its work.

Peter was focused on mounting his Native American theatrical show, Spirit—The Seventh Fire throughout most of these years. Much of the Foundation’s focus was born out of a clear sense that humanity was at a crossroads (Ojibwe Seventh Fire prophecy). Few will question that now. Having resources to help foster a change towards a better world for those most marginalized by the current one demanded curiosity, humility and patience.

June 26, 2006

Warren Buffett pledges one billion dollars worth of stock to what is now the NoVo Foundation.This would not be an endowment, but a pledge of a number of shares that would be paid out annually (pledge letter) thereby creating a fluctuating annual budget. While Federal guidelines would allow us to pay out only 5% of that yearly amount, we have always strived to pay out 100%.

NoVo (Latin: change, alter, invent) continued with the same ethos, but with the knowledge that our work would require building a small team internally. We hired slowly over time as we continued to listen and learn. Having that amount of resources (not surprisingly) gets attention. We saw that as a gift and invitation to widen our view with experienced voices and extensive travel.

What we saw was a violent world. Driven by a system built on centuries of power through a 21st century lens, we knew our initial instincts were correct. Humanity was at a crossroads and the violence against girls and women was the indicator of just how depraved our global market driven economy had become.


Payout: $61,745,250*
Disbursed: $32,130,801
Committed: $45,624,287

*Payout = value of stock received
Disbursed = total grants paid out
Committed = total grants awarded

NoVo initiated a radical and controversial partnership with the Nike Foundation to launch The Girl Effect. With some initial grants, we had the naïve thought that, “if only everyone knew!” we could bend the arc of history towards a better, more balanced world. Nike as a marketer to the world might reveal the critical necessity for girls and women to have agency over their lives in every way possible.

NoVo also increased our funding to a wide variety of organizations focused on ending violence, giving voice and generally lifting up the truth about systems that have and continually oppress girls and women—Black, Brown, Indigenous, cis, trans and gender non-conforming.

We also recognized that small, local communities, with supply chains to match, would be necessary in the coming century. With ongoing education work focused on learning environments aware of the “whole child” and through multiple entry points and specific work in Indian Country, the Foundation continued to grow with dedicated staff and resources.


Payout: $62,765,356
Disbursed: $56,011,250
Committed: $84,247,448

NoVo begins investing in “local living economies” by supporting BALLE—an alliance of businesses dedicated to the health and well-being of the communities they’re a part of.


Payout: $43,874,620
Disbursed: $44,497,055
Committed: $61,947,069

As “root causes” were a continual quest, it became clear that trauma from many sources was something to acknowledge and further understand. This talk explaining Adverse Childhood Experiences from 2015 affirmed NoVo’s investment of $3 million in the Ms. Foundation to carry out grantmaking and capacity building programs to address child sexual abuse.


Payout: $56,167,099
Disbursed: $49,221,448
Committed: $54,167,264

Move to End Violence grew out of the NoVo Foundation’s continual hope for a future in which girls and women are free from violence, act as agents of change, and are leading the way to a more balanced world. Knowing that social transformation of this magnitude would require a powerful group of well-resourced leaders from strong, healthy organizations, NoVo launched Move to End Violence, a 10-year “movement building” program for social change.


Payout: $51,808,325
Disbursed: $46,285,435
Committed: $41,913,778

NoVo partnered with the Elders, Ford Foundation and Nike Foundation to jointly establish “Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage”. Turning the international spotlight on a harmful traditional practice that affects the lives of 10 million girls in dozens of countries around the world every year, this partnership brought together a wide range of organizations, from small community partnerships closest to the issue to international agencies, governments and all those with an interest in ending child marriage.


Payout: $53,089,976
Disbursed: $56,715,829
Committed: $36,548,528

NoVo invested further—and more deeply—in work to bring “social-emotional” practices into schools (“SEL”). Our partnership with CASEL created a collaboration of school districts to create system-wide changes that support optimal social and emotional learning opportunities in schools and classrooms across the country.

With a second trip to India, NoVo invested more deeply in ending the sexual exploitation of girls and women and the violence that accompanies it.


Payout: $140,551,996
Disbursed: $65,199,037
Committed: $107,953,442

As the Foundation grew, the world changed. It seemed more necessary than ever to make a noise, both on behalf of the fields of work we were closest to and the wider world of philanthropy. We were caught between recognizing how quickly the world was changing and being a part of the problem in working to “change” it.

It was difficult for a large foundation like NoVo not to take part in what Peter identified as the “Charitable Industrial Complex.” As with any industry, growth seemed to be the imperative, and indeed, social, economic and political issues were becoming more acute. The term “movement” became commonplace.

Through supporting The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Peter and Jennifer gained a much deeper understanding of our failing food system. NoVo purchased the Gill Farm near Kingston, New York to create the Hudson Valley Farm Hub.


Payout: $149,743,329
Disbursed: $87,390,400
Committed: $95,361,164

NoVo convened several gatherings across sectors and geographies to inform a 5 year strategic plan largely focused on supporting organizations locally-led and building the agency and participation of girls in their communities.

Peter and Jennifer began to sense that the various streams of work that currently lived in “silos” at NoVo were naturally coming together. And that “right relation” was at the center.


Payout: $150,980,361
Disbursed: $82,504,339
Committed: $81,046,049

The Indigenous Communities initiative launches, building on many years of work with the Indigenous Peoples’ Fund at the Tides Foundation.

NoVo helps create and supports the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program, which continues today. The program exists to elevate the lives, voices, and dreams of Indigenous elder women who heal, strengthen, and restore the balance of Indigenous communities. Our goal was to honor and support elder indigenous women who desire to intentionally transfer their knowledge and experience to younger women.

NoVo began negotiations to acquire the former Bayview Women’s Prison with the vision of transforming the space into a Women’s Building.


Payout: $152,903,265
Disbursed: $102,532,240
Committed: $123,896,121

NoVo announced a $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color in the US. It was launched purposefully without a predetermined strategy, and with a team dedicated to listening and learning from girls throughout the country.

NoVo formed Grantmakers for Girls of Color and successfully convened 100 funders from around the country for the first Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) Funders’ Convening. This first convening of many to come, focused on the particular ways anti-Blackness impacts girls of color and created space to hear from advocates and activists about the urgent need to center the voices and lived experiences of girls of color in grantmaking while strategizing a path toward long-term systemic change.

NoVo provided emergency funding for basic needs to the water and land protectors at Standing Rock Reservation and Indigenous environmental justice efforts.

NoVo developed a key relationship with Education First to support and monitor the Collaborating Districts Initiative and establish the SEL in Action Fund. In 2016, NoVo, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and Education First hosted the first annual SEL in Action convening for awardees to engage and learn together. NoVo’s investments in SEL grew to include additional grant programs and support for grantees. Beginning in 2017, the SEL in Action fund was expanded to include awards to school districts and charter schools, along with teacher awards.


Payout: $169,466,169
Disbursed: $159,396,172
Committed: $204,524,204

The Hudson Valley grantmaking, which had been a part of the Local Economies Project, was transitioned to the NoVo Foundation. NoVo’s relationship with the city of Kingston and surrounding areas deepened as increasing political, social and environmental upheaval demanded a better understanding of how communities could be resilient and regenerative in the 21st century.

NoVo launched the Radical Hope Fund with a global call for projects grounded in new partnerships, bold experimentation, and responding to a growing global crisis of inequality, violence, and hate. NoVo resourced $34 million in grants to 19 organizations from among 1,000 applicants doing transformative social justice work in the United States and around the world.


Payout: $181,560,192
Disbursed: $248,564,745
Committed: $359,495,274

NoVo launched the Girls Funds—a partnership with six global funds that work across different movements, including women’s rights in the U.S., global south and in contexts of war and disaster; youth rights; climate justice; food sovereignty; and movements prioritized by young feminists.

NoVo launched The Life Story: Moments of Change, a powerful online tool that centers survivors’ experiences of commercial sexual exploitation as it explores pathways for reducing girls’ and women’s vulnerability to Commercial Sexual Exploitation. This effort was years in formation and represented both a different way of working for NoVo and a different way of communicating about this issue for the field. Throughout the entire project, our work was guided by, informed by, and accountable to survivors.

NoVo also challenged foundations and philanthropists to think critically about their own work and practices. We were honored to support the launch of Decolonizing Philanthropy, a book written by Edgar Villanueva. The book, which included a foreword from Jennifer and Peter, analyzes the colonial dynamics at play within philanthropy and offers a path towards balance based in the guidance of Indigenous leaders.


Payout: $192,802,804
Disbursed: $247,917,093
Committed: $254,987,041

NoVo continues to fund across all initiative areas and takes a deeper and more comprehensive look at future commitments as more signs point to cultural upheaval.

The extremely difficult decision of halting The Women’s Building development is made. As the project progressed, the budget grew to over 400 million dollars with no clear end in sight and no finalized ownership structure.

Novo transitions to a shared leadership structure and begins to assess ways to remain visionary in the work, while becoming more organizationally nimble.


Payout: $154,598,482
Disbursed: $208,363,812
Committed: $105,130,104

With increasing social and political unrest and deep ideological soul searching, NoVo made a decision to re-orient its work.

We found ourselves in the center of a cultural inflection point and had always made a pledge to do our best to stay at the margins. The margins are still made up of the same populations. But with continuing reminders that the  current system loves a fight—it was built on it—and generations of trauma are making most efforts to “bend the arc” cede to anger and pain, we had to focus on building as collapse became more imminent.

NoVo made a significant financial commitment to girls and young women of color globally. We know that this commitment, backed by the promise of dedicated dollars, is as important and critical as ever to the movement. While we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, NoVo remains committed to supporting and funding grassroots girl-led, girl-driven, and girl-designed programming and advocacy. After much thought and consideration about NoVo’s role going forward, in 2020, NoVo transitioned the Adolescent Girls Initiative grant-making portfolio and its future management and direction to our long-time partner, Tides. One of Tides’ important goals for this fund is to attract more funders to this critical issue area of philanthropy. NoVo staff pioneered a necessary emphasis and approach to supporting the critically underfunded needs of girls and young women of color. Building on this strong foundation, Tides wants to solidify and expand the fund so grantees can continue to create the conditions needed for truly transformational change.

Due to the massive impact that the pandemic had on Indigenous communities in the United States, NoVo trustees approved $1.8 Million in emergency funding that was released to tribal communities and Indigenous-led non-profit organizations. In addition, NoVo focused on maintaining grant payments for Indigenous partner grantees including renewals for all organizations whose grants ended during this time while also waiving reports and significantly reducing application requirements so that their energy and efforts could be focused on their communities.


Payout: $222,682,243
Disbursed: $233,553,342
Committed: $208,474,934

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NoVo awarded $1.2 million to six school districts to support their efforts to incorporate equitable design principles into their plans for reopening and recovery. Also, 64 teachers and 61 districts received SEL in Action awards totaling $2.8 million. NoVo, RPA and Education First also pivoted to plan virtual convenings, webinars, newsletters and other support to help SEL in Action grantees stay connected during school closures.

The Hudson Valley Farm Hub distributed over 300,000 pounds of food into local communities.

NoVo committed 50 million dollars to the community of women impacted by the ending of The Women’s Building development. An advisory group has been formed to decide the best use of these funds. In addition, we understand the importance of physical space and have offered our former Brooklyn office space on State Street as a women’s building that is ready for occupancy as of 2021.

The NoVo Foundation continues to be the lead funder for the Advancing Girls Fund at Tides Foundation as it transitions to the broader donor support of a pooled-fund, where multiple funders will hold investment in the critical needs identified by the adolescent girls of color space. Tides began to lay the groundwork for a new strategic decision and focused on ensuring a smooth transition with over 180 grantees. In 2021, Tides awarded grant renewals of $20,114,358.93 while simultaneously surveying grantees and partners within the adolescent girls of color ecosystem around the world to learn more about their work, approaches, challenges, and how they would like to see adolescent girls and young women of color supported and invested in. Of that amount, Tides awarded $4,413,358.93 to provide continuity to the Girls Fund Partnership launched by NoVo in 2018.

NoVo maintained consistent support for Indigenous communities during this year with a payout of $28,297,500 to Indigenous-led and serving organizations. The funding focused on grants that supported Indigenous education, healing, language preservation, leadership development, cultural expression, ending violence, and regranting work.


Payout: $308,460,326
Disbursed: $195,124,661
Committed: $237,514,628

Move to End Violence Program Sunsets: MEV was a capacity-building and leadership development program for U.S. leaders working to end gender-based violence. During its duration of 10 years, they provided funding, resources, coaching, and other forms of support for cohorts of leaders and convened them to build relationships across communities, to access the spaciousness required for strategic thinking, and to build stronger movements. Over the ten years, the program supported 100 movement makers, awarded $15M+in grants, supported 95 organizations as well as 100+ staff and consultants.

Life Story Project: NoVo provides initial funding to The Life Story Initiative, a new and wholly separate entity for the continuation of NoVo’s formerly held Ending Commercial Sexual Violence portfolio, enabling multi-year support for 45 grantees.  Fiscally sponsored by RPA, the Life Story Initiative aims to build a sustainable infrastructure for the emerging, survivor-led, systems-engaged community that is addressing the sex trade through closing on-ramps and opening exit ramps from exploitation.

After seven years and nearly $16 million in grantmaking, the SEL in Action Fund begins sunsetting process for final grants in 2023. Since 2016, the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Action Fund has fueled a movement of educator-led SEL practices that benefit K-12 students in hundreds of public school classrooms nationwide. Its flagship program, the SEL in Action Awards, has granted more than $3.5 million to teachers and other school-based educators and more than $7.5 million to district leaders to build and grow fresh ideas to support educator wellbeing and student social, emotional and academic development. Companion programs have provided an additional $4.75 million to school districts to support community- and region-wide SEL development, a focus on SEL in COVID-19 school recovery plans, and increased teacher morale and retention.

Advancing Adolescent Girls Fund: Tides Advancing Girls Fund launched a new grantmaking strategy in 2022 centering girl-led change. The Fund’s strategy, approach, and practices draw from feminist and power-shifting approaches. They center on the knowledge that girls live at the intersection of, and are disproportionately impacted by, individual, community and structural challenges.

Tides continued to inform grantees and partners about the shift of the Adolescent Girls Grantmaking portfolio from NoVo to Tides, highlighting the differences in future direction. Tides built on NoVo’s former strategy, narrowing the focus to prioritize girls & young women led (ages 11-25), BIPOC and proximate-led, locally rooted organizations and programs with a justice orientation. Future Advancing Girls grantees will tend to be community-based, on-the-ground groups that are informed by, led by, and that serve girls and young women of color, and that reflect their varied lived experiences.

Tides awarded grant renewals of $24,782,391.82 and continued to support the Girls Fund Partnership through an investment of $1,824,224.02.

NoVo increased support to Indigenous partner grantees in 2022, disbursing $35,062,759 in both renewals and 16 new relationships. Instead of creating categories that partners had to fit within, the focus shifted to community identified priorities. Many of the new relationships focused on land and water access, food security, seed saving, Indigenous-led climate solutions, and sacred life cycles (from birth to death). 


Payout: $356,063,646
Disbursed: $169,364,906
Committed: $131,000,350

NoVo continued to provide strong support for Indigenous-led projects in 2023 with $44,241,825 being disbursed to over 200 partner grantees. While still prioritizing food, land, water, and climate work, a shift was noted as a large number of both existing and new partners began sharing plans for more large community, regional, and bioregional projects involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners.

We also spent 2023 investigating and reflecting on a new area of focus, to begin in earnest in 2024, to complement and expand upon our existing work with Indigenous partners and others: regenerative bioregional communities.