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