Calendar of Events
Stores & Stories
It Happened this Week
Health & Wellness
Profile of:“I would like to see the foundation further broaden its donor base, which now numbers about 1,000 and the scope of its charitable outreach”
Cathy Siegel Weiss
—Cathy Siegel Weiss
By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor
From just a cursory glance at the extensive philanthropic commitments that pepper Cathy Siegel Weiss’s bio, it becomes clear the single-best word to describe the 22-year Beverly Hills resident is indefatigable. In person, Weiss’s quick mind, boundless energy and charitable commitment are even more readily apparent.
Navigating the upper reaches of some of southern California’s most respected philanthropies is clearly second nature to Weiss. Shortly, this youthful dynamo is poised to assume her most significant non-profit role yet when she becomes chair of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles’s board of trustees for an initial two-year term commencing in February.
“I would like to see the foundation further broaden its donor base, which now numbers about 1,000 and the scope of its charitable outreach,” Weiss said.
She assumes her new position following a period of extensive growth at the Jewish Community Foundation, during which assets have multiplied two-fold since the mid-1990s. Weiss immediately succeeds Mark Lainer as chair of the foundation and becomes only the second woman in the organization’s 50-year history to hold the post. The other was Lainer’s predecessor, Annette Familian Shapiro, another longtime Beverly Hills philanthropist. “Being able to follow in Mark and Annette’s footsteps, as well as the other chairs who came before them is an honor,” said Weiss.
Currently celebrating its golden anniversary, the foundation is the 10th largest in Los Angeles with assets of nearly $500 million. Its principal activity is to be a charitable gift-planning agency for LA’s Jewish community, managing assets and providing planned-giving solutions for philanthropists.
Handling such heady responsibilities is nothing new for Weiss. Born in Oregon, she left her Portland home (her mother and brother still live there) to attend Stanford University and earn a BA degree with the dual majors of political science and human biology. It was then off to the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
After passing the state bar exam, Weiss remained in the Bay Area as counsel for the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, one of the major national unions in the entertainment field.
In 1978 she moved to Los Angeles to become assistant general counsel at Golden West Broadcasters, owned by Gene Autry and his partner, her fellow Stanford alumnus Robert O. Reynolds.
“At Golden West, we got involved in all sorts of projects besides the company’s high profile television and radio stations like KTLA and KMPC,” she stated. “With the help of Johnny Grant, we even resurrected the old Santa Claus Lane Parade (now the Hollywood Christmas Parade) which had been dormant for a number of years.”
Weiss then went into private practice specializing in entertainment law before taking some time off to participate in a family business and raise her two daughters, Rebecca (now attending Yale) and Emily Siegel (a student at Williams College), who went to Beverly Vista School and are alumnae of Brentwood School.
In 1994, she became founding executive director of the American Cinema Foundation promoting positive family and social values in cinema. That group sponsored national screenwriting competitions, film festivals, and held dramatic reading programs with noted actors reading scripts in the pre-production stage. Three years later, she joined Lionel Chetwynd’s Whidbey Island Films, which produces a number of works, primarily for the PBS network.
Her involvement as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation began 10 years ago. She is presently a vice president and member of its executive committee; past co-chair of its marketing and member of its comprehensive development grant committees.
“Before getting involved in any type of philanthropy, one must realize the truth in the old axiom: ‘There are people who give, and there are people who don’t.’ With that in mind, our approach is to seek out families and individuals who are willing to invest some of their assets, regardless of the amount, for the good of the community,” explained Weiss.
“It might be $10,000, $1 million or $10 million. Regardless of the sum, the funds of our 1,000-plus individual donors are professionally managed, and grants are dispensed to worthy charities, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike—locally, nationally and in Israel.
“The fact is, in 2003 we donated 25 percent to non-Jewish causes. Our goal is to strengthen the community’s well-being and improve the quality of life in Los Angeles,” she added. Last year, we distributed $42 million in grants, of which $10 million was directed to non-Jewish causes.
The foundation created the Family Foundation Center which Weiss said was to assist donors to identify new and innovative approaches to giving. For instance, the latter conducted a youth program earlier this year which taught teenage participants about charitable giving or the Jewish value, tikkun olam, the principle of healing the world. Three Beverly Hills youngsters (Madeline Miller, Samantha Shames and Alexander Smith) were among those participating and actually studied and made grants to various charities.
“It means our children are being taught early on the importance of giving of themselves to others rather than becoming recruits to the now infamous ‘me generation’. I’m so proud of this program,” Weiss said.
Weiss emphasized the foundation is not just a charitable-giving or gift-planning vehicle for the wealthy and that donor-advised funds can be established with the organization for as little as $10,000. “It requires comparatively little to open a charitable fund and yet donors have access to a wealth of resources, as well as considerable discretion over the charitable causes that will benefit through the our grant-making. There are virtually a limitless number of causes which donors can instruct the foundation to support,” she pointed out.
She indicated the foundation offers an extensive range of “products” suitable for meeting charitable-gift planning and wealth-management requirements at different stages of donors’ lives. These include the aforementioned donor-advised funds; charitable gift annuities, which generate life income for the benefactors after the principal gift is made to the foundation; and family support foundations, which generally begin above $1 million.
“Support foundations enable their funders to fulfill specific charitable missions without the sizable burdens of administrative costs—legal, accounting, and the like—associated with creating one privately,” said Weiss. “The support pillars created within the Jewish Community Foundation—which today number more than 35—each has its own boards of directors and makes decisions independently, while benefiting from our professional management and top-caliber investment advisors.”
Weiss spoke of considerable efficiencies and comparatively low administrative-cost structure at the Jewish Community Foundation as features which distinguish it from other non-profit organizations. “A total staff of 26 manages about $500 million in assets,” she said. “The rigorous discipline of both the internal management and board of trustees ensures that the greatest number of dollars is available each year for grant-making.”
Touching on the many ways the foundation’s grants positively impact the greater community, Weiss proudly cited the organization’s seed money in support of Koreh LA: The Los Angeles Coalition for Literacy through which more than 700 volunteers spend an hour each week reading to 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders in the LA Unified School District. In this vein, Weiss mentioned the Winnick Family Foundation as subsequent major supporters of this literacy project. She also made note of the foundation’s support of Chrysalis, which focuses on job programs for the indigent.
In addition to her duties with the Jewish Community Foundation, Weiss is extensively involved in other causes. She is on the board of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the American Jewish Committee (serving as the first woman president of its LA chapter, and chair of its National Advocacy Task Force). She is board co-chair of the Jewish Television Network, and previously served on the Beverly Hills Education Foundation; the UCLA Chancellor’s Advisory and LA Human Relations commissions; and the LA Coalition of 100 steering committee.
Even with a full plate of philanthropic commitments, she also keeps her hand in the entertainment industry as a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“And best of all, I married a wonderful man, Ken Weiss, eight months ago, and we’re building a new Beverly Hills home together,” she said. “I’m having a terrific time!”
| || |