Author Archives: Jamie Allison

  1. Healthy Goodbyes: Exiting Grantee Relationships With Care

    Leave a Comment

    As we continue our philanthropy learning lab on how the Walter & Elise Haas Fund is operationalizing trust-based philanthropy, I am offering a reflection about how we exit funding relationships with grantees. Exiting grantees is the process a foundation takes to discontinue funding to a grantee. While it is a routine occurrence in philanthropy, it remains difficult because it is discouraging news for an organization and may leave a gap in funding. That is why we believe wholeheartedly that it should be done with care and compassion.

    The programmatic and strategic shifts in our new grantmaking philosophy required us to exit grantees in several cycles between 2019 and 2024. After listening to our grantees, we determined that to more effectively support nonprofits to win, we need to provide larger and longer-term grants. Even with fewer grantees, we know these multi-year grants are more meaningful for our nonprofit partners and the communities we collectively serve. Moving from siloed program areas to a more holistic approach, we aim to align with our organizational values, our intention for reparative action, and to de-silo program content and staff roles.

    Toward this end, we integrated Economic Security, Education, and Safety Net programs into our new Economic Well-being portfolio. We exited 29 Education program grantees in 2019, then 35 Safety Net grantees, and 58 Economic Security grantees in 2022. This year, we are exiting 112 grantees in our effort to integrate our Arts, Disaster and Climate Resilience, Jewish Life, and Racial Justice grantmaking. This second integration will focus on community and social well-being to fuel the natural synergy across program areas and drive holistic outcomes for communities. Already, this year’s exits build on learnings from the prior cycle. 

    For us, exiting is all about relationships. How we end a funding relationship is part of enacting and earning the trust that we will need to sustain strong connections with the Bay Area nonprofit community for the long term. We have deep respect for nonprofit leadership and are committed to maintaining these relationships. Our belief is that even when we are no longer in the same funder-grantee relationship with organizations, we continue to share similar values, priorities, and care for the same community. We know that as professionals committed to social change, we will see each other again and will likely partner in different capacities, roles, and organizations. In this blog, we offer lessons learned along the way and tips for exiting with care.

    Staying accountable with our values throughout the process

    Our core values of family, possibility, shared responsibility, and belonging lie at the center of our vision for creating a more prosperous future for everyone. These values guide our work everyday, including the practice of exiting grantees.

    We believe the process of exiting grantees should be done as clearly, transparently, and timely as possible. We signaled change as early as we could because we recognized that a last-minute notice could adversely affect an organization’s fundraising projections and programmatic plans. We requested meetings with organizations, and the email invitation sent to each grantee revealed the purpose of the meeting to avoid any surprises. We were transparent about how and why the foundation was changing course.

    Our goodbyes, at best, have been person to person. We do not believe in mass email dissemination as an appropriate tactic in this instance. For our relationships, we know it is important to show up with humility and recognize the grantee-grantor power dynamic to honor the grantee and show respect. We had one organization that did not respond to the request to meet, and that organization received a letter, instead of a one-on-one meeting.

    In our conversations, we reviewed the history of our partnership, shared our gratitude with each grantee, and our belief that we will never be strangers. We shared that as we engage with funder peers, we will keep the organization top of mind, and keep the door open for the organization to contact us with questions or updates as they wish. 

    We also communicated about the prospect of future funding, being honest about when there was no opportunity, a limited one, or real possibility. Since these were exits tied to larger strategy shifts, we knew that the majority of organizations had limited to no chance of a grant from us in the near future, so we said that clearly. We were also clear if the organization would receive one last grant, an exit grant, from the Fund.

    We did not require further reports, and in some cases, waived final reports that had initially been requested at the start of the grant. Our grants manager attended several of these calls as well, so that he could speak to our evolving strategy and also any waived requirements, changes to grant agreements, and prospects for the exited grantees. He carried his insights to our grants management team, ensuring that the tactical aspect of the exit was handled with care and responsiveness to grantee needs.

    Staying connected and continuing to support their work

    Saying goodbye is a key part of grantmaking, so we continue to document our practice and learning. This matters to our internal practice — how we can do our jobs better — and to the broader philanthropic sector. We listen to what grantees, former and current, tell us. We honor and value their unique perspectives, and know that we are our best when we are responsive to their needs.

    In exit conversations, a few themes came up. For one, many organizations were excited for the shift in our practice — making fewer but larger grants over multiple years. Some frankly acknowledged that they wished they were remaining a Fund grantee in the newly minted Economic Well-being program, but that even without it, they believed this was good change for the sector as a whole. They asked us to make sure we told other funders what we were doing with multi-year general operating support

    Some organizations also expressed that philanthropy is a black box to them; opaque and inaccessible, and that we had more work to do to make sure we continue to think about, and be ready to act on, transformative practices. They asked us to stay connected with them to help them understand what was happening in the philanthropic world. We agreed because we know this transparency is the path to deeper trust.

    Most of all, we heard that our one-on-one conversation about the exit was rare, and deeply appreciated. We hope more of our peers will take on this element of the relationship work, and continue to take opportunities to pause, reflect, and learn through the process.

    Centering community to guide our second integration

    As we move forward, we continue to ask ourselves: How do we enact and earn the trust that we will need to stay in right relationship? How do we cultivate space where people can build connection, as individuals as well as representatives of our institutions? How do we value their expertise and insight?

    These questions are critical to us as we enter 2024 with a plan to integrate our Arts, Disaster and Climate Resilience, Jewish Life, and Racial Justice grantmaking. We shared the exit plan in late 2023, and 2024 started with exit grantmaking so that grantees would not have to wait or wonder and could have stability with the final funds. In the spring, we’ll host town halls and focus groups to listen to these former grantees. Community engagement will guide the Fund’s next steps of design and implementation of our second integrated portfolio.

    In the end, we believe that the big picture of our work, as it is for grantee partners, is towards a collective purpose of racial equity and justice, where our community members have real choices about how they live their lives with dignity and joy and where we all have the chance to create and learn. We understand that we play a part in this big picture, and that we do not do it alone.


    210 Goodbyes: Lessons from Ending Grantee Relationships

    Shifting our Strategy to Support Detroit’s Afterschool System


  2. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s
    New Grantmaking Philosophy

    Leave a Comment

    The impact of philanthropic endeavors is inextricably linked to the health of the nonprofits philanthropy supports. A failure to support organizations’ well-being – their resilience – ultimately hinders their ability to effectively serve the people and communities philanthropy aims to benefit.

    In recent years, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund strengthened our commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion internally through professional development, and externally through trust-based and community-informed grantmaking initiatives like our Racial Justice Cohort and support of community networks in the Bayview District.

    Over the last 18 months, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s trustees and staff have examined our relationship with our most vital partners – nonprofits – and adopted a new objective: Fund nonprofits to win. Directed by young people, community members, and philanthropic peers, we define this as investing in organizations to fully realize their mission, with the agency to determine the path to drive better outcomes for communities they serve, and prioritize the well-being of their staff.

    To demonstrate our commitment to nonprofit well-being, we recently introduced the Endeavor Fund, our most significant philanthropic investment. Seven leading nonprofits have been awarded $3.5 million each, over seven years, for a total investment of $24.5 million, to close the racial and gender wealth gap. This new initiative is a multi-year commitment that enables organizations to determine what programmatic work deepens or grows, to influence systems, and invest in their organizational capacity, including worker pay and the professional development of BIPOC staff and leaders.

    The Endeavor Fund is a marquee example of a larger strategic shift in the Fund’s practice, which establishes us as a more effective grantmaker guided by trust-based philanthropy.

    Reimagining Effective Grantmaking

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is a learning organization, continually reflecting and improving. At the heart of everything are our core values, which include family, possibility, shared responsibility, and belonging. These values guide us in our decisions and provide a framework that aligns to our vision for creating a more prosperous future for everyone.

    With our values and community in mind, we have outlined three significant shifts in our grantmaking approach to better support nonprofits to win:

    silos to integration, symptoms to systems, contributions to commitments From silos to integration: The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is dedicated to improving community well-being, and has historically spread these efforts across multiple program areas. For example, we had separate program areas focused on: Economic Security, Education, and Safety Net. Recognizing the natural synergies across these programs, we have shifted our approach from three separate areas to a single integrated portfolio called Economic Well-being.

    The Economic Well-being portfolio puts people first and uses trust-based philanthropy practices to amplify the voices of youth and support nonprofits working to close the racial and gender wealth gap. The integrated approach acknowledges that people confront challenges throughout their lifetime and focuses on the interconnectivity of societal structures, policies, and practices, to create a more sustainable economic outlook for future generations. By breaking down silos we believe we can better center the individuals and meet them where they are, while transforming the structures that drive intergenerational poverty.

    The Economic Well-being portfolio represents our inaugural integrated portfolio, as we recognize the urgency to support people struggling to achieve financial security in the Bay Area today.

    From symptoms to solutions: COVID-19 and a national reckoning of systemic racism was a catalyst for conversations about the effectiveness of philanthropy during crisis situations. While we’re proud of the way we showed up to support the community during the tumult of the last two years, we are shifting our approach to be more proactive — seeking solutions to problems before they reach crisis level.

    For example, when we think about how to best support communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color facing intergenerational poverty, we no longer consider it sufficient to simply invest in treating the symptoms of poverty. Instead, we aim to adopt a solution-oriented approach that funds organizations working within the systems that create the cycle of poverty, such as education, criminal justice, government, and workforce. This shift aims to more directly impact policy, create stable services, and address the root causes of inequities.

    From contributions to commitments: Traditionally, philanthropic contributions have served as an important demonstration of support; however, their scope, duration, and impact have been limited. To more effectively support nonprofits to win, we are beginning to shift towards long-term partnerships characterized by shared responsibility. This new grantmaking approach means we will make larger and longer general operating grants, a result that the nonprofit sector has repeatedly identified as critical to their sustainability.

    Establishing committed relationships with organizations gives us an opportunity to build honest, trusting partnerships. Where mistakes are a celebrated part of learning, we can better understand nonprofits’ needs, and work collaboratively to achieve their goals. Leveraging our team’s expertise and connections, we seek to promote the long-term success of our partner organizations and to advance our shared vision of a more equitable society.

    In Collaboration with Our Partners, Always

    We want to thank our community for helping us chart a new path. For 70 years, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has remained committed to acting with purpose, in harmony with nonprofits leading the way, together envisioning a better world. In keeping with this tradition, we embarked on our journey of reimagining our grantmaking practices in partnership with nonprofits and philanthropic peers who inspire new ideas.

    Learning Lab
    Participants in the 2020 Rapid Response Learning Lab

    Our new approach to effective grantmaking developed from what grantees told us mattered, alongside Learning Labs, BAY Fellows, and feedback from youth on the team. Our grantmaking approach deeply benefited from our hearing directly from the communities we support: young people in public high school, older youth striving for a way to fruitfully reach adulthood, adults looking for purposeful work, and parents trying to provide for their families.

    While we are excited about the evolution of the Fund, we recognize these shifts require us to end funding relationships with some partners doing exceptional work. We have profound appreciation for all of the leadership these organizations have demonstrated in our community and are dedicated to maintaining relationships. And, with our strengthened approach to grantmaking, we are more committed than ever to serving as a philanthropic partner to the larger ecosystem working for a thriving Bay Area.

    Looking ahead, we hope to continue to engage in a dialogue with our community and inspire meaningful reflection on how philanthropy can more effectively support nonprofit well-being. Through collective efforts, we look forward to amplifying the transformative power of institutional philanthropy in our society.

  3. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund Invests $24.5M in Closing the Racial And Gender Wealth Gap


    We are thrilled to announce the launch of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s most substantial philanthropic initiative to date – the Endeavor Fund, our bold answer to the call from the nonprofit sector for foundations to provide sizable multi-year general operating grants. With a total investment of $24.5 million, the Endeavor Fund aims to close the racial and gender wealth gap and promote nonprofit well-being, including support for quality, empowering jobs in the nonprofit sector. Through the Endeavor Fund, seven leading Bay Area organizations have been awarded seven-year grants of $3.5 million each. The seven organizations that form the Endeavor Fund are East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), La Cocina, Oakland Kids First (OKF), Oakland Promise, Young Women’s Freedom Center, and Youth Organize! California (YO! Cali).

    By providing seven-year grants, the Endeavor Fund represents a shifting approach to institutional philanthropy that offers the long-term, impactful support needed to fund bold commitments and promote systemic change. This evolution in our approach also enables us to establish strategic, long-lasting partnerships between the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and seven leading organizations combating chronic income inequality.

    A colorful street mural on the offices of East Bay Community Law Center with the motto "Know Justice, Know Peace."
    East Bay Community Law Center’s mural created by former EBCLC staff attorney and clinical supervisor, Anavictoria Avila

    “We strongly believe that this shift in practice will drive significant change and promote nonprofit well-being,” said Pui Ling Tam, Walter & Elise Haas Fund Economic Well-being program lead. “We recognize that nonprofits are often constrained by the restricted scope of their funding and are urged to focus on immediate crises at the expense of implementing meaningful, purpose-driven actions. The Endeavor Fund seeks to break from this traditional mold by providing comprehensive support to seven nonprofits that lead the way in promoting community well-being. Our goal is to catalyze a shift in philanthropic practices towards a more holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being of nonprofit employees and promotes systemic change.”

    Additionally, the Endeavor Fund is championing quality jobs in the nonprofit sector. At a time when wealth gaps are widening, we believe that philanthropy can work to correct these inequities. The nonprofit sector, which is the third-largest employer in the country and accounts for 800,000 workers in the Bay Area, is often limited by small, unpredictable grants and grant restrictions that can lead to chronic low wages. With the Endeavor Fund, organizations are committed to investing directly in the people who dedicate their time and skills to influencing policy and offering the supports that make our community more stable, vibrant, and just.

    More on the Endeavor Fund Grantees

    All of the organizations included in the Endeavor Fund have leadership teams composed of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Their staffs mirror the communities of women, youth, workers, and first-time entrepreneurs that they serve; more often than not, staff are former participants. These organizations explicitly name and demonstrate a strong commitment to equity and work towards promoting systemic change. They share a vision of collective prosperity as they work within the systems they seek to transform: education, government, and employment.

    Four young adults wearing black Young Women's Freedom Center shirts and blue jeans walking on a sidewalk
    In the street with Young Women’s Freedom Center

    The Endeavor Fund grantees bring over 150 combined years of experience providing direct services and driving public policy, and offer a range of perspectives — being both deeply embedded in their hyper-local constituent community and working across an entire city or region. They are leaders in fighting the barriers to economic well-being and share the Fund’s steadfast commitment to centering communities by prioritizing values of family, belonging, shared responsibility, and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, the skilled individuals employed by these organizations are honored, trusted, and beloved by the people they serve.

    “This commitment to longer-term funding is really going to impact how organizations are able to move,” said Abigail Richards and Julia Arroyo, Co-Executive Directors of Young Women’s Freedom Center. “When we think about transforming structural change, years of harm won’t be resolved [in] one year, or two.”

    “I’m grateful for this long-term, game-changing support. Systems change is difficult work,” said Zoe Polk, Executive Director of East Bay Community Law Center. “[This kind of initiative is] what leaders like myself have been calling for in the sector, pushing trustees, and the folks who provide the funding for nonprofits, to shift how they approach grantmaking.”

    To learn how the Endeavor Fund grantees are driving change in the community, continue reading this post.

  4. Protecting the Most Vulnerable During 2020’s Compounding Crises

    Leave a Comment

    Since 1952, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has been committed to building and supporting the Bay Area, even — or especially — when the challenges before us are enormous.

    That describes 2020, a year of catastrophic, compounding, enormous challenges that threaten the most vulnerable among us.

    We are deep in the midst of a pandemic, which has caused a serious economic downturn, both of which have exacerbated the inequities of longstanding systemic American racism. It is a triple-threat of trouble that calls all of us to step up in all the ways we can. And that’s what the Fund is, and has been, doing. We’re directing all of our efforts towards protecting vulnerable communities and we encourage all of our peers in philanthropy to do the same.

    Extraordinary Response Required

    In March, we reached out to our grantee partners to ask what the community needed most urgently from us. And then we reframed the year’s work in light of that. We quickly modified our grantmaking processes and made grants in reaction to the dramatic and widespread need for a wide range of COVID-19 relief.

    To date, we have distributed $3.66MM in COVID-19 relief, including an extra $2.25MM drawn from the Fund’s corpus.

    In the spring, we focused on helping our Bay Area neighbors gain or retain access to their basic survival needs — food, housing, and the referral services that connect those in need with safety net services, such as healthcare. We supported efforts that provided supplemental income to those who found themselves out of work, specifically focusing on undocumented immigrants and artists — both segments of our community deeply affected by the crashing economy and left out of the federal CARES Act. Legal aid for workers, too, helped those struggling to retain their rights and access the support due them. We contributed to loan funds helping small businesses and arts nonprofits remain solvent. And, hearing from youth the effects of a rushed switch to remote learning, the Fund invested in student mental health.

    This first round of COVID-19 relief grants focused on the most vulnerable, including our Black, immigrant, undocumented, youth, and senior neighbors. We listened and learned from them, and from others who are working to mitigate this series of crises. And we began to understand that our response to this pandemic — unlike our response to other disasters the community has faced — cannot be linear.

    A Different Kind of Disaster

    We will not progress from supplying emergency relief, to fostering recovery, to rebuilding; we must, with all available partners, work across all three domains simultaneously. And we, more than likely, must do so for the foreseeable future.

    Understanding this, we’ve made additional investments in COVID-19 relief this autumn. Those investments fall into three categories: enhancing learning opportunities for public school youth; income relief for people with (or who have lost) low-wage jobs; and rental assistance to defend against the coming eviction crisis. Many of those aided by these grants are women of color and immigrants — people who are and who have been more likely to face systemic challenges, such as racism.

    Emergency Rent and Eviction Protection

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund has, for over ten years, worked to address homelessness through our Safety Net program. This new pandemic-related economic downturn has drastically increased the urgency of that work.

    Even before the pandemic, renters — many of whom lacked the economic security to find a way into the housing market — were disproportionately people of color and immigrants. Now, those people and others are at great risk of losing their housing unless private philanthropy and the public sector acts effectively and together.

    Now is when we need to do our part to minimize the number of those whose housing security is under threat. Therefore, the Fund is awarding a million dollars, split between the following four organizations, to provide emergency financial assistance for rent alongside eviction protection services:

    Ongoing Efforts

    All of this; it’s not enough. While it’s a lot for the Fund, and we’re glad we’ve been able to respond as we have, 2020 isn’t even over — and these problems won’t miraculously disappear.

    We don’t know what comes next. We only know that we need to remain, as always, committed to the vision of a thriving, equitable Bay Area. We know we need others — whomever can — to step forward to help keep all of our neighbors healthy, secure, and hopeful.

  5. Standing With Grantees

    Leave a Comment

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund stands with those who fight for justice. We stand with those whose courage and moral leadership insists that we address racial discrimination and anti-Black racism immediately. Last week the Fund’s Board Chair John Goldman and I co-authored a message to the Fund’s grantees. We share it here publicly on our website, so that all can know what to expect of me, staff, and trustees in the work ahead.

    June 5, 2020

    We write to you today from a place of sadness, anger, and fear, but also from a place of resolution, focus, and determination. Our emotions run deep as our nation reels in anguish in the aftermath of another murder of a Black person at the hands of the police.

    We stand with those who are marching in the streets to protest the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among many others, and recognize that police brutality is a symptom of a larger system of white supremacy that is embedded in every aspect of our society.

    We also stand with each of you. We know that many of you as individuals are hurting in this moment. And we know that the communities you work with are hurting, too.

    Together, as the Executive Director and the Chair of the Board of Trustees, we lead a foundation that for over 60 years has quietly and humbly supported efforts in the Bay Area to build a more just and equitable society. Our founders had a strong sense of justice and they believed in a shared responsibility for our community. While we are proud of what we have accomplished in partnership with you, the voices calling out in righteous anger over the past week have called into question the humility with which the Fund fulfills its mission. It’s not enough to let our funding and the work of our grantees speak for themselves. While words feel utterly inadequate to address the vast injustice and inequity we are witnessing, silence is its own form of violence. The fact is: the words of the Fund have power and it’s incumbent upon us to use that power to advance the rights of all of us, especially those who suffer injustice daily because they are Black.

    The ugly stain of systemic, institutionalized racism affects every aspect of American society. Profound inequities underlie our systems. They are not just limited to encounters with police. Black and brown communities are disproportionally impacted by under-resourced schools and public health, economic, and climate crises. Our understanding of this, as a foundation, guides our support of the work we do with you.

    The coming weeks will be challenging for all of us. When you next reach out to the Fund, you may have tears, we may have tears.

    Our hearts are heavy, and we recognize that taking care of our hearts, minds, and bodies is important. While we feel a sense of urgency, we have a long road ahead. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, and let’s take care of our community.

    In solidarity,
    Jamie and John

  6. Listening to the Nonprofit Community During COVID-19


    Things are changing quickly, frequently, and for many of us, frighteningly. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us all to respond generously and compassionately despite the chaotic nature of the day—and that’s what we intend to do. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is offering, and hopefully modelling, COVID-19-specific support in two phases, with more likely to come as the situation evolves.

    Immediate Action

    We are now and have always been a community-oriented grantmaker, committed to the San Francisco Bay Area and its vulnerable and at-risk populations. Today, that at-risk population includes all of us, but the risks are far greater and far direr for those lacking shelter, medical care, or—in numbers that are rapidly increasing—a source of income. We are working quickly to learn, adjust, and react so that we can deliver support in the ways in which help can extend the farthest.

    First, we have expedited awarding our annual Safety Net grants by a few weeks. Second, we mobilized to award a dozen additional rapid response grants to safety net and support organizations that are already in our portfolio. These front-line nonprofits focus on the immediate and pressing need to provide food to those without. We directed these rapid response grants towards those organizations that serve seniors and other vulnerable populations that are at particularly high risk. We also awarded funds to help school-age children access meals during school closures.

    screenshot of the survey results Listening to the Community

    Last Friday, March 13th—the day before Bay Area residents received instructions to shelter in place—we sent out a survey to our nonprofit partners. We recognize that this situation is a dynamic one, and that things have changed dramatically since then, however the responses we received were helpful in guiding our response.

    You can review the quantitative responses to our short survey here. We also asked “What are three things philanthropy should be doing in support of grantees?” The 80+ qualitative responses we received fell largely into five categories:

    1. FUNDING: As organizations scramble to keep their programs operating and staff employed under extremely challenging circumstances, they need emergency unrestricted or general operating support. Where that’s not possible, the early release of already awarded grant payments will help keep these organizations solvent as they adjust.
    2. TOGETHERNESS:  Nonprofits reported they need help sharing best practices and space where they can learn from and support each other. They need frameworks, resources, connections, and advocacy from the Philanthropic community. This togetherness will help those who are overwhelmed—practically and emotionally—by the vastly increased needs they are asked to help meet.
    3. FLEXIBILITY: Nonprofits emphasized the need for flexibility from their funding partners. At a time when schools, stores, and national borders are closed, insisting that dance class, or tax filing assistance, or evaluation activities go on as planned is not fully recognizing the gravity of this moment.  Flexibility looks like: amending grants to include report extensions, duration extensions, report cancellations, and shifts from project support to general operating support.
    4. TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE: The quick transition to remote work and virtual delivery of services and programming means a vastly increased need for technical assistance.  Therefore, nonprofits need IT support and access to free software that facilitates their shift to operating as close to normal while offices and classrooms are closed.
    5. POLICY: The nonprofit sector, including its workers, stands to benefit from the aid packages being discussed by state and local governments. To the extent possible, the nonprofit community calls on its philanthropic partners to support these measures.

    Screen shot of survey results

    For those of you who shared your valuable time to respond to our survey, thank you. It will be useful in guiding our work, and we hope it’s useful in guiding the work of our philanthropic peers. We value making decisions based on what our nonprofit partners say is important to them.

    Phase Two

    All this leads us to the second phase of our response to COVID-19. Taking the advice of our nonprofit partners, the Fund’s Program Officers are already working to convert some project grants to general operating support grants and to relax strict reporting requirements.

    We will do what we can to support human needs and the needs of nonprofits. We expect that will mean supporting the economic stability of individuals, families, and organizations, likely through pooled funds being created by philanthropic partners such as community foundations and nonprofit intermediaries. We want to make sure that people—especially domestic, restaurant, arts community workers, and others who lack employment protections—remain able to sustain themselves and their families through this crisis. Members of the immigrant community are also especially vulnerable, as they are less likely to benefit from any government support.

    And it is troubling to recognize how disproportionately and direly the arts community is being affected—as that community is dependent on people coming together. If we cannot infuse artists with support, we risk many arts organizations closing their doors for good.

    Looking Ahead

    We have been and will continue to be as adaptable and flexible as possible. We’ve always relied upon our relationships with our philanthropic and grantee partners, and we hope our partners will continue to rely upon us—and to be honest about what they need and how we can help.

    While we are conscious of and concerned about the looming recession and subsequent decrease in the size of the Fund’s endowment, trustees have made the decision to increase the Fund’s payout this year. But even with increased resources, the Fund, on its own, can’t respond to the scale of need caused by COVID-19. Philanthropy works best when funders are working together in common cause.

    We have to be flexible and—as much as possible—proactive in offering flexibility. Even approaching a funder with a request for flexibility right now is beyond the capabilities of many nonprofit leaders who are swamped trying to keep their organizations intact and their staff and constituents safe.

    I am explicitly calling on my Philanthropic peers to trust their grantees and to do all they can to lighten the burdens they face. We have to hold each other up and we have to do so right now.

    To say these times are stressful is a vast understatement. We can’t do everything for everyone, but we see it as our job—and the job of all funders—to alleviate as many burdens as possible. At the very least, we need to promise to not to add to the list of burdens our grantee partners face.

    Stay safe. Stay healthy.

    Jamie Allison


  7. Community Health During COVID-19

    1 Comment

    Today, especially, it is important for us to continue doing all we can to support the health and well-being of all those in the Bay Area.

    While there have been international public health emergencies before — some even within our lifetimes — the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the even more rapid spread of information and misinformation makes this a special cause for caution. How, we ask ourselves, can we respond most appropriately?

    Our goals are not only to safeguard ourselves, but also to protect the literal and figurative health of our grantee partners and the communities in which they work.

    Caring for Ourselves

    In consultation with our foundation peers, we’ve established some protocols outlining how we, as an organization, will respond to this health emergency. While we welcome you to read the whole document, the gist is that we have strategically increased our vigilance against illness. At the most basic level, we’ve asked our staff to stay home if they suspect they may have been exposed to COVID-19, or if they feel even slightly unwell.

    To encourage this extra care, we’ve added significant flexibility to our sick leave policy — we don’t want anyone to feel pressure to come in to work because they lack (or fear they will later lack) needed sick days. The health of the community is more important.

    Our protocols further recommend increased hygiene vigilance, such as hand washing following travel on public transportation, and substituting greetings that don’t risk transmission for handshakes. For the time being, virtual meetings are preferable to in-person sessions, and when that’s not possible, we’ve asked staff to keep meeting attendance to a minimum. We’re also encouraging employees to prepare for remote work and to avoid travel to any impacted region.

    Caring for Grantee Partners

    Clearly, this international health emergency will affect us all in numerous ways over the coming weeks and perhaps months. We hope we all remain well, and that this period of instability passes quickly, but we accept that many previously solid plans will be disrupted by the repercussions of COVID-19.

    For some of our grantee partners, this may mean facing an inability to meet reporting requirements or objectives in 2020. If your organization looks like it will be affected, we want to hear about the specific challenges you’re addressing so that we can help. Our relationship with you and the work you do is more important than your strict adherence to your grant agreement. We are relaxing expectations in terms of grant outcomes and are committed to remaining flexible in order to prioritize community needs as this situation unfolds.

    We encourage grantees to use our funding to continue to pay your staff as normal, even if your work is disrupted or delayed.

    Should COVID-19 response disrupt your work or your organization’s ability to operate as planned, your Walter and Elise Haas Fund program officer is within reach. Reach out by phone or email and let us know what you’re facing and how we can adapt together.

    To those of our nonprofit partners who planned events and conferences that now need to be cancelled, to minimize the negative financial impact, our general policy, with some exceptions, will be to allow the organizing organization to retain the Fund’s registration fees as a donation, and to not request a refund.

    Caring for the Community

    The Fund has long supported the community through our Safety Net funding, which invests in organizations on the front lines of responding every day to residents who are in crisis. Moreover, the Fund has specifically invested in programs and services that help our local community prepare for local disasters.

    Today’s COVID-19 outbreak further emphasizes the importance of community care and worker protections. A strand of Fund grantmaking has long promoted sound policies such as paid family leave, portable benefits, and the implementation of California Assembly Bill 5, which stipulates employees must be treated as such instead of as independent contractors.

    By setting up and defending policies that keep the community and country prepared for emergencies like the one we now face, we’ll all be safer, healthier, and stronger.

    We hope you all are well, and stay well.

    Jamie Allison

  8. 2019: Three Insights and One Conclusion

    1 Comment

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund fosters a more healthy, just, and vibrant Bay Area by collaborating with partners whose work provides access and increases opportunity. That’s our aspiration and — as the Fund’s Executive Director — it’s my job and my pleasure to try and achieve it. But what do we mean by a healthy, just, and vibrant Bay Area? What strategies can the nonprofit and philanthropic communities deploy to progress towards it?

    As part of my exploration of these questions, in 2019 I launched Betting on the Bay, a blog series chronicling my conversations with some of the remarkable Bay Area leaders shaping our community’s future. I sought to listen, learn, and share insights so that we can all more effectively work together as agents of change.

    Three main insights spring from this first year of conversation and introspection:

    1. The Bay Area Dream

    Everyone I spoke with emphasized how extraordinary the Bay Area community is, and how lucky we all are to be part of it. We have a long history of innovation here — not just in terms of technology, but across all aspects of our personal and public lives. This is the testing ground for bold ideas that shape communities in new and positive ways.

    And the impact of the Bay Area’s innovations is not limited to this local arena; often what begins here goes on to influence developments across California, the country, and the world. One example is the reduction and removal of the fines and fees that trap people in poverty. Another is the idea of portable benefits, that travel with workers from job to job.

    More than one leader I interviewed referred to “the Bay Area dream” as something we need to keep alive. We recognize that we need to redouble our efforts in the current economic context if our values and creativity and care are to keep benefitting as many as possible.

    2. Reaching Across the (Bus) Aisle

    Surprisingly, access to high-quality public transit featured prominently in all my conversations. It was often the first answer when a leader was asked what makes a community vibrant.

    By increasing access to jobs, providing opportunities to explore our environment, or simply by means of the diversity we encounter when riding BART and MUNI, our public transit systems and the mobility they provide are a core cause of and perfect expression of the Bay Area’s vibrancy.

    This is something I will remember next time I tap open a ridesharing app.

    3. The Wisdom of Youth

    Investing in young people is the best way of increasing justice and vibrancy in the Bay Area in the long term.

    When I spoke to two fourth graders at Malcolm X Academy in the Bayview their biggest concern — by some distance — was climate change its impact on their future. They instinctively understood that climate change is not just an environmental issue; it’s an issue of social justice that will impact our most vulnerable and marginalized populations for generations. If we fail to address climate change, we will have no justice in the Bay Area and vibrancy will be a consideration far below basic survival.

    The Common Thread and the Conclusion

    The theme of connectivity ran throughout my conversations: between seemingly different issues such as climate change, education, public transportation, and economic security; and between the different organizations working in different sectors — government, business, civil society, and philanthropy — all working to address these issues.

    From this, I conclude that the pathway forward for the Fund is to increasingly emphasize the links and synergies between our program areas. How can what we do in the arts amplify our work in education? How do economic security efforts link to safety net support? How can the amazing organizations we fund learn from each other and, through collaboration, achieve more?

    A signature example of this focus is our new support for Linked Learning and Career Pathways in Oakland and San Francisco unified public school districts (OUSD and SFUSD). These programs draw on synergies between all our program areas: arts, education, economic security, Jewish life, and safety net. Moreover, this work requires and combines the collective efforts of nonprofits, local government, the business community, and school districts to help ensure that a sustainable employment pipeline is being built to achieve economic inclusion for all young people in San Francisco and Oakland.

    In 2019, I only interviewed six leaders; I could easily have doubled or tripled that number. There is no shortage of talent and no shortage of inspiring ideas in our community. As executive director of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, I look forward to extending our partnership and collaboration to you so that we can continue to bet on the Bay Area. Together, we will deploy philanthropy to support innovation, collaboration, and partnership for the long term.

    Happy holidays,

    Jamie Allison

  9. Talking Art with Frances Phillips, Director of the Creative Work Fund

    Leave a Comment

    For 25 years — since it came into being — Walter & Elise Haas Fund Arts Program Officer Frances Phillips has served as director of the Creative Work Fund (CWF). That’s oversight of 384 grants, averaging $35,531, for a total of $13.5 million in support of partnerships between artists and nonprofits.

    As part of the celebration of the Creative Work Fund’s 25th anniversary, W&EHF Executive Director Jamie Allison interviewed Frances, covering her history with the CWF, how its grantmaking has influenced and been influenced by the Bay Area, and what comes next. That conversation, edited for brevity and clarity, follows.

    Jamie Allison: When did you first start working in arts philanthropy?

    Frances Phillips: I have only had one job in arts philanthropy, and that is as Arts Program Officer at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and as the first — and only — director of the Creative Work Fund. When I got hired here, I didn’t realize how lucky I was!

    I started on September 1 of 1994, just over 25 years ago. The Creative Work Fund (CWF) had been designed over the nine-month period immediately preceding my arrival.

    JA: How do you think your background as a poet and as an executive director of a small arts organization informs your approach as a grant maker for the CWF?

    FP: I had been the Executive Director of Intersection for the Arts prior to joining the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, and we faced many tough moments financially. Soon after I arrived, a theater organization that we, at Intersection, were friendly with, came by the foundation with a grant proposal. As I read their financial statement, I saw they were not in good health. In fact, their situation was so dire that I had to go outside and take a walk because my stomach constricted so much. I was caught between my responsibility to protect the Fund’s resources and my desire to see them survive.

    I don’t have quite as powerful a visceral reaction these days as I did then, but I still remember how hard it is to be an ED of a nonprofit — and I admire those who do it well. I know what it feels like to be in a tough spot.

    As for the poetry, one of my Creative Writing professors at San Francisco State was Stan Rice. He really taught by ear, so in workshops we heard everyone’s work aloud without a lot of reading text on the page. His point was that you have to learn to listen well because you’ll hear when it’s the truth and you’ll hear when it’s artificially artful.

    I use that skill all the time as a grant maker; to sense when people are telling me what they think people in philanthropy want to hear and when they’re telling me what’s really going on.

    JA: For people who don’t know: what’s the Creative Work Fund’s vision?

    FP: The Creative Work Fund was designed to respond to the shifting national attitude in the early 1990s towards supporting artists with public funds. This dialogue arose from public outcry over support of provocative artists, such as Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe, and it resulted in the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget being cut dramatically with almost all of its fellowships for individual artists eradicated.

    In 1993-94, there was also a lot of reconstruction of cultural facilities that had been damaged in the 1989 earthquake. It was a moment of “Oh my, there’s going to be no money for individual artists, but we’re going to have some really nice buildings to put art in…”

    So, Susan Clark at the Columbia Foundation gets credit for picking up the mantle. Columbia and several other Haas-related foundations shared the same offices. She talked to the Mimi & Peter Haas Fund, the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and the Walter & Elise Haas Fund about pooling funds to offer grants that would benefit individual artists.

    Frances Phillips The Walter & Elise Haas Fund was the only one of those four foundations that had an Arts Program Officer position (ed. note: temporarily unfilled), so we were chosen to manage the initiative. The Creative Work Fund designers were going to get it running in three months, but it took them nine. And I often tell this story, because, as I remind applicants to The Creative Work Fund — if you’re going to collaborate, don’t plan to rush.

    The idea of collaboration between artists and nonprofits came, in part, to make the Creative Work Fund distinctive, and part because nonprofit organizations and artists both need to develop collaboration skills. Artists particularly need broad networks. Then, also, there was an understood distinction between artists working in academic settings — “studio artists” — and artists working in the community — making murals, street theater — and the Creative Work Fund wanted to collapse that distinction. We care about artists who are working with one another and with organizations to resolve artistic problems.

    JA: What does it take to forge and sustain a successful collaboration?

    FP: Trust — which is an easy word to throw around, but difficult to develop — is essential. And a willingness to change or be changed. When collaborations have not gone so well, frequently it’s because one partner wasn’t willing to be patient enough to come to a shared understanding.

    Many people have romantic idea about what artists are like. They think artists are like surly adolescents and are going to be difficult and moody.

    In reality, many artists work several jobs, do a lot of community social justice work, have exceptionally high ethics, and work long hours. People expect artists to be flaky and irresponsible but, in my experience, they are incredibly dedicated and efficient.

    JA: What are the values that underpin the Creative Work Fund?

    FP: We don’t believe that there’s any fixed, appropriate point in an artist’s career at which they should apply for a CWF grant. When I first started working on the Creative Work Fund, I thought that recipients would be people who had a lot of career success; that you had to know yourself and have confidence in yourself to bring that to a partnership. That’s not necessarily the case.

    There has been a generation of younger artists who don’t want to, or assume they are going to be able to support a studio or a company and work independently. They set out from the start thinking that they will do their work in a community setting.

    We don’t believe that choosing to be an artist is choosing to be alone.

    JA: What’s uniquely Bay Area about the Creative Work Fund?

    FP: We tend to be left leaning, and many of the artists we’ve supported work on content about immigration or the environment or other issues that also are considered left leaning.

    A piece of my job is putting together a panel of experts who come together from around the country, and when we’re reviewing applicants for traditional arts grants, I don’t only need to have people who know craft and dance and music, I also need to have people who know China, Japan, Afghanistan… Because when we see who comes through the door to apply each year, we’re seeing the face of the cultures that make up the Bay Area.

    We have a unique mix of cultures here. California is very diverse; these are our people.

    JA: What are the genres supported by Creative Work Fund?

    FP: We have, for quite a few years, had five genre categories — visual, literary, media, traditional, and performing arts — for which grants were available on a rotating basis, with two categories offered each year, but we are experimenting in the coming round with doing away with categories and opening the door to artists working in any genre.

    JA: How did you make that decision?

    FP: We talked to grantees who told us that if we wanted to see newer and younger artists come forward, we had to remove the constrictions of genre. Some artists work in their communities in interesting, important ways that don’t fit into a niche. Plus, many artists are crossing over and blending genres, so we’re going to experiment, too.

    JA: Can you give us a couple of examples of the kinds of projects that Creative Work Fund has supported over the last 25 years?

    FP: One of our very first grants was to visual artist Ann Chamberlain who was, at the time, being treated for breast cancer at the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, which was affiliated with UCSF Mount Zion. One day, when she was in the infusion center there, she looked out the window at this ugly concrete courtyard and said to her doctor, “Why can’t people going through this stressful experience have something beautiful to look at?”

    So, Ann collaborated with the Breast Health Center. She gathered plants that are used for medicinal reasons in various cultures and made pressings of them into clay tiles. Those clay tiles then were etched with quotes from interviews with staff and patients and patients’ families. The project resulted in a huge tile wall on the hospital corridor that faces the garden. They also tore up the concrete and planted a garden, designed with landscape architect Katsy Swan.

    If that was the only project the Creative Work Fund ever funded, it would have all been worthwhile. One’s experience of the place became all about care.

    In another project, the California Indian basket weaver, Linda Yamane, who is of Rumsen Ohlone descent, collaborated with the Big Sur Land Trust to remove invasive plants from a property the Trust owned, so that the sedge and other materials Linda needed to create baskets could grow. She created two work baskets, one that you set over a stone for grinding acorns, and another which is more for carrying. One of the things that’s quite beautiful about this project is that they left behind an area where basket-weaving materials are growing and that can be used by other California native artists.

    JA: What is it like to be an artist in the Bay Area?

    FP: The Bay Area has some big-budget major institutions that plow the field for smaller, riskier arts organizations that are eager to press boundaries. And we also have a pretty great cluster of educational institutions where young people who are developing their skills as artists can learn.

    This is a place where people come to remake themselves — that’s one of the reasons I came here. I wanted to be someplace where people were doing challenging and sometimes outrageous things. I grew up in a gated community that was very homogeneous. I didn’t want to live that way and I think that having a rich cultural mix is part of what makes this a good home for artists.

    Thinking about the debate over the murals at George Washington High School in San Francisco, or the removal of the Pioneer Monument at the Civic Center, there’s a public forum here where people exchange ideas and values. We can pause and reflect about things here. You may never go to formal art exhibits, but you are still seeing art in your built environment here all the time, even if you’re just glancing at the Jim Campbell piece at the top of the Salesforce Tower.

    I feel as if artists here have been safe to experiment and fail, and it’s important to protect that. The process of making art is all about trial and error and making mistakes that lead you to something profound.

    JA: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?

    FP: Yes! What was one of your top ten Bay Area arts experiences over the last year?

    JA: I love this question. I recently went to see the African American Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth and it was quite good. It was at the Taube Theater in the Jewish Community Center and I’d never been there before, and I really liked that space.

    FP: Nice. That’s great.

    JA: Thank you so much Frances.

    FP: You’re welcome. Thank you, Jamie.

Grant Portal | Access your account to manage your grants Arrow