Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund
Ira S. Hirschfield has served as president and a trustee of the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund since 1992. In this role, he leads the Fund’s work to bring to life its vision for a just and caring society where all people are able to live, work and raise their families with dignity.
Hirschfield believes that when well aligned, culture and values can become two sides of the same coin: “If someone asked me to tell them about our culture, I’d go directly to our values of fairness and equal opportunity — values that are deeply lived in our work. Our culture drives us to work on social justice and equality issues that aren’t yet commonly accepted by the community. For example, we began funding the right of same-sex people to marry 15 years ago, even when most gay rights activists believed it wasn’t the right approach.”
During his tenure, Hirschfield has facilitated a transfer of board leadership to the second generation and witnessed the evolution of the fund’s culture. “In the second generation, there was an appetite to develop priorities that were consistent with the values of our founders, but were more contemporary and meaningful to them,” he said, including taking on complex social issues.
The fund’s commitment to deeply-held core values drives organizational behavior, motivating board members not only to take on compelling issues but to stick with them for the long haul even through setbacks and controversy. Just three years after the Fund targeted marriage equality as a priority, the movement was dealt a devastating blow: 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage. “I remember walking into the board meeting in 2004, shortly after those measures passed. We weren’t sure how our trustees would respond. But they remained true to their values and the culture they had developed. They committed to stay the course, and with their full and unwavering support we — and our colleagues in the movement and philanthropy — regrouped and came back even stronger.”
Navigating the inevitable twists and turns that come with catalyzing social change has challenged the fund to put their values into action. “That wasn’t the first — nor was it the last setback we experienced in the past 16 years,” Hirschfield said. “But even in dark moments, I like to think that the close knitting of values and culture will continue to help inspire the fund to behave in ways that help advance our goals. As the staff keeper of the culture, part of my job is to continually ask — how are we living our values to honor our founders’ legacy while keeping succeeding generations of trustees actively committed to the Haas, Jr. Fund’s work?”