Ethical consideration of RIOC’s Public Purpose Grants

Ethical consideration of RIOC’s Public Purpose Grants

This year, RIOC funded Public Purpose Grants finally get the ethical consideration they deserve. Through an undisclosed intervention, the New York Community Trust earned responsibility, rescuing PPF grants from the brink of disaster.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Public Purpose Fund Grants-2022

Roosevelt Island Historical Society Kiosk
Relying on Public Purpose Fund Grants, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society runs a visitor center in the Tram Plaza.

“The New York Community Trust (The Trust) is a public charity founded in 1924. As a grantmaking foundation, The Trust connects past, present, and future generous New Yorkers with vital nonprofits working to make a healthy, equitable, and thriving community for all.”

That note from Julia Chang, the Trusts Philanthropic Initiatives Officer jumped the process leagues ahead of the tangle of favoritism and personal agendas increasingly plaguing the process.

In previous years, a vaguely detailed operation enabled fence jumping and ditch dodging on the way to treating friends, favorites and unctuous penitents to official treats. The mix was embarrassing – or should have been.

A little history…

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) was created in 1984 by the State of New York as a public benefit corporation with a mission to plan, design, develop, operate, and maintain Roosevelt Island. After the construction of Manhattan Park, a public purpose fund was established in lieu of the developers paying sales tax on construction materials. In 1989, RIOC began providing public purpose funding to local nonprofits to benefit Roosevelt Island residents and enhance their quality of life. In January 2022, RIOC asked The Trust to administer the public purpose grants and created the Roosevelt Island Public Purpose Fund in The New York Community Trust.

The Trust Call for Proposals

What did they leave out? A couple of things. First, at the suggestion of board member David Kraut, RIOC brought the Residents Association into the process. The idea was that, as a group representing the community, RIRA’s Common Council would enhance the process with local insight and values.

A good idea, but especially recently, it failed in practice because the Council is so out of balance that in no way could it be seen as a reflection of the community. Some building complexes were overloaded with members while others had none. In spite of numerous entreaties, the Council refused considering those living at Cornell Tech or in Coler Rehabilitation Center as residents.

Their recommendations wallowed in personal agendas and who-knows-who favoritism.

The other gap was that The Trust skipped over the reasons for burying the old system. Super secret RIOC brought in a “special counsel” – no reason given – who recommended a complete takeover. Handling of how Public Purpose Fund grants made their way to nonprofits got yanked away from RIOC staff as well as their Common Council cohorts.

Bringing Sense and Ethics to Public Purpose Fund Grants

Based on clearly defined criteria and a stepwise process, The Trust whisks away the fuzziness and unpredictability of the past. A call for proposals – available here – lets applicants know what to expect and when.


Review Criteria & Process

Here is how The Trust lays it out:


Proposals will be evaluated on a competitive basis by an independent review committee of
Roosevelt Island community members. Priority will be given to organizations that:

  • Currently operate on Roosevelt Island;
  • Have been in existence for at least two years;
  • Have an annual operating budget that is under $10 million
  • Demonstrate a history of commitment and proven track record of serving Roosevelt Island
  • residents;
  • Fill a critical gap in services to underresourced communities on the Island;
  • Clearly articulate outcomes, activities, and timeline, as well as plans to measure the project
  • outcomes in their proposals; and
  • Aim for long-term engagement and intervention, and have concrete plans to sustain project
  • activities over time.

As an additional aid, The Trust will invite interested nonprofits to “a series of interactive nonprofit management workshops and peer-learning sessions provided by Community Resource Exchange (CRE) at no cost to the nonprofit.”

Altogether, this looks like change we can use. RIOC made the right decision, however cloaked in secrecy.

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