About this Assessment

The Walton Family Foundation was established by Sam and Helen Walton, the founders of what’s now the world’s largest corporation, Walmart. The foundation is still completely family-run, with programming areas that focus on the environment, education and the foundation’s home regions in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta. WFF is genuinely committed to increasing opportunity for people living in poverty and preserving oceans and rivers as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on them. However, while its market-oriented approach has led to successes in its environment program, its education, home region and special interest programs have not produced widespread equitable outcomes for the communities it serves. We recommend that Walton Family Foundation continues to foster strong relationships with grantees, pay out generous portions of its assets and provide nonprofits with the type of support needed to succeed. We also recommend that the foundation actively engage with and seek feedback from its stakeholders and pursue strategies that will amplify its social justice impact.

The assessment of Walton Family Foundation was conducted by Gita Gulati-Partee.

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Key Finding and Recommendations

Continue to foster positive grantee relationships.

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Continue to cultivate effective partnerships with nonprofits and convene grantees to learn and network. WFF can build on its strong relationships with nonprofits and elevate their impact by connecting them to each other and to other funders.

Background: The vast majority of grantees greatly appreciate their partnership with Walton, especially its large and long-term funding commitments. Many request more unrestricted support, opportunities for networking and improved reporting mechanisms that allow them to communicate the full story of the results of their work.

Grantee Quote: “It would be valuable to bring grantees together periodically to talk about ways to leverage the capabilities of each. I would also use the foundation's reputation and connections within the philanthropic community to connect grantees with other interested partners.”

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Continue generous funding practices.

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Continue to pay out a generous proportion of assets in grants. This practice enables WFF to support a broad range of groups at a high level for the long term.

Background: The vast majority of grantees greatly appreciate their partnership with Walton, especially its large and long-term funding commitments. Many request more unrestricted support, opportunities for networking and improved reporting mechanisms that allow them to communicate the full story of the results of their work.

Grantee Quote: "Continue making grants large enough to conduct work with meaningful outcomes.”

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Give the type of funding nonprofits most need.

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Continue multi-year funding and expand general operating grants, and be consistent when communicating about and dispensing these funds.

Background: The vast majority of grantees greatly appreciate their partnership with Walton, especially its large and long-term funding commitments. Many request more unrestricted support, opportunities for networking, and improved reporting mechanisms that allow them to communicate the full story of the results of their work.

Grantee Quote: “I would increase the amount of multi-year funding, which provides a solid platform for organizations that need to add capacity to meet their mission and achieve their vision.”

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Continue to engage community members in environmental work.

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Ensure that the new strategies for the marine conservation program continue to fully involve fisher-folk, farmers, ranchers, environmental groups, businesses and other affected community members to achieve sustainable environmental, economic and social goals.

Background: WFF has achieved powerful and lasting results in its environmental portfolio, leveraging the power of markets as a key element of the foundation’s strategy.

Grantee Quote: “Regarding the foundation's environment program goals and strategies, they are exactly on track by being aware that ‘new and unexpected partnerships’ are key to overcoming many a program hurdle and securing true innovation and change. Also, the foundation's acknowledgement that for environmental programs to be successful, organizations must partner with those who make their livelihoods off of the very environmental systems we are trying to protect and improve for all future generations.”

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Adopt education strategies that achieve greater equity.

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In K-12 education, work to promote equity, quality and accountability across charter and traditional schools. Invest in innovations that improve traditional district schools, which still serve the vast majority of students, particularly those with unique needs.

Background: An over-reliance on charter schools and vouchers hinders the foundation’s ability to benefit more than a small percentage of underserved students. The expansion of high-quality charter schools and related advocacy have created meaningful benefits for individual students and families, but have not achieved equitable improvements system-wide.

Grantee Quote: “While we believe in the importance of developing a pipeline of strong leaders for charter schools, the vast majority of children in public schools attend district schools. To achieve truly systemic change, we need to improve district AND charter schools to create more high quality learning environments for all children.”

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Empower Delta residents to lead community improvement.

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In the home region, particularly the Delta, empower residents to define and lead community change. Grow capacity of local residents to organize themselves and solve community problems.

Background: WFF maintains a strong commitment to its home region and recently revised its strategies with community input. The home region program has learned from past comprehensive community efforts but does not pursue equity, resident empowerment and other proven approaches for place-based giving.

Grantee Quote: “It would be great if there were leadership in the foundation who had more programmatic experience in social change as opposed to bankers…We need to engage people in poor [Delta] communities in systems more effectively.”

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Be more transparent and strategic with board-directed giving.

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Be more strategic, transparent and accountable with “special interest” grants that are given at the discretion of individual family board members. Specifically, incorporate equity and justice goals and outcomes into this responsive grants pool.

Background: Special interest grants and initiatives, directed by individual Walton family members, provide opportunities for responsive grantmaking. But they lack transparency and are, at best, too scattered to achieve long-term impact.

Grantee Quote: “I would support time spent fact-finding on innovative, transformative ideas that carry a lot of potential for impact and then I would invest heavily in those ideas so that they can be successful… I would also look at systems and find out what is happening within a system that may be hindering an innovative idea from taking hold and I would look at supporting ways to change the system.”

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Seek input from affected communities when deciding and implementing strategy.

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Demonstrate the foundation’s commitment to “empowerment” by listening to and engaging community members most affected by the issues it funds. Convene stakeholders who bring diverse and divergent perspectives, identify shared goals and develop creative ideas to solve complex challenges.

Background: While the environment portfolio prioritizes broad engagement across a diverse set of actors (e.g. fisher-folk, environmental groups, businesses and other community members) to preserve rivers and oceans, the education framework offers a specific approach – charter school expansion – and then engages selected constituencies (pro-charter parents, school leaders and researchers) in pursuing it.

Grantee Quote: "We would encourage larger, more encompassing partnerships between businesses, groups, and public entities. Many of the partnerships advocated for are just with other advocacy groups with like-minded missions. It would be good to broaden these partnerships beyond the usual suspects and use Foundation capitol (political) to secure bonds across sectors."

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Be less insular and more open to critique.

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Continue to increase openness to new partnerships. To facilitate this, make more information available about what WFF learns and does and invite more feedback. Strengthen two-way communication, who the foundation hears from and who hears from the foundation.

Background: The foundation is increasingly committed to learning and is becoming more collaborative. Still, it lacks diverse perspectives and insulates itself with like-minded peers rather than connecting with a broader field. The foundation does not make use of its bully pulpit, but tends to wield influence behind the scenes.

Grantee Quote: "I would listen to what effective organizations need, and allow them to provide important grassroots feedback on how the foundation could be more effective in its funding."

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Add people to the board and staff who have experience in marginalized communities.

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Diversify the board and staff to bring in new perspectives and fresh thinking, especially from communities that have directly experienced poverty or harmful environmental impacts.

Background: The foundation is increasingly committed to learning and is becoming more collaborative, yet WFF lacks diverse perspectives and insulates itself with like-minded peers rather than talking with and listening to a broader field. The board is fully composed of Walton family members, who are not only all white, but are also among the world’s wealthiest individuals. Demographically, they have little in common with the communities they seek to serve.

Grantee Quote: “Increase the number of African American program managers.”

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