Carleton Weitz Fellows | May 9, 2023
Eight Weitz Family Foundation staff and board members are seated at a long table and are in conversation with each other.
A Board's Eye View | May 4, 2022
What’s so hard about being transparent?
Transparency is a central value to the Weitz Family Foundation.
This wasn’t always front of mind. We didn’t even know what it meant to be transparent! Sure, other foundations were mysterious black boxes, and yes, our website was one page with our mission and a statement stating we did not accept unsolicited applications, but you could just ask one of us and we would tell you whatever you wanted to know.
Family members engaged with organizations in Northfield, Chicago, Washington DC, would bring letters of request to holiday gatherings (because that was when the family was together) and we would review and discuss. If we forgot to bring the materials, or we got busy on holiday, we would postpone our discussion to the next holiday (usually only 6 weeks away). When we decided on making a grant or not, one of the family members *might* call to let the agency know, but most importantly, my dad would have checks sent to the institutions.
While we believed in supporting the “little guy” with an innovative idea, we weren’t sure we wanted to “open the floodgates” by publicizing we gave grants. True, we didn’t have staff back then, so when a letter came to my dad’s office or one of our homes, we didn’t always get those inquiries to the meeting. At one point, we did realize we were frustrating some people by not telling them “no” right away, and we developed a pre-printed postcard letting them know we didn’t accept unsolicited requests.
We didn’t have the capacity to be transparent. It didn’t occur to us that just being “predictable” to communicate about our decision, even a YES, was so important to those seeking funding (DUH!). We might all love your project, but we weren’t sure when we would meet and when the checks would go out. It might be if we met at Thanksgiving or Christmas, it would be next year, even though you gave me the letter in February of this year.
After over a decade of existence, we decided it was important to level the playing field a little bit by creating an application process open to the community. This meant making a website, setting firm dates for meetings, being clear on our values, and having a budget. Eliminating the “old boys club” of talking over lunch or cocktails to get a grant meant we could set proposals side by side and really think about where our money could create the impact we wanted.
In the last five years, our commitment to transparency has grown (and our staff has grown to keep up). We are now trying to demystify the application and process in multiple Zoom sessions in August where we go over the application questions and answer grantee questions. We are revamping the website to have MORE information about what we have funded in the past and the funding amounts (no more hunting down the 990!).
We want to communicate with clarity and openness about our responsibility for investing in organizations that strengthen our society. And this doesn’t mean it all looks good. It means we will own our mistakes and share our successes. If you have questions that would help you understand the Weitz Family Foundation, please let us know at Hello@WeitzFamilyFoundation.org.
We learn and grow through these conversations.