Our Origin Story

Dan and Marsha Coats established the Foundation for American Renewal in 1999 to increase the understanding and practice of effective compassion in America. The foundation was inspired by Dan’s work in the US Senate where he introduced tax credits to spur private giving and innovations such as prisoner reentry services in a legislative package titled the Project for American Renewal.

Soon after the foundation was established, Dan was called to serve as US Ambassador to Germany in the days following 9/11. They invited Jay Hein to operate the foundation in tandem with the creation of a think tank — Sagamore Institute — that would add research and consulting services alongside grantmaking to improve communities.

The foundation’s chief focus was bringing business techniques to America’s generous story of giving and serving.  Alexis de Tocqueville noted that care for neighbor was woven into the American fabric from our earliest days, in stark contrast to state-sponsored benevolence in Europe. Peter Drucker later called America’s nonprofits our nation’s greatest export.

But this inspiring story was also marked by underperformance due to a lack of business intelligence for philanthropists and a lack of business acumen by nonprofit executives. The Foundation for American Renewal provided funds and built partnerships with the likes of Bob Buford and Mission Increase founder Dale Stockamp to bolster the infrastructure and business excellence of America’s nonprofits.

Jay Hein took leave from this work in the Heartland to advance the same strategies as director of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative in the White House from 2006-08.

Upon Dan’s return to the US Senate in 2011, the Coats needed to discontinue involvement with the foundation’s operations to comply with Senate ethics rules. The mission was continued under various Sagamore programs such as Scholarships for Education Choice, which leverages state tax credits to raise $7M+ in donations annually to help thousands of low-income K-12 students access high quality private education.

As impact investing was beginning to take shape across America’s financial services system, Jay worked with Sagamore’s board to establish Commonwealth as the private investment successor to the Coats’ original philanthropic mission. Commonwealth’s use of Donor Advised Funds to make mission-related investments is a next generation strategy to replace good intentions with measurable results.