Tapping Tech Wealth in the Northwest to Support Writers and More

The Breneman Jaech Foundation describes itself as a family foundation based in Seattle, which, over the past two decades, has funded programs and organizations working in “medical research, social programs and the arts, with an emphasis on literary arts.” The foundation also has an interest in international causes.

Linda Breneman founded the charity with her ex-husband Jeremy Jaech, a software entrepreneur who co-founded Aldus Corporation, which sold to Adobe, and Visio, which sold to Microsoft for $1.5 billion in stock. I recently connected with Breneman to find out more about the foundation and the story behind it.

Breneman started by explaining to me that Jeremy sold his companies when their kids were still quite young. Hoping to set a good example and teach their kids about philanthropy, the couple first started a donor-advised fund, and subsequently, a private foundation. “We sat down with them quarterly and talked about different projects that we could give to. It started out as a way to make our kids aware of philanthropy as well as educate ourselves and them about the nonprofit sector and how they could help,” Breneman explained.

Breneman, a lifelong writer, has a particular interest in the arts, especially the literary arts. She worked as a technical editor and writer for companies like Battelle and Boeing. These days, she writes fiction, essays and video game journalism. Around the same time that she and Jeremy founded the Breneman Jaech Foundation, Breneman also co-founded Hugo House, a hub for writers in Seattle.

Breneman credits education and a strong literary background for her own success. “I come from a very large working-class family, and was one of the first to go to college in that group. Education has been really important to me through my whole life.”

In the mid-1990s, Breneman says that while Seattle was known for its writers and bookstores, it had no central hub for writers. “Later in my life, when I started writing poetry, essays and fiction, I became exposed to literary centers like The Loft in Minneapolis and decided that Seattle needed a place like that.” Breneman, along with her co-founders Andrea Lewis and Frances McCue, decided that they wanted to change that. “We didn’t know that it would take off, but it has. I think it’s been a great cultural addition to the city.”

The Breneman Jaech Foundation’s grantmaking has steadily supported Hugo House through the years. And Breneman and her husband Eric Strand have given New Hugo House at least $1 million. Breneman credits a strong public-private partnership for keeping this cultural institution afloat and thriving.

The foundation began with a five-year initiative with literary arts organizations in Washington State, and then shifted to Ludus Project, which worked in the “emerging disciplines of games-based learning, digital literacy, games for health, persuasive games and meaningful games.” Of course, these days, games-based learning isn’t an “emerging discipline,” but it was when the family first engaged in this space. However, the program has been on hiatus since the early part of the decade.

Of the whole Ludus Project experience, Breneman explains that “we did support a lot of good projects, but we may have been a little ahead of curve. Projects were kind of cobbled together, and it was hard to find really solid projects that seemed like they had good follow-up and really high effectiveness, though we did find some. We may bring it back.”

Through the years, the foundation has also supported places like Hedgebrook, a retreat for female writers, Town Hall in Seattle, and the University of Washington, Breneman’s alma mater. Much of Breneman’s work at her school has focused on the journalism department, and a masters communication program dealing with social media marketing. “Some of these grads end up working with a lot of nonprofits,” she says.

The family is also interested in supporting medical research into epilepsy. They got interested in pediatric epilepsy after their son dealt with the issue. He has since outgrown it. The Breneman Jaech Foundation’s website was recently reactivated, which hopefully means this funder will be more accessible in the coming years. Right now, Breneman says the foundation isn’t really looking for unsolicited proposals. She is happy to talk to people via email, however.