Anne Helen Hess has been an activist, philanthropist and political tactician for more than 40 years. Her work for civil rights, the environment, women’s health, international justice and many other issues has helped to enrich NGO activity at the local, national and international levels.
As a Trustee of the Stern Fund (1970-1984), a family foundation created by her grandparents, Hess learned firsthand the central role community organizations play in American life. She learned how organizations are built, what makes them flourish, and why they fail. She brings that experience to all aspects of her public service, both as a funder and as a participant in a wide variety of philanthropic initiatives.
In the early 1970s, Hess began building her managerial and fundraising portfolio by helping to stabilize the Vanguard Community Foundation in San Francisco, increasing its donor base and helping run its day-to-day operations. She later played a similar role at The Haymarket Community Fund in Cambridge.
While living on a working farm in west central Wisconsin from 1975 to 1984, she helped found Farmers United For Safe Energy (FUSE), an advocacy organization that successfully blocked a proposal to develop what would have been the largest nuclear power park in the country on two thousand acres of prime agricultural land. She also served as a founding board member of The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), an organization that provides information to people and groups concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues.
In 1982, Hess was a founding member of the Wisconsin Community Fund, which continues to provide support to local, community-based organizations that are too new or too small to attract grants from mainstream funding sources. She also helped launch the Funding Exchange, a national foundation of 15 community-based funds (including the North Star Fund in New York City, Crossroads Fund in Chicago and Bread and Roses in Philadelphia), and served on its national board from 1992 to 1994.
In 1983, Hess co-founded MADRE, which provides technical assistance and direct support to women’s organizations in some of the most challenging environments in the world. MADRE’s work began in Nicaragua, with women whose community health centers and day care facilities were being destroyed by the Contra War. Since then, MADRE has worked with advocacy groups in Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Rwanda and many other nations to bring public attention to the problems of women across the globe. Hess has been chair or co-chair of MADRE since its inception, continuing her efforts to link U.S. women to women around the world.
Returning to New York City in 1985, Hess – a native New Yorker – served on the Board of Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History as an ex-officio representative for Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, whose campaign Anne served as finance chair. She was also instrumental in the creation of IRIS House, a multi-service facility in East Harlem for women with HIV/AIDs.
Continuing her international advocacy, Anne was the local chair of the Fund for Free Elections in South Africa – a significant contributor to Nelson Mandela’s first presidential campaign – and was a founding member of the board of Shared Interest, which has provided loan guarantees for emerging black-owned businesses in South Africa since 1995. More recently, Anne has focused her energies in support of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s efforts to rebuild Liberia. Her work has included the funding and construction of rural schools – a project that evokes one of the legacies of her great grandfather, Julius Rosenwald, who was responsible for the more than 5000 “Rosenwald Schools” built in the American south in the era of Jim Crow.
Hess has served on the board of Community Resources Exchange (CRE) since 1992, and was chair for five years. CRE provides technical assistance to community based organizations in New York City that deal with issues of extreme poverty, HIV/Aids and immigration. During her years of service, the organization’s staff has grown from six to 35. Under her leadership, the group adopted a new organizational structure, built a stronger board and developed an individual donor base that continues to provide general operating support to the organization.
Hess also served on the Board of Governors of Milano, The New School for Management and Urban Policy from 2005 to 2008. During her term, she brought a real world perspective to the development of interdisciplinary programs at the school and was instrumental in establishing student internship opportunities.
Her dedication to civil rights is also exemplified by her service on the Executive Committee of the Board of the Alliance for Justice, a Washington-based advocacy organization that provides technical assistance to the national not-for-profit community and leads the effort to ensure equal access to the courts and a judiciary that delivers fair and impartial justice.
In the political sphere, Hess has played a central role as a tactician, fundraiser and field operative in many local, state and federal races. During the 2004 cycle, she staffed the New York City office of America Coming Together, the election’s dominant Democratic issue advocacy group. In October, 2008 she worked in Columbus, Ohio for four weeks on the coordinated efforts of Barack Obama and the Ohio Democratic Party.
Hess is particularly proud to have mentored generations of grassroots community activists, development directors, fundraisers and leaders in the not-for-profit/NGO world. Her New York City home has become a well-known incubator for the strategies and tactics that drive effective civic engagement.
Anne Hess is married to Craig Kaplan, a New York attorney. She has two children – Leona Hess, a New York City social worker and DSW candidate at Columbia University; and Samuel Wiehoff, who works in Minneapolis.