Our Story

Our Philanthropic Journey

When we started our family foundation in 1988, we were motivated by the desire to help people in need. The early giving program of the Foundation was unstructured, much like many family foundations. We brought our personal passions to the boardroom and let them guide us to potential grantees. What helped us refine our strategy was the experience and knowledge we gained from systematically seeking answers to questions we asked our grantees, such as: “What is the most difficult thing in your budget to raise money for? What would you never think to ask a private funder to support?” The responses to these questions put us on a path we could never have predicted. Our grantmaking began to take on a new form. We started to fund not only interesting programs that we cared about personally, but also the organization’s needs essential to their structure and quality. As we learned more about the challenges facing non-profit sustainability, we worked to encourage funding from others to supplement what we could not finance alone. In doing so, we were introduced to program areas that were not on our list of personal passions. We asked ourselves: “Who could benefit most from our contributions?”, “Where could our investments provide leverage?” and “Could we catalyze large-scale social change if we looked beyond funding individual programs?”

Focusing Our Impact

Our investments became focused in four primary areas. Our early interests in medical research, cultural institutions and higher education led us to explore supporting projects within institutions with which we have long-standing relationships. We are motivated by the philosophy that no child is beyond help and the notion that those with firsthand experience with systems are the most equipped to change those systems for the better. Our Justice Initiatives concentrate investments in programs that work with children and families who are in or at risk of involvement with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. We work toward systemic reforms with the goal of providing vulnerable youth and families with opportunities to succeed and become productive members of their communities. Focusing our grantmaking in an area in which there is so much to be done, and where there is so little private sector involvement, has provided us with the opportunity to see the impact of our work first-hand.

What We Have Learned

Our board knows that a foundation can play an important role as a partner and an active participant in public policy reform. In fact, if a foundation has knowledge and passion about an issue, we feel it must commit and invest not just financial resources, but its time and expertise to forward its mission and have a positive impact on the most serious problems our society faces. We encourage, support and facilitate collaborative efforts among our grantees, other funders and government partners to this end. It is our responsibility as philanthropists to use our unique independent status to empower those nonprofits we support and the systems they work within to change for the better so that the individuals they serve can improve their own lives. The driving force motivating us to focus our resources in this way is the knowledge that we are truly making a difference.

Emily Tow
President, The Tow Foundation

My father achieved so much by taking risks and by being adventurous and on the cutting edge. He pursued fields ahead of others -- and found success. I have been committed to replicating this entrepreneurial style into the philosophy of the foundation.