The Lia Fund: An Adventure in Philanthropy

Randy Lia Weil made two highly unusual decisions about the $5 million she left to be donated after her death. The first was that she appointed 14 people she knew and trusted to select the organizations and individuals who would receive funding. Most of them were lifelong activists with decades of passionate dedication to environmental, cultural and social justice issues. The second unusual thing was that she left no instructions for how or to whom they should give her bequest. She trusted them to decide.

This would prove to be an adventure and a discovery, and not without its challenges for the participants. everyone sincerely wanted to be a responsible grantmaker and do what Randy would have wanted. But it was a complex journey to turn a group of passionate individuals into a group of effective funders. Before they could make any grants, they had to agree on their mission, vision, and values. They also had to decide how they would operate and make decisions in a way that honored Randy and the values that led her to choose them. It was a tall order.

After spending a year planning to establish the Foundation, The Lia Fund awarded grants to 107 organizations from 2007 to 2013. Most of the grants ranged from $5,000 to $25,000. In total the Foundation gave away $5 million.

This is the story of what The Lia Fund did, how they did it, and what they learned. It describes the impact of this type of grantmaking on some of the most important issues of our time. It also looks at what foundations and individual donors might learn from this adventure in philanthropy.