The Wieboldt Foundation is a small family foundation in Chicago with a long history of quietly investing in community organizing, their strategy for preserving democracy at the local level. Board and staff, having partnered together for many years, saw their narrative as unremarkable. Planning for the 100th Anniversary Celebration in 2021 set up a time for reflection on the values, history, and culture of the Foundation. This became useful in planning the search for a new Executive Director, the first one in 30 years.
The challenge was to show Board and staff what was extraordinary about the foundation’s approach to community organizing.
Interviews with Board members and Staff.
Review of historical documents.
Feedback of Board and Staff to our impressions of the Foundation.
Two historic events in the first half of 2020 placed community organizations in the public eye. First was the Covid-19 Pandemic when the organizations played pivotal roles in linking community residents with critical resources. Then came the response, town by town, to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement when they helped organize peaceful protests.
This focus on the power of community organizing is only going to increase.
Our recommendations for the 100th Celebration center around using a public history approach to telling the Wieboldt Foundation’s story of vision, commitment, risk-taking, disciplined inquiry, and trusted relationships between funder and grantees. Equally important are the grantees who, at the center of the story, talk about practice and impact. These recommendations are on hold, awaiting the selection of the new Executive Director.
However, bringing us into the planning process turned into an unexpected opportunity for the Board to contemplate how the Foundation works and why; a reflection critical in the process of selecting the next Executive Director.
The Board and staff of the foundation have worked together for many years now so it was immensely helpful to have Suzanne and Roberta give us their perspectives. They provided a useful mirror to our story and accomplishments and gave us views from outside (the organization) as well. Their insights were used both in planning for the celebration of our 100th anniversary and in thinking about our search for a new Executive Director, the first in over 30 years.