Columbia Foundation

Columbia Foundation


* Assets: $83,965,658 (2012)
* Grants Received: $0 (2012)
* Grants Awarded: $4,659,829 (2012)
* Ceased operations in 2013

Political activist Madeleine Haas Russell (1915-1999) and her brother, William Haas, established the Columbia Foundation in 1940 “for the furtherance of the public welfare.” After William died in 1943, Madeleine headed the Foundation until her death in April 1999. Susan R. Clark — who has been affiliated variously with the Arkay Foundation, Northern California Grantmakers, the Council on Foundations, and the California Association of Nonprofits Policy Council — served as executive director of the Columbia Foundation from 1979 until its dissolution in 2013.

From its inception, the Columbia Foundation’s major interests were in the areas of “world peace, human rights, the environment, cross-cultural and international understanding, the quality of urban life, and the arts.” Just before it closed down in 2013, the Foundation had three active program areas:

(1) The Arts program sought to “support art as a way of enriching life experience,” and its grant-making was targeted toward organizations that “provided opportunities to artists from diverse cultures for the creation, development, performance, or exhibition in the performing (music, opera, dance, theater) literary, or visual arts.” Of particular interest to the Foundation were groups whose work “engaged controversial issues” and had the potential to “reach large and diverse audiences.”

(2) The Food and Farming program aimed to “increase the sustainability of farming,” with an emphasis on “organic” agricultural practices that “preserve[d] and enhance[d] biodiversity and soil fertility, [were] profitable, and employ[ed] fair labor practices.”

(3) The Human Rights program sought to “help protect basic human rights, including economic, social, cultural, civil, and political” — “as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In July 2011, this program launched a new initiative designed to prevent child sexual abuse in the San Francisco Bay Area by means of school-based education programs for students, parents, and teachers; public education campaigns to “increase awareness of [the] prevalence [of such abuse] within trusted circles of family and friends”; and “community and survivor-led programs, focused on intervention and prevention.” That same month, the Human Rights program also unveiled a “’second-chance’ education” initiative aimed at reducing recidivism among ex-convicts in the Bay Area.

The Columbia Foundation stated that the most important core values to which it was committed were: “appreciat[ing] diversity of ideas and people,” promoting “systemic change,” and “pursu[ing] social justice with understanding of, and compassion for, disenfranchised communities.” In the Foundation’s calculus, such disenfranchisement stemmed chiefly from injustices inherent in America’s capitalist economic system.

Another core value identified by the Columbia Foundation was its quest to “identify [the] underlying causes of and solutions to … environmental problems.”  Toward that end, the Foundation supported numerous organizations that embraced the anti-capitalist agendas of the radical environmentalist movement. The Columbia Foundation was at one time a member organization of the International Human Rights Funders Group, a network of more than six-dozen grant-makers dedicated to funding leftist groups and causes.

Among the program consultants with whom the Columbia Foundation sometimes collaborated were LaDoris Cordell, a board member of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; Dorothy Ehrlich, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California; Van Jones, a self-proclaimed revolutionary communist who founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; Jerry Mander, a Sierra Club activist who also served as a program director at the Foundation for Deep Ecology; and Gara LaMarche, an affiliate of the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and George Soros‘s Open Society Institute.

Some of the more noteworthy beneficiaries of Columbia Foundation grants were: the American Civil Liberties UnionAmnesty International; the Council on Foundations; the Defenders of Wildlife; the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund; Ecotrust; the Ella Baker Center for Human RightsEnvironmental Media Services; the Environmental Working GroupFriends of the EarthGlobal ExchangeGreenpeace; the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL); the Natural Resources Defense Council; the Public Citizen Foundation; the Rainforest Action Network; the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center; the Trust for Public Land; and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

To view a list of additional grantees of the Columbia Foundation, click here.

When the Columbia Foundation permanently shut down its operations on November 30, 2013, it transferred its remaining assets to the Cockayne Fund, the Gaia Fund, and the Yerba Buena Fund.

(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)

Additional Resources:

Further Reading:History [of] the Columbia Foundation” (; “Madeleine Haas Russell Was an Activist Until the End” (Jewish News of Northern California, 4-9-1999).

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