For almost 15 years, philanthropist Doris Buffett and a small group of friends and volunteers have been reading and responding to the letters written to the Buffett family from people who are in need of financial help. In 2016, the Letters Foundation moved from Maine to Boston, MA when Doris made Boston her new home. This move provided a small group of staff and over 100 volunteers from Greater Boston with the opportunity to put the Buffett family’s good luck to work for others. Through this unique, high-touch form of philanthropy every letter becomes a personal story deserving of careful consideration. Over the past three years, this dedicated group from Greater Boston has read and responded to every letter received and given grants to almost 1,000 individuals and families, providing them with a hand-up when they had nowhere else to turn.
As Doris’ Letters Program approaches its 15th year of distributing grants to individuals, the Letters Foundation community and members of Doris Buffett’s family are reflecting on lessons learned through this program and looking to the future. Reading thousands of letters from people in need has reinforced what research also confirms: that investing in education is paramount to helping individuals and families build financially sustainable lives.
At the end of 2020, the Letters Foundation will sunset its full operation. Doris will then help seed a new collaborative fund, Give to Learn, focused on providing funds directly to low-income and first-generation college students experiencing a financial obstacle that is threatening their ability to complete their degree. The cultures and traditions honed through the Letters Foundation will continue through this new effort.
Give to Learn will be a collaborative fund aimed at addressing educational inequity by providing resources directly to low-income and first-generation college students, while simultaneously empowering other recent college graduates as the grant decision-makers. Give to Learn, which will be housed in the Learning by Giving Foundation, will disperse grants directly for books, laptops, car repairs, childcare, rent, professional clothing for interviewing, paid internships, modest tuition gaps, and more. These grants will provide critical financial support for low income and first-generation students to allow them to overcome everyday challenges that have been shown to derail their pursuit of a college degree.
Give to Learn is strongly committed to leveraging the power of the Greater Boston community to ensure maximum impact. To that end, Learning by Giving will be working with local nonprofits to select a group of recent college graduates from Boston Public Schools who were first-generation college students to serve as the design team for the fund and the council for grant decisions. This new initiative combines three critical tenets of Doris’ giving: listening and responding to the requests from those with nowhere else to turn, giving directly to individuals in need, and leveraging private philanthropic dollars to provide the opportunity for others to experience the privilege and challenge of giving effectively.
To date, Doris Buffett has dedicated almost $200 million to her many different philanthropic projects. More importantly, she has spent a lifetime listening to the stories of individuals and families working to improve their lives. Now it is time to bring her many areas of passion together to focus on the central theme of her life’s work: investing in education. Give to Learn will provide young people trying to obtain higher education with a place to find support, and a group of thoughtfully trained peers with the opportunity to become philanthropists.