Award for Small/Mid-Sized Private Foundation: The Woods Fund of Chicago
Woods Fund Chicago is a bold grant-maker that finds – and funds – projects that draw on the power of communities to fight the brutality of poverty and structural racism. The Woods Fund invests in the smartest solutions, understanding they must be community-driven to create real, systemic change and believes in collaborative practice that ensures a lasting impact.
For decades and continuing now under its current president, Grace Hou, Woods has been a leader in the philanthropic sector. NCRP was especially impressed that Woods’ commitment to funding grassroots community organizing has endured despite several changes in leadership in recent years. Unlike many philanthropies that change direction with each new CEO, the Woods Fund has been steadfast.
As one nominator admiringly put it, “Woods Fund of Chicago offers support to nonprofits that mesh authentic community organizing with advocacy.” That strategy can be seen in Woods’ support for elevating parent and community voice in the education reform dialogue and policymaking process. When the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike this fall – over high stakes testing, teacher evaluation, privatization and racial justice - Woods Fund grantees stood in solidarity with teachers and held citywide actions during which they identified that 2012-13 was slated to become the most highly tested school year in CPS history. CTU and the Woods Fund grantees won a major victory when the new CTU-CPS agreement reduced the weight of standardized tests in teacher evaluation to the level minimally required by state law.
Additionally, Woods demonstrates its confidence in its grantees by often providing general operating support grants, which affords these nonprofits more flexibility in achieving their missions.
All residents of Illinois are benefiting from the public policy changes won by grantees of the Woods Fund. For example, the state recently passed a new law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. Grantees including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Southwest Organizing Project and others played a central role in pushing for that policy change. Not only do immigrants and their families benefit from this win, this is good for other residents of the state, too, because more drivers on the road will have proper certification and insurance. That’s smart philanthropy!