Progressive nonprofit leaders who are worried that they won’t be able to count on support from one of the wealthiest grant makers in the United States took some comfort from the Atlantic Philanthropies board meeting this week. Trustees approved all but one of 80 grants, including some large donations to advocacy organizations.
But the board also made clear that long-term decisions about the foundation will be put off until a new leader is chosen.
In early June, Gara LaMarche, Atlantic’s president, announced that he would step down in part because the foundation, which has $2-billion in assets, planned to put more of its money into biomedical research and higher education in the years before it closes in 2016.
That touched off alarm among progressive groups, many of which sent a letter to Atlantic’s board encouraging the grant maker not to back away from its support of social-justice issues.
Grantees said they took the events of the board meeting as a positive signal, but that uncertainty remains.
“I don’t feel I’ve heard enough to know that there is security that those portfolios will remain priorities of the institution,” said Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the office of research, advocacy, and legislation at the National Council of La Raza, a Washington group that advocates for the rights of Latinos. “We will have to wait and see.”
Ben Wyskida, a spokesman for the grant maker, which is based in Bermuda but maintains a New York office, said Atlantic is just beginning a process of selecting a new president and setting a course for its last five years of grant making.
“It’s really too early to speculate on a strategic direction, except to say that the board has maintained a commitment to our core mission and to our historic programs,” he said.
Mr. Wyskida said the board continues to take “very seriously” the concerns of progressive organizations.
He said Atlantic’s examination of its priorities was part of an effort to determine how it could make the biggest difference in its remaining years.
On Monday, the foundation announced that Christopher Oechsli, a lawyer who worked at Atlantic from 2000 to 2005, will lead the foundation until a successor is picked. The foundation is advertising the position and accepting applications until July 22.
The short time frame, along with the fact that Atlantic has not enlisted a search firm to help with the hunt, has led some observers to wonder if Mr. Oechsli will be tapped as the permanent president.
Mr. Wyskida said he could not comment on personnel questions but that the board is “very serious about getting in as many strong candidates as we can within the time frame we have.”