Business School CEO Turns Career to Lead Her Family Foundation

RObin Bruce dreamed of starting a business when her father, homebuilding magnate and philanthropist David Weekley, came up with the idea. “I had a list of 25 ideas,” she recalls, including the futuristic idea that furniture could be sold directly from the manufacturer to the consumer.

Hector Mujica

Young donors are challenging what it means to be a philanthropist.

It was 2015, and Bruce was CEO of the maverick Acton School of Business in Austin, Texas, where she earned her MBA through a year-long experiential entrepreneurship program. Weekley turned to Bruce, the middle of his three children, for help from the family foundation, whose anti-poverty focus is rooted in Christian stewardship principles.

“Of course,” she replied. “Cc me on email. I’m busy but happy to take calls.”

Weekley, however, had other plans in mind. He started the foundation in 1990, and as his fortune grew, he wanted his daughter to work full-time to help accelerate the foundation’s giving and deepen its impact. Bruce deviated from her father’s hiring plans for more than a year, fearing such a move would derail her years-long business dreams. But when the two talked, she saw the role as an opportunity to make the biggest impact on her life.

“The opportunity is so great and our time is so short,” Bruce said. “This matter is urgent.”

Bruce, 39, joined the foundation in 2017 as president. Weekley and his wife Bonnie, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2020, remain chairmen and make final decisions. But Bruce’s interest in nonprofits dates back to her high school missionary work in Mexico, and she’s leading grantmaking in New Directions.

This year, 80 percent of the foundation’s $35 million in grants will go to poverty-relief groups working abroad, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. This is the third year in a row that international grants have surpassed domestic giving, a shift Weekley began a few years ago to get the most impact from his giving.

Bruce is responsible for expansion, including the hiring of four full-time staff based abroad. Next, she will lead the restructuring of domestic funding.

She also persuaded Weekley to change the funder’s namesake. “I thought it was kind of rude,” Weekley joked, but he agreed, in part to make sure no family member felt obligated to join.

curious about the solution

Discovering how best to help those in need has been a thread in Bruce’s life and career. When she was 16, she came to a rural village in Mexico to build toilets and stoves, full of self-confidence and idealism, but she quickly realized that was childish. “It was like, ‘I’m here to fix all your problems,'” she recalls. Bruce was aware of the macroeconomic forces behind poverty and curious about the solutions. “I often tell people it’s the biggest education I’ve gotten in the shortest amount of time,” she said.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University, she worked in social entrepreneurs and nonprofits, majoring in English and film. These include working with a community development group in Nicaragua; Geneva Global, a philanthropic consultancy; and the fledgling Razoo crowdfunding platform (now Mightycause). She later joined cause marketing pioneer Carol Cone, who at the time led corporate social responsibility at PR giant Edelman.

During that time, Bruce and Weekley talked often about the opportunities and challenges of philanthropy. Initially centered in Houston, Weekley’s foundation is expanding its reach outside the United States. International development is Bruce’s passion.

“He and I have always had a special relationship because of this work,” she said. “We were drawn to it for similar reasons.”

interrogation impact

Since she worked with her father, Bruce has doubled down on evaluating the impact of foundation grants, which have focused almost exclusively on poverty alleviation efforts. Weekley is a well-known venture philanthropist who uses his business acumen to help groups scale proven solutions. He’s helped build many financially healthy and efficient organizations, but he’s not always focused on results.

“It’s not that he hasn’t read the impact measures reported by nonprofits,” Bruce said. “He’s not looking at the impact like he’s looking at the financials.”

Bruce felt compelled to join her father’s philanthropic endeavors. “The opportunity is so great and our time is so short. It’s a matter of urgency.”

The foundation’s international funding is also transferred to local groups. Half of the grant partners are organizations with leaders from the Global South. Likewise, Josh Kwan, Weekley’s first international funding advisor, says half of the full-time staff work internationally — a possible investment since Bruce won Weekley trust, can hire and manage these people.

“Robin could very well lead a Fortune 500 company,” said Kwan, who is now president of Gathering, a Christian philanthropist organization.

Weekley’s venture philanthropy principles remain at the heart of the foundation, as evidenced by its longstanding relationship with One Acre Fund, a social enterprise founded in 2006 to support farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the group’s early backers, Weekley urged the leaders of what was then a start-up to identify and pursue a “big, bold, audacious goal,” a common business term at the time.

“He really challenged us every step of the way to think bigger, bolder, bolder,” said Andrew Youn, the group’s co-founder. “It was a constant guiding force , until it becomes more muscle memory.”

Robin Bruce

Matthew Busch, Chronicle

Robin Bruce, the daughter of homebuilding magnate David Weekley, has expanded the international work of her father’s Texas-based foundation. Next, she aims to strengthen her work in the United States.

One Acre is now a full-fledged organization with operations in nine countries and nearly $200 million in annual revenue—a figure that would deter most venture philanthropists from investing. But Youn says Bruce is always on the lookout for “surge” opportunities, where additional funding can help teams realize big, complex ideas.

“Even as we get bigger, Robin remains relevant and catalytic in this venture philanthropy spirit,” Youn said.

This year, the foundation unveiled a new name: Dovetail Impact. In Christian belief, dove is like a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In construction, a dovetail joint combines two separate parts into a whole. The foundation wrote that the federation is “powerful and beautiful, illustrating what happens when we partner with nonprofits to create meaningful impact on behalf of a larger purpose.”

The name change also suggests the foundation will outlive its founders. “It’s definitely a move to show ourselves and others that this is a foundation with its own lifeline,” Bruce said.

Source link