During Winthrop Rockefeller's term as governor of Arkansas (1967-71), he was an advocate for human rights, government reform, and economic and cultural development, as well as education. He believed that the quality of life for all Arkansans could be improved. The 24-year-old Foundation created in his honor works to fulfill Rockefeller's desire to ensure that Arkansas becomes free of economic, social and educational barriers.
With the passing of the foundation's president, Mahlon Martin, in 1995 and the hiring of Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton in October 1996, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) board and staff has had an opportunity to reaffirm the Foundation's mission and values. During 1997, the WRF program officers and president spent 14 days traveling around the state to visit organizations exemplifying best practices and to meet informally with some of their stakeholders. This exercise proved invaluable as the WRF staff examined past grant-making practices and the organization's internal capacity. The process is still unfolding, but it is clear that the same values will be demonstrated in the new ways the Foundation's work takes place.
No matter the changes that take place, the work of the Foundation will always focus on improving the quality of life for all Arkansans in three interdependent areas—education, economic development and citizen participation (see chart below). Using this holistic approach, the WRF will no longer issue grant guidelines but will use the request for proposal model as its future grant solicitation strategy.
Given the fact that more philanthropic organizations locally, regionally and nationally are funding Arkansas' nonprofits and educational institutions than ever before, WRF plans to partner with these foundations to seed best practices and to build a viable and sustainable nonprofit sector.
In 1997, the WRF provided more than $4 million for continuing grants. The Foundation places a priority on identifying and providing seed funding for organizations engaged in best practices. Increased collaboration with other grant makers will offer new leveraging opportunities and a larger network for nonprofits.
Dr. Hampton recognizes that over the past 24 years, the Foundation's role has evolved from being one of a precious few to being one of many funding sources. Looking ahead, this role shift will offer the Foundation an opportunity to work in new ways. National philanthropic organizations are beginning to solicit information about best practices in Arkansas. Therefore, the Foundation can become a resource for network building and for linking potential partners.
Education: Funding for projects that involve teachers and parents in making decisions about what happens in their schools; enable university faculty and public school teachers and administrators to work together to train student teachers; and promote stakeholder participation in the development of educational policy.
Economic Development: Funding for projects that strengthen local economic development efforts; provide access to capital, management and technical assistance for small businesses; strengthen agriculture as an economic resource; and improve the economic status of women and minorities.
Citizen Participation: Funding focuses on strengthening community-based organizations working to improve their communities, develop leaders, and advance minority and equity issues.