(Photo by Tony Abraham)
Meet Temple University dropout Max Tuttleman. When he’s not investing in early stage startups at Gabriel Investments, hanging out in Cuba with Connor Barwin or doing business in Las Vegas, the 27-year-old is running his family’s foundation.
Tuttleman might very well be the youngest foundation head in the region, and he most definitely was when he took over the reins of the Tuttleman Family Foundation in 2008 at the age of 20.
“‘Took over’ is strong — trail-blazed? I grabbed the reins. I don’t know if they were handed over,” Tuttleman says. He’s processing his thoughts as he’s speaking them, which comes across as totally commonplace for him. It’s as if he thrives on chaos.
“I took the reins,” he confirms. “I saw a gap. I saw an opportunity.”
The same applies to Tuttleman’s self-learned style of philanthropy. Fast-moving and opportunistic — not what you’d expect from most institutional foundations.
Or any foundation, really. You’d be hard-pressed to find another funder who doesn’t believe in sticking to mission.
“I think over time, mission-driven organizations end up sacrificing themselves and their ideals due to organizations asking for funding and a foundation moving their guidelines to meet in the middle somewhere,” he said.
For example, he said, a foundation that only funds in-school programs might shift its funding criteria so it can make a grant to an out-of-school nonprofit that has created an in-school program in order to land those grant dollars.
"In my mind, institutional philanthropy isn't really what we need in 2016."
This is all hypothetical. Still, Tuttleman is wary.
“It’s philanthrocapitalism. Some people are very against it,” he says. Tuttleman counts himself as one of those people. “In my mind, institutional philanthropy isn’t really what we need in 2016. We need more programmatic grassroots philanthropy and small giving” — in the range of $1,000 to 10,000, which his foundation gives, whereas the norm among bigger organizations is $100,000 to $500,000.
But don’t expect to fill out a grant application for one of those small gifts from the Tuttleman Family Foundation. They don’t accept them. Tuttleman himself doesn’t like to read them. The foundation itself doesn’t even have a functioning website.
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Instead, Tuttleman would rather meet you in person. Just make sure you’ve got a revenue model he can get behind.
“Earn your money instead of writing me a letter or filling out an application to ask for money from me,” he said. “What then? My trustees and family members are supposed to sit down and grade these grant applications? Come on.”
Tuttleman likes to shake things up. Take Recycled Artists in Residency, for example. The nonprofit uses art to raise awareness about sustainability. Before making a larger grant to the organization to expand their contracted services, he wanted to see for himself that they could do it. So, Tuttleman issued a smaller grant to fund a — well, let’s call it a personal pilot project.
“I said, ‘Hey, guys, I need a dining room table.’ So I gave them a grant to build a dining room table from organ pipes pulled out of a church in North Philadelphia,” said Tuttleman. “They designed a beautiful table.”
A tad bit unconventional. But then again, conventions aren’t really Tuttleman’s thing.
There was the time he asked some employees from the Office of Grants to drive him around Strawberry Mansion and show him five organizations he should fund. That’s how he found Strawberry Mansion Learning Center, which will be receiving funding from the Tuttleman Family Foundation in 2017.
Tuttleman is proud of the regular grants he makes to Mural Arts and Fringe Arts, but right now, he’s most excited about the opioid epidemic initiatives he’s helping fund — like the $150,000 he’s putting up to help fund a program that will get overdose reversal drug Narcan into the hands of all Philly police.
Arts, education, sustainability, mental health — Tuttleman really knows no strict mission. The foundation is a vehicle for him to fund the things he’s passionate about.
And though he admits there’s a “kookiness” and “crazy thinking” to his philanthropy, he’s no less confident in the way he’s steering his family’s foundation. He says it’s working.
“I’m starting to see that these crazy ideas are paying out and are working,” he said. “It makes me think maybe I’m not totally crazy. Maybe I’m just a nonconformist.”-30-
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