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Press Release

Amber Whiteside, 415-277-4918,
Jessica Nusbaum, 415-277-4927,

October 17, 2012

72-Year-Old Columbia Foundation to Close its Doors

First of the Extended Haas Family Foundations, Columbia Supported Sustainable Food and Farming, Freedom to Marry, Protection of the Headwaters Forest, Second-Chance Education, Election Reform, and the Arts

SAN FRANCISCO ? Columbia Foundation announced today that it will cease operations by December 31, 2013. One of the earliest family foundations in the Bay Area, and the oldest of the extended Haas-family foundations, Columbia has granted approximately $85 million since its inception in 1940. The foundation?s assets will be divided among three successor family foundations.

Columbia Foundation has consistently been an early funder of causes not yet well understood or supported by the public at large. For example, some of Columbia?s very first grants, in the 1940s, were to provide birth-control education and supplies to migrant women, to support the college education of Japanese-American youth from the internment camps during WW II, and a start-up grant to establish the San Francisco Foundation in 1948.

Columbia Foundation was founded by Madeleine Haas (Russell) and her brother William Haas when they were both quite young ? Mrs. Russell was 25 and Mr. Haas was 24 ? and their youthful, forward-looking perspective has informed the grantmaking philosophy of the foundation throughout its history.

?Columbia Foundation has been ahead of its time,? said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a long-time Columbia grantee. ?Its approach to giving is an early model of ?venture philanthropy? ? zeroing in on cutting-edge causes, providing grantees with seed funding to help get them off the ground, and repeated grants to build capacity or develop a field.?

Mr. Haas died in 1943 at age 27, just three years after Columbia was established. Mrs. Russell led the foundation until her death, in April 1999. Mrs. Russell?s three children, Alice Russell-Shapiro, Charles P. Russell, and Christine H. Russell, joined the foundation?s board of directors in 1977, and her granddaughter, Madeleine Russell-Shapiro, joined the board in 2011. Susan Clark has served as executive director since 1978.

?Our mother did not believe in the ?dead hand,?? said Christine H. Russell, the current president of the foundation?s board of directors. ?She expected Columbia to evolve and wanted her children and grandchildren involved because she believed young people could best discern the priorities of their time.?

The closing of Columbia Foundation will mark a change ? but not an end ? to the family?s tradition of giving. The assets of the foundation will be distributed among the respective philanthropic foundations of the three Russell children. All remaining Columbia grants will be awarded and paid by the end of the current fiscal year, May 31, 2013. Columbia Foundation?s final arts grants were awarded in the summer and early fall of 2012. Human-rights grant applications are currently under review, following the October 1, 2012, deadline; grants will be awarded during the winter of 2012-2013. The deadline for grant applications for food and farming is December 1, 2012, with grant awards to be completed by May 31, 2013.

?My sister, brother, and I have well developed philanthropic interests that have complemented one another throughout our 35 years on the board,? said Alice Russell-Shapiro. ?This transition will allow us to focus on each of our interests, and to involve our children, as our mother always hoped. Together with the next generation, our family?s tradition of philanthropy will continue.?

Columbia Foundation?s philanthropic contributions include:

ARTS ? $19 million (in San Francisco and London) since 1979, including:

  • $1,000,000 in 1999 to the San Francisco Opera to endow the Madeleine Haas Russell Night at the Opera, a full dress rehearsal of a main-stage opera performed in the evening for high-school students

  • A founding grant in 1993 and continuing support totaling $1,375,750 to establish the Creative Work Fund (with Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Miriam and Peter Haas Fund, and Walter & Elise Haas Fund) for grants to individual artists working in collaboration with communities

  • ?$1,817,590 from 1984 to 2012 for the commissioning or performance of over 30 new operas in San Francisco and London

HUMAN RIGHTS ? $13.3 million since 1979, including:

  • $5,486,425 from 1979 to 2012 to protect the civil and human rights of gays and lesbians and to support public education to normalize attitudes towards homosexuality. Columbia was one of the very first foundations to support protection of civil and human rights of gays and lesbians with a 1979 grant to the Human Rights Foundation for the Demystifying Homosexuality Curriculum Development Project.

  • $284,000 in 2011-2012 for ?second-chance? education programs for juveniles and adults who are or have been incarcerated, and $281,675 for prevention of child sexual abuse

  • $2,213,000 from 1986 to 2012 for public financing of campaigns and election-reform efforts

SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND FARMING ? $11.6 million since 1979, including:

  • $250,000 in 1982 ? then Columbia?s largest grant to date ? to establish the Agroecology Program at University of California, Santa Cruz, long before the importance of ?organic? or ?sustainable? was broadly understood

  • $1.8 million from 1999 to 2012 to establish Roots of Change to work for the transition to sustainable organic food-and-farming systems in California by 2030

  • $270,000 total to Xerces Society for the preservation of pollinator species and to the Organic Seed Alliance for the development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed through collaborative education, advisory services, and research programs with organic farmers and other professionals


  • $200,000 over two years awarded in 2011 to Our Children?s Trust to develop and file lawsuits, called Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL), throughout the U.S. and other countries as part of a coordinated legal challenge to hold governments accountable regarding their duty to preserve the atmosphere as part of the ?commons? (e.g., air, oceans, forests) for future generations

  • $1,460,000 from 1992 to 2003 for advocacy for the right to die with dignity

  • $1,376,700 from 1986 to 2002 for the protection of old-growth forests in California, including $277,000 to protect the Headwaters Forest

Notable grants to Jewish organizations include:

  • $722,000 total to American Friends of the Hebrew University for the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and to the endowment of the Chair in Soil and Water Sciences at Hebrew University. The first contribution of $1,000 was awarded in 1942.

  • $1.9 million total to Brandeis University, including $1.3 million for the Madeleine H. Russell Visiting Professorship of Non-Western and Comparative Studies

  • $275,000 total to Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, which builds peace, coexistence and equality through a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish and Arab children. Founded in 1997, Hand in Hand's success and longevity demonstrate that children, families and entire communities of Jews and Arabs can live and work together with mutual respect and friendship.

  • $1 million to Congregation Emanu-El for the Madeleine Haas Russell Institute of Jewish Learning

  • $330,000 total to the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the capital campaign and for exhibits

More information is available on the foundation website:


Closing Report
(to be posted in 2014)