The Bridgespan Group

Enter your email address to receive updates:

David Weekley Builds His Philanthropy in Houston and Abroad

Measure twice, cut once, as any builder will tell you. For David Weekley, founder of David Weekley Homes, the need for accurate measurement is fundamental to building a strong foundation.

Having grown up watching his father give a donation at church every Sunday, Weekley learned that “giving back was important” at an early age. After deciding that he had made enough and realizing that he was “no longer motivated by the money alone,” Weekley looked to another “avenue to keep [his] energy and excitement up – philanthropy. Today, Weekley is intent on making sure that he doesn’t leave behind a “big pot of money” that somebody else will have to give away. “I wanted to spend it now, while I’m here, and I can have some impact with it,” he says.

Early in his philanthropy, when he needed to focus his efforts, Weekley turned toward the Boy Scouts and other character-based programs. The Boy Scouts philosophy resonated for a man known for his tough love, generous spirit, and deep desire to help others.

When Weekley made a major shift to giving in 1990, he took his business skills, including his commitment to measurement, with him. Although others may debate the nuances of bringing business skills into the social sector, this hard-driving, results-oriented businessman proudly commits 50% of his annual income and time to his philanthropy, and fully expects to see a return on that investment. For Weekley, that return must be measured with data, which, he sees as the “only way to know what’s working.”

With a penchant for scaling organizations, Weekley prizes leaders who are honest about their needs and who have an “inbred desire to do more.” it was a similar desire that drove Weekley to expand beyond his local Houston focus and begin giving in Africa. He highlights his work in Rwanda with the One Acre Fund as “breathtaking.”

Weekley’s three pieces of advice for new philanthropist? First, “educate yourself in philanthropy,” second, “start making significant bets now” and third, “go forward with confidence and energy.”

▼ Read More

Recent Videos

I ended up taking my financials and sitting down one day and...did some studies, and I found out that when I die there’s going to be this big pot of money that somebody else was going to have to figure out what to do with. And I didn’t want to have that happen. I wanted to spend it now, while I’m here, and I can have some impact with it.

Over time I decided to narrow down my interest in what I was involved in [by] basically thinking back on my life about what really impacted me and for me it was Boy Scouts and character education. It was youth education...and I decided to focus my efforts on those items and as I focused my efforts and I saw those things that really had impact, it was even easier to get involved in those things.

I got involved in international...because it was so hard. I’d been giving in Houston for about 12 years...and internationally it was so big, I felt so helpless for so long, you know -- what can I do? But I studied...and I found that in Africa, I could get seven to ten times more impact for each dollar spent than I could in America.

A challenge with measurement is that it shines a bright light on results and sometimes in nonprofits the results aren’t as good as they hoped, and so there has to be a certain sense of confidence for this nonprofit to be willing to create the sense of transparency and share with donors what the results are.

When I talk to, to new philanthropists -- they’re just starting out, [I] say, “Go big or go home.” Get involved, do something significant and do it now.