Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund aims to promote equal rights among all people. The fund's major grantmaking programs are in immigrant rights, gay and lesbian rights, and education equality (with reforms in the San Francisco United School District). The fund also is a significant investor in nonprofit leadership development and community institutions in the Bay Area, such as Crissy Field.

FUNDING AREAS: Immigration rights and reform, gay and lesbian rights, education equity, leadership development, and community initiatives

IP TAKE: The Haas Jr. Fund isn't currently accepting unsolicited grant proposals. However, you might be able to get your foot in the door if you're running an organization focused on immigrant and gay and lesbian rights and have creative ideas for moving the needle on those issues.

PROFILE: The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund is all about equality, no matter where you come from, how much money you have, or who you fall in love with. This San Francisco-based foundation was started by a descendant of Levi Strauss & Co. fortune in 1953, and it has awarded more than $553 million in grants over the years. The Haas Jr. Fund focuses its attention on immigrant rights, gay and lesbian rights, and education equity regardless of economic circumstances. Just as everyone loves a good pair of jeans, everyone is on an equal playing field with the Haas Jr. Fund.

Levi Strauss was an immigrant from Bavaria who started the dry goods business that became synonymous with blue jeans in America. When Levi Strauss passed away in 1902, his obituary credited him for charitable contributions that were not bound by race, creed, or color. His great-great nephew, Walter A. Haas Jr., led Levi Strauss & Co. from 1958 to 1976. Walter and his wife, Evelyn, started their foundation in 1963. Today, Walter and Evelyn's children — Walter J. Haas, Robert D. Haas, and Betsy Haas Eisenhardt — now run the foundation with this same open-mindedness and commitment to fairness and equal opportunity for all. 

The foundation tends to give out a couple of hundred grants each year totaling around $30 million. Grants range in size from $100 to more than $1 million. The board of directors believe the fund should make fewer but larger grants to match its program aspirations. In a past year, 42 percent of Haas Jr. grants had a nationwide impact, while 31 percent of grants were local to the Bay Area. Asset growth peaked in 2006 and 2007 and has been less, but steady, ever since.

The Haas Jr. Fund prefers to see grant proposals that demonstrate multi-year goals rather than short-term plans. It generally has restricted application access and now accepts grant applications by invitation only. If you're invited to apply, your initial approach is a simple one- to two-page letter of inquiry outlining the program and organization goals. The fund's website features an online portal system to submit application documents once you get to that point.

The Haas Jr. Fund has been a leader on the issue of gay marriage. Founder Evelyn Haas once said, "These are rights that everyone should have. People need to change and move on." Foundation president, Ira Hirschfield, told SF Gate, "We wanted the trustees to understand that this could be contentious, that some considered (gay marriage) deeply objectionable, and that we could get a lot of criticism." The Haas Jr. Fund has been a leader in this fight from the start, investing over $60 million toward marriage equality and nondiscrimination efforts for gays and lesbians over decade or so.

Once you've made initial contact, feel free to swing by the Adam Grant Building at 114 Sansome Street from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The best way to introduce your organization to the Haas Jr. Fund is by email at siteinfo@haasjr.org. You can also contact one of the program staff members directly through the site's staff bio page. 


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