Linda Shoemaker and Steve Brett founded the Brett Family Foundation in 2000 with the vision of creating a more compassionate and just society. The couple endowed the foundation with a $10,000,000 gift—the result of a successful merger between TCI Cable Company and AT&T in which Steve Brett served as General Counsel to TCI.
Since its inception, the Foundation has distributed over $5 million in grants to Colorado nonprofits. Steve and Linda, who reside in Boulder, Colorado, have always believed in the importance of giving back to the community in which they make their home. Therefore, early on they created a funding program dedicated to addressing the needs of underserved communities in Boulder County with an emphasis on programs serving at-risk youth.
The founders recognized that while direct services are critical to addressing immediate human needs, funding direct services alone will never lead to the reduction or elimination of the need for such services. Long-term solutions require the development and promotion of public policies that can address the underlying causes of social and economic inequities. Acting on this realization, Steve and Linda began to explore the creation of a local policy institute that would provide policy makers, funders, nonprofits and other decision makers with the objective research and analysis necessary to develop and promote effective public policies in the state.
In its first year, the Foundation invested in a preliminary feasibility survey that confirmed the need for a state-based, multi-issue think tank dedicated to advancing policy solutions to address the needs of Colorado's low and moderate income individuals and families. In 2001, with the support of two critical funding partners— the Chambers Family Fund and the Gill Foundation— the Foundation invested in the launch of the Bell Policy Center. The Bell Policy Center quickly grew to become the state's largest progressive policy institute dedicated to identifying and promoting policies that help individuals and families in Colorado access opportunity and move toward self-sufficiency. Linda Shoemaker served as the founding board chair (2000-2005). The Foundation continues to work in close partnership with the Bell Policy Center and provides on-going general operating support.
In 2004, the Foundation expanded its social justice grantmaking beyond funding for the policy institute to include investments in complimentary social change strategies, including community-based organizing and civic engagement. Today, the Foundation defines its social justice grantmaking as “support for organizations throughout Colorado working to address the root causes of social, economic, gender and racial inequities through strategies that empower affected communities to engage in the democratic process and advance progressive policy solutions.”
In 2010, the Foundation added nonprofit media in Colorado as its third principal funding area in response to a drastic decline in the number of professional journalists working in the state over the last decade. The commitment to supporting public interest journalism, news literacy, and community engagement reflects Linda Shoemaker's interest in the field and her former work as a journalist and publisher.