President’s Letter

Art Institute of Chicago ▲

President’s Letter
from 2020 Annual Report

The year 2020 will forever be time stamped for the Foundation by one major challenge and one noteworthy milestone—the obvious challenge being the global spread of COVID-19, and the milestone being the Foundation reaching twenty years of grantmaking.  When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Foundation’s Board responded by prioritizing stability for existing grantees.  Though it has been a struggle, our grantees are resilient.  They persist, as many are strongly supported by private philanthropy, and we are grateful to have been able to work alongside so many other committed peer funders.  Like many of them, our Board allowed grantees additional flexibility this past year by permitting some grants to shift to support general operations and others to adjust their timelines.  I continue to be impressed by the ways nonprofits are adapting new resources and lessons learned from the pandemic to enhance their programs and activities going forward.

The Brinson Foundation’s 20th anniversary has offered a logical moment for reflection.  One measure of the Foundation’s steadfastness is that, after twenty years of grantmaking, our average length of grant is a considerable 12.9 years.  Additionally, we have observed that a number of our grantees are around the same age, having “grown up” with the Foundation.  There is also consistency across our portfolio, with many of our grantees focused on motivating young people to reach their full potential—whether those young people are preschoolers, emerging scientists or students in between.  The quotes and images throughout this report reflect some of our grantees’ impact on developing people, both as individuals and as contributing members of a greater community.

I am pleased to share that, in 2020, the Foundation awarded its first three Brinson Prize Fellowships, a notable expansion of our long-time support of early career scientists in astronomy and astrophysics.  These multi-year “prize” fellowships fund individuals who are likely to innovate, be creative, nimble and entrepreneurial in their research pursuits.  Although the initiative had been under consideration for several years, the Foundation was reluctant to begin a new effort while university faculty and staff were already stretched thin due to the pandemic and other challenges.  However, as it became clear that the crisis would have a negative, long-term impact on basic science funding and the career trajectories of young researchers, the Foundation responded by announcing the hosting institutions for the first cohort of Prize Fellowships in fall 2020, with positions to begin in fall 2021.  The Foundation anticipates awarding additional prizes in subsequent years.

I remain grateful to our grantees and so many other nonprofits who are doing heroic work during this difficult time.  As always, I am open to your feedback and reflections on your experience with the Foundation.


Christy Uchida
President