It's been 8 years since AJL was founded by Amy and John Lawton, two lifelong philanthropists who believed in the potential of all people. Fast forward to 2019, the Board and staff sat down to assess our overall strategy and realized we had some work to do. We'd outgrown our mission and even though our vision and values had become clear through our work and relationships, we needed to officially codify them.
The Evolution of our Mission
- 2011 - 2015: The AJL Charitable Foundation was created by Amy S. and John E. Lawton "to provide support for qualified educational, religious, and cultural charitable organizations whose work is dedicated to the support of those in society who are in need of education, care and empowerment to become self-sufficient."
Amy and John Lawton established AJL at the end of their lives and put in place an important and honorable mission that reflected the many ways they supported individuals and communities around the world throughout their lives. As AJL got up and running, it soon became clear that the broadness of the mission for a relatively small private foundation put us in the position of being spread too thin and sacrificing strategy and impact. Additionally, as we dove into understanding the broader field of philanthropy, we found ourselves grappling with the concept of charity vs. change. We began to understand that charity - without change - is, at best, ineffective, and at worst, contributing to the proliferation of the economic, social and political injustices that force philanthropy to exist at all. It was time for change so we regrouped to evaluate.
- 2015 - 2019: AJL's mission became "to help at-risk Colorado youth and families by supporting educational and humanitarian programs that provide the tools to help them succeed in life."
The new mission reflected a small step away from charity alone, and better focused AJL on supporting youth and families in the areas of education and human services. Arguably still broad but a step in a more defined direction. As AJL's learning journey continued we began to explore the root causes of why the communities we support are experiencing the challenges and barriers they deal with and we learned more about the history and present-day realities of our society. Racism and sexism. Classism and ableism. Ageism and heterosexism. They are our country's past and present, and if we as a foundation don't understand this and put strategies in place that will help address not just the symptoms of these (ie: poverty, homelessness, lack of access to opportunities and resources) but strategies that also address the injustices at their core, they will be our country's future.
As for AJL, we took a look at whose voices were at our decision-making table - and whose voices were missing. We sat down with stakeholders affected by our grantmaking - families, youth, community organizers, and professionals working within education and human services - and listened to their experiences and expertise about the challenges they face and solutions they support. We took responsibility for the social impacts of our entire portfolio, the 95% of capital beyond grantmaking. We moved to an impact-oriented investment advisor who could help us find and invest in companies and funds that generated positive social impact alongside financial return.
- 2020 - present: The mission of the AJL Foundation is to "invest in people, programs and movements that benefit Colorado's youth and families."
AJL's new mission reflects our commitment to use 100% of our capital, resources, power and privilege to support the communities we serve. From an investment perspective, we have mission-aligned our entire portfolio as we seek to avoid harm, benefit stakeholders, and contribute to solutions wherever possible. From a grantmaking perspective, we are sharing decision-making power with all stakeholders affected by our grantmaking by bringing together a diverse group of families, youth, community organizers, education and human services professionals and AJL staff and Board to identify and distribute 20 general operating support grants of $20,000 each to nonprofit organizations working in education and human services that are community-lead or heavily community informed. We are funding advocacy efforts and learning about advocacy opportunities for private foundations. We are making direct investments that support building family wealth and educational and employment opportunities for individuals within the communities we serve. It's a big shift, but not big enough, and we will continue the learning journey - alongside the communities we serve - with humility, transparency, vulnerability and a sense of responsibility.
Our Vision and Values
Prior to 2019, AJL did not have a codified vision or values. Through the learning journey above, our vision and values have revealed themselves, and we have officially identified the following to guide us into the future:
That all Colorado youth and families have opportunities to thrive.
- Compassion, Humility and Learning: We recognize we are neither the experts nor the authority on the issues we work on, and we enter every partnership and conversation with compassion, humility and in the spirit of learning.
Respect and Trust: We respect and trust our colleagues, partners and the communities we serve and recognize them as the experts on their experiences.
Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: We honor and value diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds and are committed to making sure decisions are made and informed by diverse colleagues, partners and communities.
Mission-Aligned Resources: We are committed to prioritizing positive social impact as well as financial return across our investments to support the communities we serve wherever possible.