Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

November 20, 2013

Seeking support helped new foundation focus on namesake’s mission


Mrs. Orien Levy Woolf, Dallas philanthropist

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Roberta Shapiro

Mistakes and mess-ups are a part of life. Sometimes they are small. Sometimes they are big. We are human. We cannot avoid every mistake, but we all have certain responsibilities in our lives that we try extremely hard not to mess up.

In the 1980s, I met and started working for Mrs. Orien Levy Woolf, an under-the-radar Dallas philanthropist. I helped her with her business affairs. During the 20 years I was with her, I became intimately involved with all aspects of her life. A major element of this was the charitable support she offered organizations in the Dallas area. She enthusiastically supported the East Dallas Community School, Dallas Children’s Theater and Habitat for Humanity, among others. She has many endowments in North Texas, one of which is at her alma mater, Texas Women’s University.  

In 2009, at the age of 93, Mrs. Woolf passed away, and The Orien Levy Woolf & Dr. Jack Woolf Charitable Foundation was born. Over the years, Mrs. Woolf and I talked about her wishes for her giving to continue after her death. The foundation was the best avenue for that. It made the most sense for me to be the president of that foundation. The course was set.

Last year, The Orien Levy Woolf & Dr. Jack Woolf Charitable Foundation was funded. Like many of the more than 38,000 grant-making family foundations in the U.S., we are operating with no staff and learning as we go the complexities inherent to the operation of private foundations.

Early on, I discovered that creating and operating the foundation was not going to be like the old days. My time was spent on the huge and complicated process of filing for 501(c)(3) status, meeting all filing requirements with the state, selling real estate, hiring money managers, filing foundation tax returns, writing minutes, making agendas and running meetings.

Mrs. Orien Levy Woolf, Dallas philanthropist
Gone were the long chats with Mrs. Woolf about giving, needs and helping. No more would I hear her words that to this day guide me, “Well, they need it, and I can do it.” Her head would shake in disbelief as she would complain that there were many people who could give and didn’t. Nope, I was in a different world now.

This was the part that made me want to run. The fact that I want so very much to do it right, for her, makes me stay.

The hardest part of running a foundation is you don’t know what you don’t know. This is where the Conference of Southwest Foundations (CSF) pulled me out of my haze and fear. I submitted our application and was so pleased to immediately receive an email from the executive director welcoming me and offering any help I needed.

In the months that have followed, the support and opportunities for learning (more about what you don’t know you don’t know!) have been numerous. CSF has a wonderful website where as a member you can research questions. There are free webinars covering various topics. They have a library and documents in their office for member use. This fall, I will attend my first conference.

Most states have foundation organizations that provide similar resources to members. For me, it was important to have the opportunity to talk to people who have walked your walk in your shoes ahead of you. And they are willing to help you.

Recently, I contacted CSF and explained that I was looking for a sample of a letter I had to write. They sent me contact information for four foundations that use this kind of letter. I was able to get what I needed and come in contact with presidents with more experience than I have. I know that if I send an email or pick up a phone, CSF is there to help.

Mrs. Woolf was a dear friend who made a powerful impact on her community, and I want her legacy to live on. But operating in a vacuum leads to self-doubt and lots of unanswered questions and guesswork. Taking advantage of my CSF membership and resources helps me to feel less likely to “mess up.”

Roberta Shapiro is the president of the The Orien Levy Woolf & Dr. Jack Woolf Charitable Foundation of Dallas, Texas.

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