History of the Fund

Woods Charitable Fund was established in 1941 by the Woods family of Lincoln, Nebraska and later, of Chicago.  The foundation was incorporated by Nelle Cochrane Woods and Frank Woods, an attorney and nationally prominent telephone company executive, and their three sons.  Two sons remained in Lincoln, while Frank Woods, Jr., worked in Chicago after finishing college; he eventually headed Sahara Coal Company and a family office in Chicago.

Woods Charitable Fund grew in significance to its two communities (Lincoln and Chicago), thanks to the infusion of additional funds in the 1950s and the leadership of Frank Woods, Jr.  He served as the Charitable Fund's "administrator" and provided the vision for much of the Fund's work.  Thomas C. Woods, Jr. of Lincoln was president of Woods Charitable Fund from 1968 to 1990, when Lucia Woods Lindley, the daughter of Frank Woods, Jr., took the helm.

Frank Woods, Jr. was a recognized national leader in philanthropy.  He was active in developing the Council on Foundations, whose original goal was to promote community foundations. Woods Charitable Fund provided money and leadership to create the Lincoln Community Foundation.  The Charitable Fund published biennial reports beginning in 1960, a rare practice at the time, particularly among smaller foundations.

He brought a broader vision of philanthropy to the field.  Institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago, whose board he once chaired, benefitted from his generosity.  Frank Woods, Jr. also supported efforts to further equal opportunity even before the civil rights era and backed small, community-based groups and community organizing.  He valued risk taking in philanthropy, setting up a fund at the Chicago Community Trust whose purpose was to encourage "high-risk grants." 

Following Frank Woods' death, George Kelm, a Woods Charitable Fund Board member and family adviser, provided leadership by bringing professional staff and new board directors to the Charitable Fund, and by supporting staff in the development of clear guidelines and program priorities.

In 1980 Jean Rudd was recruited by George Kelm to be the Charitable Fund's first full-time staff, acting as executive director.  She helped shape the Charitable Fund's, and later the Woods Fund of Chicago's,  philanthropic vision into clear grantmaking guidelines, creating two major grantmaking programs in community organizing and public workforce development policy, areas of focus that remain today.  With the board's support, Jean Rudd recruited staff and directors to the Woods Charitable Fund who were professionals in these fields.  She and her staff excelled in finding investment opportunities in emerging issues that affected the area's least advantaged, including welfare reform, affordable housing, the quality of public schools, the involvement of non-custodial fathers in raising families, race and class disparities in the juvenile justice system, and tax policy as a tool to reduce poverty.

In 1993, George Kelm supported the Woods Charitable Fund board's decision to separate into two entities and helped create the new organization, the Woods Fund of Chicago, overseeing its initial funding in 1994 through the transfer of a portion of the assets of the Woods Charitable Fund.  The split allowed Woods Charitable Fund (Lincoln, Nebraska) and Woods Fund of Chicago to better serve its respective communities, Lincoln and Chicago.  George Kelm became the first president of the newly-organized Woods Fund of Chicago and, like his predecessor, was a major figure in Chicago-area philanthropy and the Council on Foundations.  He was especially concerned about the well-being of children and families, and, along with board director Lucia Woods Lindley, inspired the Woods Fund's grantmaking interest in this area.  Jean Rudd became the new organization's first executive director and succeeded George Kelm as President in 1996.

The Woods family had the wisdom to recognize that specific needs and opportunities change.  They gave little specific direction to the proposed uses of each Fund, beyond a somewhat standard mandate to make contributions to non-profits "organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes, including the encouragement of art... ."

The legacy of the Woods family, George Kelm, Jean Rudd, and the staff members and directors that followed them established a set of principles that give focus to the Woods Fund's work.  As the Woods Fund moves forward into the 21st Century, it operates on core principles that will help the present leadership enhance and carry out its vision:    

·   Equity: working to increase racial and ethnic equity, diversity and dismantling structural racism. 

·   Community: supporting broad and bottom-up public involvement in community activities and decision-making.

·   Public Policy: funding the exploration and identification of long-term policy solutions to significant problems.

·   Informed Risk Taking: identifying emerging issues and grantmaking opportunities of high-potential benefit to the least advantaged.

From 1994 through 2014 the Woods Fund of Chicago has distributed more than $50 million dollars to 458 non-profits in the Chicago region.