Giving Away $5 Million Per Year

rita allen christopherson

Money is always fun to talk about, to hear about. Big money is even more fun to hear about — especially when it is dispensed locally and you know a nonprofit that is getting some.

And I’m always fascinated by the person giving away the money. In this case, speaking at the Princeton Regional Chamber breakfast on  Wednesday, September 17, it’s Elizabeth Christopherson, CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation and former head of New Jersey Network.

I interviewed Christopherson two years ago for U.S. 1, asking her what it was like to go from a nonprofit that needed foundation money, to leading the foundation that actually gave the money. She had just moved into her office on Nassau Street, over Hamilton Jewelers.  At that time she revealed that “— despite her genteel women’s club demeanor, she is going hell-bent-for-leather on effecting transformative change.” (My words, not hers.)

She heads one of the larger foundations in New Jersey. The monies for it came from Rita Allen’s first husband, Charles Allen, known as ‘the Shy Midas of Wall Street,’ founder of Allen & Company, the prominent boutique firm that is famously averse to publicity.  That’s a story in itself.

Now the  $140 million foundation grants more than $5 million per year. Previous grantees have been Isles Inc. and Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association.

Looking at the current web page for the foundation, it seems to me that Christopherson has realigned its focus. And she has planted it firmly in the 21st century. For instance, the website offers a social media guide for nonprofits, a downloadable PDF.

I’m eager to hear how Christopherson has settled into the job. Two years ago she admitted that what sounds easy — giving away money — is not easy. “There are not enough funds, and we try to be as strategic as we can be,” she said.  “It is very difficult to say no when you care — and we do care.” 

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