The Woods Fund of Chicago (WFC) is an outgrowth of the Woods Charitable Fund, which was established in 1941 by Frank Woods Sr. – an attorney and a nationally prominent telephone company executive – along with his wife (Nelle Cochrane Woods) and the couple’s three sons. Not until 1993 did WFC become independent of its parent fund, which continues to operate in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Throughout the 1990s, WFC’s philanthropy extended toward organizations that were active in a wide array of causes, including the fight against welfare reform measures that cut America’s welfare rolls by more than 50% in a seven-year stretch; the expansion of taxpayer-funded “affordable housing” projects; the promotion of ever-increased taxpayer funding for public schools; the elimination of “race and class disparities in the juvenile justice system”; and the use of tax policy as a tool for poverty-reduction and wealth-redistribution.
In 1999 the Marxist revolutionary and former Weather Underground Organization terrorist William Ayers, who had since become a Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, joined WFC’s board of directors where he served alongside Barack Obama for the next three years. During that period, WFC awarded some $190,000 worth of grants to the notoriously corrupt, pro-socialist community organization ACORN. Moreover, in 2002 the Woods Fund made a grant to Northwestern University Law School’s Children and Family Justice Center, where Ayers’s wife and fellow Weather Undergound alumnus, Bernardine Dohrn, was employed as a professor specializing in “juvenile justice reform.” Ayers subsequently went on to become WFC’s board vice chair in 2003-04, and its board chairman in 2005-06.
Another noteworthy WFC leader during that era was Maria G. Valdez, who served on the Fund’s board of directors from 1995-2005. Valdez was also a member of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund‘s Regional Council.
In July 2009, WFC held a two-day symposium to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the birth of the late Saul Alinsky, the community-organizing guru who had an enormous influence on leftist strategies and tactics.
Arguing that “structural racism is a root cause of many challenges facing communities and serves as a significant barrier to eradicating poverty” today, WFC generally views incremental reform measures as inadequate. “Systemic change,” says the Fund, “is the only way to eradicate poverty and structural racism.” Toward that end, WFC directs its philanthropy toward organizations and projects that “draw on the power of communities” to “promot[e] social, economic, and racial justice.”
The Woods Fund’s philanthropic agendas are currently focused in the following program areas:
* The Community Organizing program supports the formation of grassroots organizations that attempt to shape public policy and facilitate “systemic change” through activism.
* The Arts and Social Justice program supports projects that “use the arts as a tool to inspire people to take action in community organizing campaigns.”
* The Public Policy Advocacy program supports efforts aimed at “educating the public and policymakers about issues of concern, striving to influence legislation, working to shape development of governmental agency rules and regulations, litigating on public policy issues, and ensuring that under-represented communities have a voice in the policy process.”
WFC also administers a Capacity Building Initiative that assists “small and emerging grantees” with instruction and support in the areas of fundraising, financial management and budgeting, internal operations and controls, board and staff development, and constituent leadership development.
Moreover, WFC periodically unveils Spotlight Initiatives that seek to “bring focus, awareness, and resources to a specific issue area or segment of the city where investment from [WFC] can have a significant, catalyzing impact.” In March 2014, for instance, the featured project was “Right On Justice,” an alliance that sought to “transform schools, communities and the justice system through relationship-building and policies that effectively halt the school-to-prison pipeline and reduce mass incarceration in communities of color.”
Woods Fund grants are generally limited to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that operate in the Chicago metropolitan area. From 1994-2015, WFC distributed more than $62 million to some 465 nonprofits in that region.
In addition to its aforementioned grants to ACORN, WFC has also given sizable sums of money to entities like 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.
To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of WFC, click here.
Further Reading: Woods Fund website sections on History of the Fund, Core Principles, Community Organizing Program, Arts and Social Justice Program, Public Policy Advocacy Program, Capacity Building Initiative, Spotlight Initiatives, and Grantmaking; “Obama and the Woods Fund” (PJ Media, 9-13-2008); “Woods Fund of Chicago” (Keywiki.org).