- Assets: $56,844,180 (2009)
- Grants Received: $15,500 (2009)
- Grants Awarded: $2,693,760 (2009)
The Woods Fund of Chicago is an outgrowth of the Woods Charitable Fund (WCF), which was established in 1941 by Frank Woods and his wife, Nelle Cochrane Woods. Frank Woods was an attorney and a nationally prominent telephone company executive. He and his wife incorporated WCF with their three sons, two of whom remained in Lincoln, and one of whom (Frank Woods, Jr.) worked in Chicago after finishing college and eventually became the head of the Sahara Coal Company.
Frank Woods headed WCF in the 1950s, during which time he gave money to groups advocating equal rights for minorities. He was also instrumental in developing the Council on Foundations. His grandson Thomas C. Woods, Jr. was President of WCF from 1968 until 1990, at which point Lucia Woods Lindley (Frank Woods, Jr.'s daughter) took over that position. In the early 1990s, George Kelm became WCF President and, with the assistance of Staff Director Jean Rudd, moved the Fund politically to the left. Kelm and Rudd then created a separate entity, which they named the Woods Fund of Chicago; Kelm, who was active in the Council on Foundations, became the Woods Fund's first President.
This new Fund focused on welfare reform, affordable housing, the quality of public schools, race and class disparities in the juvenile justice system, and tax policy as a tool in reducing poverty. The Fund supported the concept of an expanding welfare state allocating ever-increasing amounts of money to the public school system, and the redistribution of wealth via taxes.
The Woods Fund of Chicago’s current President is Deborah Harrington, who served on former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar's Taskforce on Human Services Reform.
A notable former board member of Woods is William Ayers, who in the 1960s was a member of the terrorist group Weatherman, and was a wanted fugitive for over a decade as a result of the group’s bombing campaign; today Ayers is a Professor of Education at the University of Illinois. In 2002 the Woods Fund made a grant to Northwestern University Law School's Children and Family Justice Center, where Ayers' wife, Bernardine Dohrn, was employed. Barack Obama was one of Ayers' fellow Woods Fund board members at that time.
A former President of the Woods Fund was Maria G. Valdez, a member of the Regional Council of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the most influential Hispanic advocacy group in the United States.
In July 2009 it was reported that the Woods Fund was planning to hold a two-day symposium to commemorate what would have been the centennial year of the late Saul Alinsky. According to the Illinois-based Donors Forum: “The event will explore the history of community organizing in Chicago, as well as celebrate the diverse accomplishments of current organizing efforts. A special emphasis will be placed on youth organizing and innovative strategies, including the use of racial justice and human rights perspectives.”
The Woods Fund's philanthropic agendas are focused in three program areas:
1) The Community Organizing program finances the formation of grassroots organizations, staffed mostly by volunteers, that attempt to shape public policy through activism.
2) The Arts and Culture program supports those who combine artistic pursuits with leftwing activism in the form of community organizing.
3) The Public Policy program supports "policy and constituency-building work that helps low-income individuals and families to attain higher standards of living," and aims to address "issues of poverty among low-wage workers as well as unskilled potential workers."
Woods Fund philanthropy is founded on the axiom that there are "structural barriers to job opportunities, job retention and job advancement" that harm the "working poor." The Fund also condemns what it considers discrimination directed against those "having prison records or felony convictions that make it difficult for them to enter the workforce."
The Woods Fund has given sizable grants to ACORN; AGAPE Youth Development; Grassroots Collaborative (for American Friends Service Committee); the Arab American Action Network; the Center for Community Change; the Midwest Academy; the Nature Conservancy; the Proteus Fund; and the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center.
Pajamas Media reports that during the time that Barack Obama sat on the Woods Fund's board, the Fund awarded grants of $45,000 (2000), $30,000 (2001), $45,000 (2001), $30,000 (2002), and $40,000 (2002) to ACORN.
To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of the Woods Fund of Chicago, click here.
(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)