Weinberg’s leadership shift


The country’s largest Jewish-focused foundation, the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, underwent a fairly significant shift in leadership in the past week when a new president and chairman officially took office.

The names are not new to the foundation: Rachel Monroe takes over as president, the top professional spot at the foundation, after five years as its chief operating officer, and Donn Weinberg, a nephew of Harry Weinberg who has been one of the foundation’s five trustees since 2002 and its corporate counsel since 1993, succeeds Shale Stiller as chairman. 

Here is where it gets interesting. 

When Harry Weinberg died in 1990, leaving nearly $1 billion — virtually all of his assets — to the foundation, he outlined a very strict set of guidelines for how the foundation should be run, including a succession plan for several generations of trustees. He named its first five trustees, and then several replacements for each as they either stepped down or passed away.

Stiller, who took over as chairman five years ago, is leaving his post as a trustee to return to his prominent Baltimore law firm. He will be replaced on the board by his wife, Ellen Heller, the immediate past chairwoman of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and a prominent Baltimore judge. But Heller is the last person that Harry Weinberg named as a trustee. 

That means going forward, the trustees will have to name replacements.

In another significant shift, the organization’s chairman will not be its president. When Stiller was chairman, he also was the foundation’s top professional. Now Donn Weinberg and Monroe will split those duties.

Weinberg, who is also a paid full-time employee of the foundation, as was Stiller, will be the foundation’s ambassador to the outside world, its in-house counsel and will oversee its real estate investments on the U.S. mainland. (The foundation has about $800 million in Hawaii real estate that is overseen by a trustee in the state and $60 million in real estate on the mainland.)

Monroe will become the professional face of the foundation.

Both credit Stiller with helping the foundation become more professional, increasing its programming and grant-making staff and becoming more transparent. That will all continue, they say.

“If Shale started to write a new book at Weinberg, we are writing a new chapter,” Monroe told The Fundermentalist. “Will there be change? Yes. Will it be shocking or dramatic? No.”

Fundermentalist Take: The Weinberg Foundation itself has seen something of a bounceback over the past year after being hit hard initially by the recession. 

At its peak in February 2008, the foundation was worth $2.3 billion. By February 2009 its assets had dropped to approximately $1.8 billion and the foundation announced that it would not be taking new grant applications. Flash forward to February 2010: The foundation’s assets are back up to about $2.1 billion and it is starting to accept some new grant applications. 

In theory, the foundation most likely will not have to name its first new board member for at least another five or six years. But putting its leadership ducks in a row and setting up the foundation to run more like other foundations will be important as Weinberg moves into the future.

Weinberg gives the majority of the $100 million or so it grants out each year to Jewish causes that help the elderly and poor; it’s one of the few foundations with such a serious focus on the elderly. Foundation officials already are bracing for the next decade when the baby boomer generation matures, retires and becomes the elderly — or, as one foundation official put it, “The Silver Tsunami.”

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