As 2017 comes to a close, we are celebrating an anniversary this month. Fifteen years ago today, on December 11, 2002, The Wallace Foundation was launched through the merger of two separate foundations that originated with the philanthropy of DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace.
Founders of the quintessential American family magazine, Reader’s Digest, the Wallaces began their charitable endeavors with a small, expanding collection of family foundations. After the Wallaces died the mid-1980s, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund were formed. By the time of the 2002 merger authorized unanimously by the Funds’ boards, the two organizations had supported more than 100 different program initiatives, ranging from teacher recruitment to adult literacy.
“The merger of the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund united the two passions that motivated our founders—DeWitt's interest in youth development and education, and Lila's in the arts,” says Lucas Held, Wallace’s director of communications. Held, along with senior research and evaluation officer Ann Stone and under the leadership of then-president M. Christine DeVita, helped forge the effort to develop Wallace into a unified brand. “The combining of the two into a single entity known as The Wallace Foundation acknowledged what was already the case at the time of the merger: that both entities were employing a common strategy to achieve philanthropic benefits—working with a small number of grantees to find better ways to solve public problems, and then benefiting other organizations through the power of credible knowledge,” Held says.
Leading up to the merger, Wallace had already developed multi-disciplinary staff teams, enabling us to better work with our partners to foster innovation and share knowledge gleaned with the field—a process that defines our work to this day.
At the time, we focused the combined weight of the newly formed foundation on three issues:
- School Leadership: The initiative launched in 2000 to strengthen the ability of principals and superintendents to improve student learning.
- After-School Systems (now called Youth Development): Support for and research into effective after-school programs.
- The Arts: To inform the policies and practices of cultural institutions and funders interested in building public participation in the arts.
These issues resonate in our work as it has evolved over the past 15 years. Our efforts in afterschool, for example, helped pave the way for an initiative launched in 2016 to promote children’s social and emotional learning. All of our work is emblematic of our longer journey from a philanthropy that was structured to create direct benefits by funding good organizations to a national foundation equally committed to helping catalyze social benefits beyond the reach of our limited dollars. As DeVita said at the time: “In everything we do, we strive to be a resource dedicated to helping create, support and share ideas and insights, tools and effective practices. Through that we aim to have a transformative effect on major public systems and, ultimately, on people's lives.”