Why This Alumni Family Banded Together for a Big Campus Arts Gift

Carleton College in Minnesota recently received a $20 million gift from Barbara and Wally Weitz, and their family, towards a music performance commons addition to the Weitz Center for Creativity.The planned music space will house the music program and create a "new performance space of high acoustic quality to replace the existing Concert Hall." The Weitz family has strong ties to the elite liberal arts school. Not only did Barbara and Wally graduate from the school (both Class of 1970), but so did their three children and their children's spouses. Barbara and Wally's son Robert, by the way, has a Carleton music degree, and worked at the Chicago Opera Theater.

That's a heck of a lot of multi-generational ties to a school and, as we've said before, bonds this deep and wide can be a key to major campus gifts. When everyone is on board—and in this case, we mean everybody—the dollars amounts are likely to be a lot larger. After all, if you know anything about the dynamics of family philanthropy, you know how important it is to many families to feel that there is collective buy-in when giving away large sums of money. Donors want buy-in from their spouses. Couples want buy-in from their kids. 

We've written before about big gifts from couples who both attended the same recipient school. And we've written lots about gifts from multi-generational alums. Well here's a case where all those factors were at work, plus the children-in-law!

if you have questions about how these forces have translated into philanthropy, look no further than the Weitz Center, which was set into motion in 2007 thanks to a $15 million gift from the family. The outfit was formerly named the Arts Union but now goes by the Weitz Center for Creativity, an innovative facility that fosters creative collaboration, touching a range of academic disciplines on campus, as well as beyond into the larger academic and arts communities. 

The Weitz family is the largest single donor in Carleton College history, and Barbara and Wally cochaired the school's last campaign. Wally is also currently a vice chair of the board of Carleton College, where he's been a trustee since 2000. 

OK, so the Weitz family loves their Minnesota school. That's clearly part of this story. For another part, though, let's go slightly south and west to the state of Nebraska, where Wally Weitz founded Weitz Investments in Omaha. Like that other Omaha financier Warren Buffett, Wally also made a killing using the value investing model. In 2000, Wally and Barbara Weitz created the Weitz Family Foundation which has given some $50 million to housing, arts, education and health organizations in Omaha, Nebraska through the years.

Two years ago, the Weitz Family Foundation refined its priority areas, and currently zeroes in on a few areas. One of these areas is Capacity Building, which the family sees as "work that improves the effectiveness and faithfulness of the organization in achieving its mission." Through its Living Well in Omaha focus area, moreover, the family supports local arts and cultural institutions in Omaha, accounting for around half of the foundation's annual giving. They've been founding supporters of outfits like The Union for Contemporary Art, Omaha Girls Rock, and Great Plains Louder than a Bomb. 

What stands out, though, is that the foundation says that it is particularly interested in funding "organizations and projects that reach a broad swath of our community" as well as those that "promote and facilitate conversations and greater understanding of others." As an example, consider the Weitz family founded Joslyn Art Works, which is part of Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha and brings together children and families in an interactive space that relates back to the overall museum. One might also consider Film Streams, a film nonprofit where discussions have ranged from police brutality and gang violence, to healthy living. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Weitz family, and by that we mean that same huge cast of Carleton alums, are all board members of the family foundation, too.

Interesting how that all lines up.

The Weitz family's steady support of the Weitz Center for Creativity at their alma mater Carleton, as well as their latest gift, then, should be seen within this broader context. We often talk the importance of a donor's vision and an institution's vision aligning, and Carleton's long-term connection with the Weitz family is a strong example of this.

Here's a final word from Carleton's director of the arts, "The new performance hall expands our ability to attract and showcase outside music and performance groups. This new facility integrates our entire music program into the academic and cultural life of the Weitz Center for Creativity.”

Related: Wally Weitz