Six Weeks at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund

The Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs is a nine month, graduate-level experiential leadership training program that prepares individuals for effective and ethical leadership in the public affairs arena through six-week project placements in different sectors. Eunice Kwon is a Coro Fellow placed at the Walter & Elise Haas Sr. Fund.

I have one more day left at the Fund. Jean, a Program Assistant, came in this morning to give me a bag of Guatemalan Worry Dolls and a hug to mark the end of my placement here. These dolls will “remove obstacles and promote positive energy,” according to the 2×1 card that accompanies them in their knit pouch home. It’s a wonderful present, and and an example of the type of thoughtfulness that characterizes the staff of Walter and Elise Haas Sr. Fund in their personal and professional interactions.

Philanthropy, as it turns out, is not as simple as doling out money. Working for non-profits in a non-developmental role before I started this fellowship, my only experience with foundations was limited to seeing their names listed as a line item on fiscal reports. I imagined that philanthropies worked on a different plane than the groups they funded — a plane made out of mountains of submitted grant applications on which they could sit atop and shuffle through whenever they had more money to give away. This theory proved to be inaccurate, as the W&EHF is housed in a level office with floors and chairs, and a staff that does a commendable job of being thoughtful and transparent about the fund’s grantmaking process.

My project was to work with two program officers to evaluate a specific grantee list by conducting visits, and along the way I garnered useful ideas about non-profit management and organizational structures. Concurrently, I gained a better understanding of strategic philanthropic giving, and absorbed how it was done specifically at W&EHF. I saw that the priority of W&EHF staff was to reduce unnecessary burden on their grantees by facilitating an efficient grantmaking process, and developing working relationships with grantees that went beyond the required diligence that would keep the staff accountable to the board of trustees.

As part of the seminar aspect of my fellowship, I presented a visual representations of W&EHF. The following are a few of the slides I included:

“ Philanthropy could be a smart flea on the government elephant, biting it to move a little this way or that. The problem is when philanthropy forgets that it’s the flea, and thinks it is the elephant.” - Pam David, Executive Director of W&EHF
“ Philanthropy could be a smart flea on the government elephant, biting it to move a little this way or that. The problem is when philanthropy forgets that it’s the flea, and thinks it is the elephant.”
– Pam David, Executive Director of W&EHF
The mission of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund is to help build a healthy, just, and vibrant society in which people feel connected to and responsible for their community.
The mission of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund is to help build a healthy, just, and vibrant society in which people feel connected to and responsible for their community.
There is a lot of paperwork in philanthropy. But the individuals on the staff of the W&EHF, along with their pets, are able to handle the workload!
There is a lot of paperwork in philanthropy. But the individuals on the staff of the W&EHF, along with their pets, are able to handle the workload!
The decision making process includes a lot of factors. The staff and the board discuss options while considering the state of the economy, the amount of government giving, and the work being done by other foundations and private donors.
The decision making process includes a lot of factors. The staff and the board discuss options while considering the state of the economy, the amount of government giving, and the work being done by other foundations and private donors.

These are just a few of the things I’ve experienced and learned in my six weeks here, and I’m grateful to the board and staff for hosting me, and for all of the good work they continue to do within the local community.

Blog, Reflection

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