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Our History

Our History

Learning from our successes and failures, EMCF has continually evolved. While expanding our resources and partnerships, we have sharpened our focus on helping the least fortunate members of society.

The story begins in the 1880s when David Hall McConnell, a door-to-door book salesman in New York State, discovered that a vial of homemade perfume he gave away as an incentive was more popular than the books he was offering. Recruiting housewives to sell the perfume as a way to augment their family income, he formed a company that expanded into cosmetics and household products and eventually became Avon.

As Avon prospered, so did the family. Edna McConnell Clark, a daughter of the founder, and her husband, Van Alan Clark, who became chairman of Avon’s board in the 1950s, decided to put much of their resources into a foundation. Initially it made modest grants, mostly to universities and hospitals, although other recipients, including the Henry Street Settlement and the Foster Parents Plan, forecast future directions for the family foundation.

In 1969, Edna and Van Alan Clark set a fresh course for what had become a very large but unstaffed operation.

They doubled the size of the endowment and charged their sons—Hays, Van Alan, Jr., and James—with staffing and setting priorities for the Foundation. While the sons maintained the family’s down-to-earth approach to philanthropy, the trustees decided to make grants in four areas: the poor, children, the elderly, and the developing world. The pragmatic yet exacting spirit of those early decisions continues to be reflected in the Foundation's activities.

Creating the Youth Development Fund

In 1999, the Foundation began to concentrate on economically disadvantaged young people and the organizations that serve them. A year later, the board ended work in other areas, making sure that the most successful and promising of these legacy programs continued under other auspices.

Thereafter the Foundation has focused primarily on its Youth Development Fund, a portfolio of investments in youth-serving organizations that help our nation’s most vulnerable young people make a successful transition to independent adulthood. Michael Bailin, EMCF's President from 1996 to 2005, wrote several essays about the transformation of the Foundation's grantmaking strategy and trends in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.

Pioneering Growth Capital Aggregation

After eight years’ experience investing in youth development, EMCF launched the Growth Capital Aggregation Pilot (GCAP) in 2007 to test whether three of its most successful grantees could take advantage of a more effective and efficient model of raising capital–more capital than any one foundation could provide on its own–to build the evidence and organizational capacity that are prerequisites for sustainable growth.

Launching PropelNext

EMCF started a new venture in 2012, PropelNext, to help promising nonprofits strengthen their capacity to use data for learning, self-evaluation and ongoing improvement.

Forging a public/private partnership

Also in 2012, EMCF became an inaugural grantee of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) and the recipient of its largest award. This federal initiative partners with private intermediaries to help expand transformative programs with compelling evidence that they promote economic opportunity, healthy lives, and youth development.

To help programs supported by EMCF and the SIF meet their federal match requirements and achieve their growth and evaluation goals, the Foundation launched the True North Fund with 13 philanthropic co-investors. Building on the initial success of the GCAP, the True North Fund demonstrated the impact and efficiency of adapting and extending capital aggregation from individual grantees to an entire portfolio of organizations.

Initiating Blue Meridian Partners

In 2016, ten philanthropic investors, shortly joined by two more, launched a new vehicle and strategy for capital aggregation, Blue Meridian Partners. Incubated at EMCF, it plans to provide at least $1 billion in growth capital to programs shown empirically to lift the life prospects of disadvantaged children and youth.