Achieving real and lasting social change is grinding, difficult work. This is why I have profound respect and admiration for leaders the Haas, Jr. Fund supports.
These are the people in the trenches, the ones who are fighting day in and day out to create a world where all people can live decent and honorable lives and find opportunities to thrive. And the fact that we are making any progress, despite the huge obstacles of inertia and political resistance, is a tribute to their work—how they make these issues human and accessible, how they organize and educate, and how they find common cause with those who share their passion for changing the world, their empathy for others, and their hopes and dreams for a better future.
As we think about the Haas, Jr. Fund’s work in the months and years ahead—whether it’s our support for marriage equality, immigrant rights, education equity, or important Bay Area causes and institutions—my colleagues and I are focused on finding ways to help these leaders, organizations and movements keep pushing forward. What can foundations like ours do to support them so they can have more of an impact and increase their chances of success?
Three Avenues to Impact
At the Haas, Jr. Fund, our directors and staff are asking these types of questions all the time, and we continue to look for new and more effective answers. Here are a few thoughts, based on our current work, about approaches to funding and supporting organizations and movements that appear to be delivering real results:
Combining forces — and funding. Leaders at every foundation will tell you about times when they feel their foundation’s work truly made a difference. For the Haas, Jr. Fund, almost every one of those times has been when we were working with other foundations committed to the same goals. From the Civil Marriage Collaborative, to California Civic Participation Funders, to our local collaboration with early education funders, we regularly team up with other foundations to bring more resources to bear on urgent problems and to coordinate funding behind common game plans.
Investing in people. Some say you are either a born leader or you are not. But the truth is, today’s social change leaders have to fill so many challenging roles that it’s hard, if not impossible, to excel at every one of them. We expect these people to be visionary leaders, expert fundraisers, compelling communicators, and skilled managers, collaborators, network builders, and strategic thinkers. Through the Haas Leadership Initiative, the Haas, Jr. Fund is supporting leaders at all levels so they can fill these roles effectively and build strong board and staff teams so everything doesn’t sit atop one person’s shoulders. We have seen how these investments can get great results, and we remain committed to leadership support as a core strategy for strengthening organizations and movements.
Sticking with it. The Haas, Jr. Fund decided to start investing in marriage equality 14 years ago when not one state allowed same-sex couples to marry; today, 17 states do. We have been supporting the national drive for comprehensive immigration reform for more than a decade, while at the same time investing in the immigrant rights movement in California so that our state can become a model for the nation. We have been the lead supporter of Crissy Field, one of America’s premier urban parks, since the 1980s when the site was a military airfield and the park, still an idea. And we joined with the San Francisco Chronicle to create the Season of Sharing Fund in 1986; today, this Bay Area institution provides critical assistance to 5,000 individuals and families every year. Like many other foundations, the Haas, Jr. Fund has had its greatest impact when we have stuck with key partners through good and not-so-good times, always conscious of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions.”
We know that many other funders and social change leaders are working on answers to the same questions that motivate our work—and we are eager to hear your thoughts. I hope you will stay connected with us as we continue to share what we’re learning on our website, in our newsletters, through Facebook and Twitter, and in future conversations we look forward to having. We hope that together we can continue to have more meaningful dialogues about what it takes to help social change movements and their leaders succeed.