"Lenny wanted to be on the other side of the process,
to provide money and give back,
instead of being on the asking side this time."
-Glenn Rothman

The Lenny Fund board.

Beginning the Lenny Fund

News of Lenny Zakim's battle with cancer naturally sparked an outpouring of concern among his friends and others in his community. Many sent letters containing checks and other contributions to aid him during the difficult time. In his characteristically beneficent nature, Zakim refused to become a charity himself and redirected the cause, choosing to establish a fund that could support worthwhile causes throughout Massachusetts.

The Lenny Fund was soon set up to give grants to interfaith coalitions and schools, community organizations and programs focusing on domestic and youth violence, mentioning and healthcare. The fund essentially provides money to help Boston-area organizations that have to vision and desire to make a difference, yet lack the financial resources to put their plans into action. By giving smaller grass-roots organizations the support that they have long been lacking, Lenny hoped to combat "problems that people have thought were unsolvable."

The fund originated when admirers of Lenny's work suggested endowing a chair in diversity in his name at Harvard University. Uninterested in the prestige, Lenny, once again, chose to focus himself on other efforts. Although the proposal was undoubtedly a great honor, Lenny humbly declined. "I thanked them, " he recalled, "and suggested that the most rewarding way to honor me would be to create a funding vehicle for the many small organizations that get left behind by mainstream philanthropy." With initial backing of Harvard's $250,000 grant, the Lenny Fund was born and sprang into action.

Programs and Beneficiaries

One of the things that distinguishes Lenny Fund from other organizations is its accessibility to those in need. The fund takes a unique approach in trying to make grants as available as possible, looking for organizations that are sometimes "under the radar screen", according to Glenn Rothman, a board member of the fund and close friend to Lenny. Essential to the fund are its "Community Spotters", a group of about thirty individuals with leadership roles in Boston communities. Having a more direct awareness of the needs of their neighborhood as well as its rising organizations, it is the spotters who act as messenger and recommend worthwhile causes to the fund. Careful site visits are also made by board members and volunteers with the help of the Philanthropic Initiative.

The fund has grown remarkably over the past few years. By recently securing a million dollar endowment, the Lenny Fund has ensured its continuity and commitment to helping others. As the Lenny Fund grows larger and branches out, its trustees have remained focused on staying true to the spirit that Lenny exemplified They are dedicated to continuing work on a grass-roots basis and social justice issues. Recent projects have included aiding inner city youth and Asian immigrants. Those are only a few of the 51 organizations awarded grants in 1999. Grants have ranged from $1,500 to $12,000. Apart from his work with the ADL, Lenny had a great deal of commitment to providing financial backing to those he believed could make a tremendous difference. "They have the will", he said, "and they have the creativity, but they lack the means. We give them the means."

The Zakim family requests that donations be made to The Lenny Fund, c/o T.P.I., 77 Franklin St., Boston, 02110. For more information, call Mary Carty at (617) 338-2590.

For examples of 1999 grant recipient profiles click here.