Fantom: I despise a narrow field. O for the reign of universal benevolence. I want to make all mankind good and happy.
Goodman: Dear me! Sure that must be a wholesale sort of a job. Had you not better try your hand at a town or neighborhood first?
Fantom: Sir, I have a plan in my head for relieving the miseries of the whole world…. I would alter all the laws, and put an end to all the wars…. This is what I call doing things on a grand scale….
Goodman: One must begin to love somewhere; and I think it is as natural to love one’s own family, and to do good in one’s own neighborhood…. If every man in every family, village, and county did the same, why then all the schemes would be met, and the end of one village or town where I was doing good would be the beginning of another village where somebody else was doing good….
Fantom: Sir, a man of large views will be on the watch for great occasions to prove his benevolence.
Goodman: Yes, sir; but if they are so distant that he cannot reach them, or so vast that he cannot grasp them, he may let a thousand little, snug, kind, good actions slip through his fingers in the meanwhile. And so between the great thing that he cannot do and the little ones that he will not do, life passes, and nothing will be done.
— McGuffey’s Reader, 1844
"When I became serious about philanthropy, it was easiest to determine the needs in my own community. When you start working in your own community, there are a lot of positives. You’ve already got relationships. The programs you support are accessible and visible. You can go see them, talk with them, get a feel for them. And you get lots of affirmation. There are many reasons why people give locally."
— David Weekley, Philanthropy, Winter 2009
As a simple matter of fact, more donors agree with the rhetorical Mr. Goodman and the very real Mr. Weekley (winner of the the 2015 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership) than with the more abstract and grandiose Mr. Fantom. A study out of Indiana University’s Lilly philanthropy school showed that of all gifts of a million dollars or more made during the years 2000-2011, two thirds went to organizations in the same region as the giver. If you add in all the gifts of less than a million dollars, the proportion of American philanthropy that takes place locally is overwhelming.
In addition, a great many of the most effective national charities in America—Goodwill, the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, the Union Gospel Missions, the Red Cross, and many more—provide their local chapters with a powerful degree of operational autonomy. When donors give to these groups built on decentralized chapters, they are often supporting a local group more than a national organization.
By definition, most local, small-scale giving is not visible to outsiders, so it’s easy to miss. The cases we present below are merely examples—a kind of tip of the U.S. iceberg. Our intent is simply to remind everyone interested in philanthropy that each day in this country, scads of close-to-home acts of giving take place. It’s easy to think that these local philanthropies are too small, too uncoordinated, too limited to generate “fundamental change.” But piece together a scholarship program here and an inspiring museum there, a rural dental program in this town and an “Alice’s Integrity Loan Fund” in another, and soon you see the outlines of a living, thousand-armed mechanism that responds to millions of local needs and longings, marshaling tens of billions of dollars. And every one of our home towns is made more livable, richer, safer, and more interesting by the gifts rained down by this organic process of sharing bounty among neighbors.
— Section research provided by Karl Zinsmeister and Brian Brown, Caitrin Keiper, Bill Kauffman
While the computer revolution has turned Silicon Valley into a boomtown, it has also made that region into one of the most expensive places in the country to live, squeezing many local families. And the local foundations built on tech fortunes give only about 7 percent of their funds to charities in their own San Jose/Palo Alto/Santa Clara/San Mateo area. But real-estate developer John Sobrato, who became rich creating campuses for Apple, Yahoo, and other firms, is giving away money with a strong focus on helping local residents left behind by the tech expansion.
Expanding schools and teaching programs that help the area’s Spanish-speaking children has been one major emphasis. The Sobrato family founded a Cristo Rey Catholic high school, supported numerous other schools, and developed a new way of teaching English to non-native speakers that has now spread to 39,000 students.
The Sobratos have also built up office complexes in San Jose, Redwood City, and Milpitas where about 70 charities are provided with free headquarters space. This allows them to avoid the notoriously high rents in the region. It also gives them a proximity to learn from each other and collaborate on projects.
The family has made multi-million-dollar gifts to the local children’s hospital and the Valley Medical Center, and to the National Hispanic University and the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco. In 2017 they announced their largest gift ever: $100 million to Santa Clara University to allow it to unify and strengthen its science and math training for students. That ranked as the second-largest gift ever to a Catholic college. It brought the family’s total charitable contributions to about $380 million over the last 20 years. And six months later the Sobrato gift was bolstered by an additional $30 million from the Leavey Foundation (big supporters of Catholic causes, education, and medicine) for Santa Clara University’s expansion into science and math.
Located halfway between Tampa and Orlando, Lakeland, Florida, is a city with a population of 100,000, but is headed toward a million in its fast-growing metro region within a generation. One local family, the Barnetts—who built up the Publix Super Market chain—recognized that their hometown lacked the parkland needed for an urban area of that size. So they invested energy and money into sparking a major new recreation area for the region. The Barnetts and local allies announced acquisition of 160 acres, and creation of a plan for building a $50-60 million urban escape there, without any money from government. The property is about half attractive woods and lakefront, and half industrial land that will need to be reclaimed. Nature trails, playgrounds, gardens, bike paths, and other amenities will be constructed, and a private nonprofit will provide popular programming for the public, all within walking distance of downtown. The philanthropic sponsors are aiming for an opening around 2020.
Robert Larner grew up in Vermont, one of seven children of a roofer. After winning a state debate championship, he attended the University of Vermont on a scholarship. Then he attended UVM’s medical school. After serving in World War II he built a medical practice in southern California. His practice was successful, but what made him wealthy was his knack for making commercial real-estate investments in the booming Los Angeles region.
He never forgot his Vermont roots, and indeed made UVM his main beneficiary when he became a generous philanthropist. In 2015-2016, Larner earmarked $95 million to the university that minted his career. This inspired Vermont to name its medical school for him. It was the first time a med school has ever been named for an alumnus.
West Texas and the U.S.-Mexico border have been a bit of desert when it comes to dentistry. The dental school closest to El Paso is more than 500 miles away, and in El Paso County the number of dentists per population is only half the state average. A majority of the local population do not visit a dentist at all in a typical year. Thanks to Woody and Gayle Hunt, that problem is about to improve. The family, which operates a cluster of businesses in the region centered around real estate, construction, and finance, donated $25 million to open the first new dental school in Texas in nearly 50 years.
In 2013, Indiana bioscience companies donated $25 million, matched by a state appropriation, and announced plans to establish a center in Indianapolis that would research metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart trouble, and their connection to nutrition. But it took an $80 million gift from the Lilly Endowment and a $20 million grant from the Eli Lilly company foundation to make the proposal real three years later. The center broke ground in 2016 on a freestanding facility that is expected to bolster the Indianapolis downtown in addition to improving medical understanding.
Ernest Tschannen noticed in 2000 that his eyesight was failing, so he visited an eye clinic at the University of California at Davis, and later underwent successful surgery. In gratitude, he donated $25 to the university. But in addition to being a soft-spoken engineer, Tschannen proved to have a gift for investing. He made millions of dollars buying real estate (though he continued to live in a modest apartment even after becoming wealthy). So he was later able to give UC Davis $1.5 million so it could hire an optic-nerve specialist. And then in 2016, the 91-year-old donated $37 million so the university could unite all of its eye programs—which treat 55,000 local patients annually—in one new facility.
Tom Lewis got his graduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill. He lived nearly all his adult life—and made his fortune as a homebuilder—in Arizona. But in 2015 he donated $23 million to the University of Kentucky (its largest gift ever), so a new honors college could be created on campus. Asked why, Lewis invoked the kind of personal connection that drives much voluntary giving. His aim, he said, was to “honor the history of our family in Kentucky.” It turns out all 16 of his great-grandparents were Kentuckians. He spent his own childhood there as well, a seventh-generation resident of the state.
Lewis’s gift allowed the university to build a new hall where top students can reside, hire a dean and ten new staff members, and create special curricula that will challenge their most intellectually serious enrollees. By attracting more of the state’s very brightest students to remain in Kentucky for their education, Lewis said he hoped more of them would end up living in the state and “contribute to its growth and prosperity.”
John Santikos owned 11 cinemas, some shopping centers, and open land in San Antonio and southern Texas. When he died, he left those assets, worth more than $605 million, to the San Antonio Area Foundation. This was the largest single charitable gift on record in that city, and the largest philanthropic donation nationwide in 2015. It will more than triple the community foundation’s assets. Annual proceeds from the Santikos gift will mostly be distributed to a wide variety of local charities, bolstering people in need, students, cultural institutions, and medical treatment. However, the immigrant from Greece—whose family suffered through the Greek civil war—also specified that two non-San Antonio nonprofits should each get 10 percent of the annual donations from his estate: Doctors Without Borders, and International Orthodox Christian Charities.
The foremost spending priority of the Lilly Endowment is development of its home region around Indianapolis. It has, for instance, awarded $172 million to the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership since the creation of that nonprofit in 1988. Indeed, Lilly has recently covered $5.3 million of the organization’s annual budget of $9.5 million. INHP funds are mostly used to help moderate-income buyers purchase residences in the city—where vacant homes and blight have been a problem. The Indianapolis Star found in 2015 that there were 6,800 abandoned houses in the urban area, stressing some neighborhoods.
The Housing Partnership has long wanted to have a fund it could use to buy up these houses when they become available, keep them from falling into disrepair, and then recycle them to new residents as they become qualified to buy. What’s really needed, says the nonprofit’s president, is “flexible, patient capital” that can be used to gradually transform neighborhoods.
In 2015, that wish came true. The Lilly Endowment made a special $27 million grant to INHP, above and beyond its annual support, for the charity to use as a property-acquisition fund in an anti-blight campaign.
Lisa Rose and 11 other women in north Texas began meeting weekly to discuss their faith and how they could apply it to help “women in crisis” in their area. This eventually evolved into a nonprofit that zeroed in on a wrenching problem: There were not enough spots in the region where women and children could find help when fleeing abusers. And those that existed only allowed residence for 30 days, which was not enough time for most women to line up alternate housing and jobs and get their life back on track (which is why the abused typically return to their abusers several times before leaving for good).
The donors and organizers behind Rose’s nonprofit developed a vision of “a supportive living community where women and their children in crisis can discover a new path for permanent change.” They decided to offer a wide range of recuperative services—initially food, clothing, housing, and medical care, then counseling, life-skills mentoring, childcare, and education, and finally help with job placement and life on their own. It would be a faith-based program infused with Christian love and guidance, and it would be entirely privately funded, without government money.
Rose’s husband, Matt, is chairman of the BNSF Railway and became involved in raising $28 million for the project. He eventually acquired 61 acres of land and helped the group build a freestanding community of 96 apartments, a general store, and a clothing boutique, between Dallas and Fort Worth. The Gatehouse opened in 2015. In addition to Lisa and Matt Rose, other major endowers of the program were Mark and April Anthony and the Walton Family Foundation. Large contributions were also provided by the Rees-Jones, Sid Richardson, Amon Carter, Mabee, and Washington foundations, and donors like the Perot, Rowling, Corman, and Albritton families.
Charles Spink was a St. Louis institution. He was publisher of the locally based Sporting News, a national weekly considered the “bible” of baseball reporting, and his wife Edie was mayor for 20 years of the inner suburb of Ladue where they lived. The couple had a passion for collecting Asian art, which they focused on in considerable measure because it was an area where their city’s art museum was weak. Charles and Edie consulted with the St. Louis Art Museum throughout the time they collected, and loaned many pieces to the gallery as they purchased them. When Edie died, the 215 pieces she and her husband had accumulated—ceramics, jade, metalwork, works in lacquer, wood, and glass, with one jade piece being 5,000 years old—were bequeathed by the couple to their local museum.
In addition, the Spinks gave their hometown 10 paintings by American artists. These include a Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, four Wyeth watercolors, and two works by Norman Rockwell: “Thanksgiving” and “Hot Stove League.” The cumulative value of the Spink donation to their community was conservatively estimated at $50 million.
Despite the enormous amount of money sloshing through Silicon Valley, and the high-profile giving of families like the Packards, Hewletts, and Moores, our tech heartland has traditionally been a comparatively low-donating area. Until just the last few years, the community foundation covering Silicon Valley (San Mateo and Santa Clara counties) trailed well behind community foundations in places like Tulsa and Kansas City in total benefactions. That began to change in recent years, and by 2014 the Silicon Valley Community Foundation became the largest in the nation.
Most of the SVCF’s recent expansion is thanks to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. In 2012 they placed in their donor-advised fund 18 million Facebook shares that were then valued at $500 million, and worth about a billion dollars a year later. Late in 2013 they gave another 18 million shares. The $100 million the couple had earlier pledged to Newark school reform was also channeled through the foundation, pushing their total personal boost to foundation assets to more than $2 billion. There have been a few other megadonors to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation as well, like former eBay head Jeff Skoll, who has given about $500 million. GoPro founder Nick Woodman and his wife, Jill, gave another to the SVCF when they donated shares worth $500 million in late 2014.
Of course most giving in Silicon Valley, as everywhere else in America, is made through direct donations, not through any community-foundation structure. Whatever form the donating takes, though, there is clear evidence that typical residents of Silicon Valley give far less to charity, especially on an income-adjusted basis, than Americans in most other places. (See “Who Gives Most to Charity” near the end of this book.)
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is also a less home-oriented version than most counterparts across the nation, with a comparatively high proportion of its funds being directed to national or international causes. Nonetheless, a slight majority of its spending is done in the counties where it is based. It funnels about 40 percent of its grants into education. Health care, economic security, and immigrant integration are other significant priorities.
In March of 2013, health-care entrepreneur Donald Rubin and his wife, Shelley, donated $500,000 to the Bronx Museum of the Arts to expand and extend its free admission policy. In May, the couple gave another $500,000 to the Queens Museum of Art. And in September they presented $300,000 to the Socrates Sculpture Park, hard by Manhattan’s Upper East Side—except that it’s on the opposite shore of the East River, in Queens, on a former landfill site. “I haven’t seen anybody else do this ‘we-believe-in-the-rest-of-the-city’ tour,” said Queens Museum of Art director Tom Finkelpearl. “They’re definitely not cookie-cutter philanthropists.”
The Rubins do have some counterparts, however. For instance, Alan and Stuart Suna, brothers who co-own the TV production facility in Queens where shows like “The Sopranos” were shot. They have been loyal donors to museums, parks, and theaters in their unglamorous borough. “We’re Queens guys,” Alan told the New York Times. “Our business is in Queens, and Queens is always getting short shrift, so we’re there to help.”
Compared to Manhattan, four times as many New Yorkers live in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
This is a test of Local Achievements
David Gundlach founded a company that provided insurance directly to consumers, by phone and online, way back in 1997 when that was rare. The company thrived, and he sold it in 2006 for $260 million. But Gundlach was walking proof that money can’t buy you happiness, or purpose, or belonging.
Acquaintances say Gundlach was socially awkward, argumentative, and unaware of how he could grate on others. Even as a boy, people avoided him because of his lack of tact, and as an adult he ended up spending most of his time alone, except for eating dinner every night for ten years with the computer programmer he hired to help launch his company. Hoping to maximize the amount of time he could work, Gundlach stopped doing laundry and instead bought new shirts, pants and underwear every week. When he threw a big party for his hundreds of employees at the time of the company’s sale, almost no one came.
Gundlach tried the pleasures of consumption. He bought 11 exotic homes, a Citation jet, and many luxury cars. Still he made no friends. Still he felt no meaning.
His mother continued to live in the town where he had grown up—Elkhart, Indiana—and he was devoted to her. During his visits he found that “when I’m around people from Elkhart I like myself better.” Elkhart is an old manufacturing center that has produced many successful companies and wealthy men over the years. And as in many other tightknit cities there is an informal code of responsibility: when you get wealthy you put in volunteer hours and donate money to make your community better. One local business titan who impressed Gundlach was Art Decio, who made millions building RVs, then gave generously to his region, sparking much admiration.
But Elkhart crashed hard in the 2009 recession, with unemployment spiking to 20.3 percent, the highest in the nation. The city council had to pass a law limiting residents to one garage sale per month. During one of his visits to his mother right about then, Gundlach told the president of the Elkhart County Community Foundation that he was going to leave money “to do good in my home town.”
In 2011, David Gundlach died quite unexpectedly in Malibu, California, of a heart attack at age 56. Elkhart residents were shocked to learn that his will transferred almost all of his assets—about $150 million—to their community foundation. That yielded a sixteen-fold increase in its discretionary endowment and giving, which, as foundation president Pete McCown put it, “will write a different future for Elkhart County.”
Though he had no true friends in Elkhart, or anywhere, the local man who knew Gundlach best summarized his gift this way: “I think it is a great example for people. That we are all limited. But we can transcend that, and be good.”
The Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival, which unfolds during summers in the small city of Auburn in the heart of New York state, is one of the largest musical-theater producing organizations in the country, serving 60,000 patrons in just its third year. It grew out of the success of the local Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, which had expanded into a $5 million summer operation with a companion youth-theater program that serves 125,000 students during the school year. The festival operated at three area theaters in its first years, providing Broadway, off-Broadway, and experimental shows in appropriate venues.
Creation of the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival has been fueled by millions of dollars of support from the local Emerson, Stardust, Schwartz Family, and Allyn foundations, along with individual donors. With a mission of using the arts to generate economic growth across the region, the festival and its philanthropic backers have long-term plans to build an additional theater in the heart of Auburn, and to collaborate with the local community college in expanding theater education for students. The festival is already collaborating with the many local wineries and hospitality businesses across the scenic Finger Lakes region to expand cultural tourism.
Leslie Wexner lived the immigrant dream. Born in Dayton of Russian parents, he majored in business at Ohio State University. He continued on to law school before deciding business was much more interesting. He dropped out, got a $5,000 loan from an aunt, and started a young women’s sportswear store in 1963. It eventually grew into Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, and other popular companies.
Wexner believed Ohio State University had a lot to do with his success. “Attending this university changed my life,” he said flatly. He made his first donation, $5, three years after getting his degree. In 1989, he gave $25 million to create the Wexner Center, a “research laboratory for all the arts” that university president Gordon Gee called “one of the crown jewels of Ohio State.” Wexner subsequently gave the center $50 million more, plus a $42 million Picasso painting.
In 2011, the Wexners pledged $100 million to expand Ohio State’s hospital, which serves a wide region while also training doctors (and where all four of the Wexner children were born). That brought the family’s total giving to the university to $200 million. Wexner also put in 16 years of service on the school’s board of trustees, while his wife was active on the medical-center board.
With the aim of encouraging cooperation between school districts and charter schools for the good of local children, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $25 million investment in seven lead cities in 2012. Their “Collaboration Compacts” require operators of different kinds of schools, local leaders, and community members to hammer out citywide agreements for sharing ideas, buildings, teacher training, school sign-up websites, assessment tests, and other resources between conventional district schools and charter schools. The Compacts in Philadelphia and Boston also fold the Catholic archdiocese schools into the mix.
The highest aim of the Compacts is to make it easy for families to find good options in their neighborhood. The idea is that authorities shouldn’t care what sector a child gets instructed in, so long as the youngster and his family are well served. In addition to the seven cities that divided this $25 million grant, Gates is offering financial support and leadership in other cities to encourage additional experimentation with Compacts.
When Alice Dittman was president of Cornhusker Bank, she often found herself wishing she could give out more loans than she did. Sometimes the business idea looked good, but the credit history wasn’t there. So in 2011, soon after she retired, she decided to start where her previous job had left off.
Dittman donated $1 million to start Alice’s Integrity Loan Fund, a microfinance program to help entrepreneurs, especially minorities and women, get their businesses started. Unlike with traditional loans, getting a loan from Alice’s Integrity starts with assessment of the moral character of the applicant. According to the official criteria, “Alice’s Integrity Loan Fund weights the criteria differently than a regular financial institution would—placing the greatest value on Character and minimizing the need for Capital. It is the fund’s intent to encourage responsible use of credit and work with borrowers who wish to honor their word and keep their reputation sound.”
Loans of up to $5,000 are given out at 3.25 percent fixed interest, for a maximum term of 36 months. If that is repaid, applications for $10,000 loans will be considered. The loans can be used only to start or expand a business. Recipients don’t just get money; they also receive mandatory training and mentoring from retired executives and the Nebraska Business Development Center. Unlike some of the more famously successful microfinance initiatives, which tended to be international, Dittman’s effort is entirely local—only residents of Lancaster County, Nebraska are eligible.
Jessie duPont’s foundation, located in Florida, hadn’t devoted much energy to neighboring Alabama until more than 60 tornadoes struck the state on a single day in 2011, killing 248 people and devastating a 1,100-mile-long, 20-mile-wide stretch of property. Americans always respond generously to disasters, and the initial outpouring from individuals and foundations had been strong. But after the crisis passed, the tough work of rebuilding remained. That was when the duPont Fund stepped in with helpful strategy and smart grantmaking.
On her death in 1970, duPont left behind the $42 million Jessie Ball duPont Religious, Charitable, and Educational Fund. Investment growth brought its assets to more than $250 million, allowing it to distribute $12-18 million a year to causes Mrs. duPont had backed for years. In the years leading up to the tornadoes, that included about $1 million of grants in Alabama for housing and education in rural areas, and to help jumpstart a community foundation serving the poorest communities of the state.
After surveying the tornado wreckage, duPont started a special fund focused exclusively on Alabama’s long-term recovery. It co-hosted a conference, 90 days after the storm, that mixed community leaders and non-local experts to plan solutions. Then it began to distribute support to scores of organizations to overcome specific sticking points. The fund became increasingly sophisticated, and eventually published a manual, “Creating Order from Chaos: Roles for Philanthropy in Disaster Planning and Response,” to help other donors give intelligently when they swoop in to assist after calamities.
Just a month after these southeastern storms, a smaller but even more intense tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people and destroying 4,000 homes in a town of 50,175 people. A massive outpouring of voluntary assistance was central to the immediate coping and long-term recovery of Joplin. At least 182,044 volunteers descended on the city from all over America, and over the next months and years they put in more than 1.5 million hours of service.
In the first weeks after the disaster, volunteers removed half of all of the storm debris (749 different groups organized by churches, colleges, and other sponsors pulled out 1.5 million cubic yards of mess). The Joplin YMCA provided free daycare for a year for survivors busy rebuilding. Habitat for Humanity quickly built 95 new homes at no charge. Samaritan’s Purse brought in 6,400 volunteers to tarp houses that lost their roofs, and otherwise protect the damaged property of low-income survivors. Local churches became focal points of the recovery.
The Margaret Cargill, Greater Kansas City Community, and Tulsa Community foundations supported families, offered legal assistance, and bought school supplies. Businesses like Walmart, Home Depot, Walgreens, Proctor & Gamble, Stanley, Chick-fil-A, and hundreds of others also made extraordinary contributions, donating millions to charitable groups, offering groups of employees as volunteers, providing crucial supplies, and rebuilding needed retail facilities on a crash basis. Local banks worked with customers to pause and restructure mortgage and loan payments.
Dick DeVos is a businessman and former member of the Michigan State Board of Education who is keen to give families choices in the schools their children attend. He is also a jet-rated pilot. He connected these interests by founding the West Michigan Aviation Academy as a public charter school. It opened in 2010 on the grounds of the Grand Rapids airport with 80 freshmen. By 2015 there were 500 students enrolled, with room to grow. Along with its college-prep curriculum WMAA offers several aviation-related tracks: flight, engineering, aviation maintenance, and aviation business. “We try to introduce an aviation concept into everything we teach,” explains DeVos. Reading or writing assignments may be connected to flying; math problems are often presented in terms of the practical realities of navigation.
“We’re in the process of acquiring a plane and offering full flight capabilities so that individuals could graduate with their pilot’s license if that’s their interest.” The school offers a gliding program during the summer. A number of retired pilots in Grand Rapids volunteer as flight instructors. There is a radio-controlled aircraft club.
As president of the board, DeVos was involved with the school on a daily basis, and he and his wife, Betsy, donated about $5 million to get it launched. WMAA is an example of the specialized schools the charter movement is making possible—there are schools that are arts oriented, trades based, sports focused, environmentally driven, that teach in two languages, that emphasize science instruction. This particular school’s combination of academics, character training, technical instruction, and hands-on opportunities in aviation exists in no other public or private school in the U.S.
Rick DeVos, grandson of the founder of Amway (and son of Dick and Betsy DeVos), wanted to boost the arts in western Michigan. He initially explored the idea of a film festival, but concluded his hometown would have nothing unique to offer in that crowded field. Instead, he settled on a more unorthodox idea: a citywide art contest.
Borrowing ideas from science contents that dangle cash prizes for the best inventions, DeVos established clear and simple rules, and put up two $200,000 top prizes (funded by donors). And he added his own twist by turning his entire city into the gallery. Entries would be displayed in public locations all across Grand Rapids—hotels, parks, coffee shops, schools, even the police station. Then he got really unconventional: Everyday people would be the judges, selecting winners by popular vote.
DeVos’s goal wasn’t high art, it was to build broad interest in creativity within his region. And he succeeded. Today more than 1,500 artists from all over the world enter pieces, and audiences participate eagerly, casting 380,000 votes in the latest year to select their favorite works. The contest attracts over 400,000 visitors—making it the single best-attended art event in the world. All of this in the 123rd largest city in the U.S.
Corporate sponsors and the DeVos family donate approximately two thirds of the festival’s annual cost of about $3.7 million.
“Bozeman is the Holy Grail of fly fishing.” So says Tom O’Connor of Warriors and Quiet Waters, a Montana-based charity that takes service-injured veterans on weeklong trips to learn the sport and spend time in nature. For many participants, the trip is a short vacation from an intensive and lengthy recovery at a military hospital. They are housed in a log cabin outside of town, fed by local “moms,” outfitted with all the gear they’ll need from the last remaining U.S. manufacturer of fishing clothing, taught and led by professional fishing guides, and joined in casting along blue-ribbon streams by local companions. As O’Connor explains, “We decided when we started that we were going to do this right.”
Since its inception in 2007, more than 470 servicemembers have gone through the program in groups of six. The progression remains the same with each cohort—initial apprehension followed by deep relaxation. So striking is the change from Day One to Day Six that O’Connor’s wife often “can tell by looking at the photos which day of the week it is.” Several attendees have enjoyed the program so much that they moved out to Bozeman to attend college at Montana State after completing their recovery.
The program has also added skiing and horseback programs. Remarkably, most of the donations that support each attendee (at a total cost of $4,300) come from small local donors—the million-dollar organization’s median donation is $110. It is broad support, not major wealth, that keeps Warriors and Quiet Waters in business. Speaking of one local supporter, O’Connor says, “I know I can count on a little old lady at the retirement home to send us $25 per month.”
The people served by the Rasmuson Foundation are different. Many reside in very small and isolated towns. Transportation is often poor, weather frequently fierce. Because they are thinly scattered across the Union’s largest state, it can be difficult to provide philanthropic services to Alaskans.
But these challenges have always defined Rasmuson’s work, so the foundation has gotten good at coping. Founded in 1955 with an initial $3,000 gift from Jenny Rasmuson, the foundation was created to honor her husband, a Swedish immigrant who built the Bank of Alaska into a powerful financial enterprise. When their son bequeathed the foundation much of his personal fortune of $400 million in 2000, the task became easier.
With assets of $650 million and annual grants of $22 million in 2014, Rasmuson has disbursed more than $280 million across its state since 1955. The foundation has a hand in most current philanthropy in Alaska, and pays particular attention to small things that can improve the quality of life for ordinary people. A prime example: dentistry. People with normal access to oral care forget how miserable life can become when a tooth erupts and a dentist is nowhere to be found.
In 2006, Rasmuson gave a $1 million grant to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to train special dental-health aides who live in or fly into remote Alaskan villages. The aides provide preventive and palliative care, and improve the oral health of people residing in areas that can’t keep a dentist in business. Rasmuson’s innovation has brought life-changing dental assistance to more than 35,000 rural Alaskans. Other funders have been inspired to export the resoundingly successful program to sufferers in different parts of the U.S.
With 288 separate councils operating across the country with a great deal of autonomy, most philanthropic support for the Boy Scouts of America is local support. There have been important national gifts, like the donation by oil man and philanthropist Waite Phillips of 125,000 acres of mountain range in New Mexico to create the beloved Philmont Scout Ranch (see the 1938 entry on the Nature achievements list). Also the donations by Stephen Bechtel and others that recently carved out a counterpart high-adventure wilderness property in West Virginia (see 2013 Nature entry). But the lifeblood of Scouting is community giving.
This starts with volunteers: Nearly one million adults volunteered in local councils across the U.S. in 2015, with the average volunteer giving his Scout unit hundreds of hours of time per year. Millions more Americans wrote checks to their local Scout council. And it isn’t just the legions of small donors who focus on their home communities; major donors frequently also funnel gifts to localities they have special connections to. Ed and Jeanne Arnold, for instance, who had been loyal contributors to the BSA initiatives (giving $10 million, for instance, to help troops across the country attract more Hispanic boys into Scouting), donated $1 million in 2006 to bolster Boy Scout councils in three specific areas where they have family roots: Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Parkersburg, West Virginia; and Phoenix, Arizona.
A local Scouting experience has been important to many boys and men. Fully 181 U.S. astronauts were Scouts, including 11 of the 12 who walked on the moon. Six U.S. Presidents were Scouts, as were 18 sitting governors as of 2014, and 191 members of the 113th Congress. More than a third of the cadets at West Point have been involved in Scouting, and one out of six were Eagle Scouts.
Rhode Island resident Bill Daugherty was wealthy by the age of 40. While in business school he came up with an idea for an online media and search company, then built it and sold it for $500 million. He started looking around his small state for ways to use his money philanthropically. He didn’t just want to write checks or sit in board meetings—as a successful business owner he had more to offer than money, and he wanted to get involved.
At last, in 2005, a neighbor introduced him to a social entrepreneur who thought the same way. Dennis Littky was co-founder of the Met Schools in Providence, an alternative academic program oriented toward career and technical skills, funded by CVS Pharmacy founder Stanley Goldstein. Littky’s schools were built on the latest research about how kids learn, but he was missing something he wanted: an entrepreneurial element to the curriculum. The two men connected, and Daugherty designed a new program for the schools called Entrepreneurship 360.
The program gave students an inside look at how to start a business. Daugherty did more than create it and fund it—he spent two mornings a week mentoring the students, in keeping with the Met Schools’ philosophy that adult nurturing is crucial to child development. The program led to successful businesses started by kids graduating from high school, and a freestanding Center for Entrepreneurship on the school campus in Providence, the only standalone business incubator for high-school students in the country. The Entrepreneurship 360 curriculum remains an integral part of the Met coursework, now taught in their six Rhode Island high schools and exported to 36 other alternative schools in 16 cities nationwide.
Rex Sinquefield had taken himself from a Missouri orphanage in 1951 to leadership of a major investment firm in 1981. He developed some of the first index funds, and his company, Dimensional Fund Advisors, managed $376 billion in assets as of 2015. Throughout his rise, Sinquefield remained intensely interested in his home state—where he retired in 2005. He became active in Missouri politics, and he and his wife, Jeanne, operated the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. With Jeanne being a musician (string bass) and a firm believer in the value of the arts to education, they began funding the University of Missouri’s School of Music.
An annual $50,000 in Sinquefield funding started a project called Creating Original Music. It was a program of camps and competitions for a variety of ages that promoted composition of new music statewide. In 2009, an additional $1 million gift started a spinoff project, the Mizzou New Music Initiative. This incubated the composition and performance of new music via scholarships, a summer music festival, an annual prize, a new-music ensemble, and more. And in 2015 the Sinquefields donated $10 million to construct a new building for the School of Music. The Mizzou New Music Initiative is “intended to position the University of Missouri School of Music as a leading center in the areas of composition and new music.”
James Cade was a creator. Best-known for Gatorade, he also invented the first shock-dissipating football helmet, a diet-changing method for treating autism, and many other things. On the side, he was a poet, writer, and art collector.
He was also a loyal Floridian. The professor of medicine at the University of Florida named his legendary sports drink after the Florida Gators, its first major users. When he turned to philanthropy, Florida was also his center of attention. He and his wife, Mary, helped found the Community Foundation of North Central Florida, and funded the Fisher House in Gainesville for the families of wounded veterans.
When Cade became concerned about America’s declining performance in science and math, he decided to give the Gainesville area an organization that would help redraw the link between technical skills and creative abundance. In 2004, three years before his death, he and his family created the Cade Museum Foundation with an endowment to cover most operating costs of a museum dedicated to promoting creativity. Exhibits were planned. A temporary facility was created for school visits and other purposes. Fundraising is now under way for costs of a dramatic $9 million building to be erected in Gainesville’s central park.
As they glide into Washington’s Dulles Airport, air travelers pass an enormous hangar complex. Beneath its gently curved roof lies one of the world’s greatest collections of aviation treasures. The man who built that complex is a Hungarian immigrant to the U.S. named Steven Udvar-Hazy. In 1973 he co-founded a company that purchases aircraft and leases them to commercial carriers. His firm eventually owned 1,000 planes and counted most of the world’s major airlines among its customers.
As Udvar-Hazy was growing his business, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum had a growth problem of its own. Its facility on Washington’s National Mall could not accommodate its fast-expanding collection. Udvar-Hazy stepped forward with a $65 million gift to build a museum annex adjacent to Dulles Airport, where aircraft joining the collection, even very large specimens, could simply be flown in and taxied over to the exhibition space, saving millions of dollars that would otherwise have to be spent on disassembling, trucking, and reassembling large display craft. The largest construction project in Smithsonian history, the Udvar-Hazy Center is also the only Smithsonian facility to be constructed entirely with private funds.
Opened in 2003, the Udvar-Hazy Center quickly became the most visited museum in Virginia, hosting more than a million guests every year. It is home to hundreds of important artifacts, including the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; space shuttle Discovery; a Gemini capsule; a Concorde; an SR-71 Blackbird; the prototype for the first commercially successful jetliner, the Boeing 707; a Dassault Falcon that was FedEx’s first jet; and the GlobalFlyer, the first craft to circumnavigate the world nonstop without refueling. Multimedia offerings and a tower from which visitors can observe movements at Dulles and learn about air traffic control complement the collection. Says Udvar-Hazy: “I know this museum will impart to millions of children the same love for aviation that I have.”
The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship has been showing high schoolers how to lift themselves out of poverty by creating their own businesses since 1987. But the organization added a new twist when its Washington, D.C., branch started getting real business owners involved. Successful entrepreneurs in the area were asked to adopt a class. This meant providing the $10,000 in funding it took to put a typical group of 20 to 30 students through a semester of training on how to start a businesses, including supplies, field trips, and cash prizes for actually launching an enterprise. It also required the business owners to provide mentorship—meeting with their adopted class to provide real-world perspective and help the students refine their business ideas. Twelve D.C.-area entrepreneurs took on the challenge in the program’s first year, critiquing business plans, coaching students on how to manage employees, and providing the kind of practical guidance that only people who have done something themselves can offer.
The innovation in D.C. was such a success that it was quickly expanded to other cities. NFTE has now helped more than 500,000 students from low-income communities understand the demands and satisfactions of business creation. (See 1987 entry on our companion list of philanthropic achievements encouraging Prosperity.)
Spencer Penrose went west in 1892 to seek his fortune, and found it in copper mines, then went on to build important institutions across his adopted home state of Colorado, like the Broadmoor hotel and the Pikes Peak highway. Upon their deaths, he and his wife, Julie, left most of their money to the Colorado Springs foundation they established to benefit their region, known as El Pomar. By 2003, the foundation’s endowment had grown to over $500 million.
At that point, the El Pomar board established a major new mechanism to draw on local knowledge and make sure that their grants included priorities important to each of the communities across their state. They divided their state into sub-regions (currently 11 in number), and created in each one a council of local community leaders. Every regional council includes one member of the El Pomar board, plus residents from the locality: businessmen, college presidents, elected officials, newspaper publishers, nonprofit leaders, and so forth. Each regional board has the authority to distribute a few hundred thousand dollars of grants themselves, in addition to advising the mother foundation on what in their area would be most useful to support on a larger scale.
The councils allow a better sense of what Colorado’s counties and smaller towns need to improve their quality of life. They help El Pomar identify the best operators and innovators, particularly in rural areas that might otherwise get overlooked. And they encourage the transfer of good ideas from one place to another. As of 2014, the regional councils had helped El Pomar distribute $10 million of highly focused aid.
There aren’t enough medical specialists available to treat some illnesses, particularly in rural areas. Telemedicine, however, allows primary physicians and nurses in more remote locations to bring in specialists to consult with their patients via video. In a state like New Mexico—with a population of 2 million spread over 120,000 square miles, and just one academic health center to serve them all—this offers big enhancements of basic primary care.
Project ECHO is a philanthropically supported telemedicine initiative that aims to radically and inexpensively expand the availability of expert care to rural New Mexicans. The mechanism is simple: Local family doctors join weekly videoconferences with a panel of specialists, where they present their patients’ cases and receive advice on what treatments to pursue.
The program began with a focus on improving care for hepatitis C, a serious health problem in New Mexico. It has since developed a capacity to address many chronic conditions. The latest addition is mental-health services offered by video link, with major support from the GE Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Donald Reynolds Foundation has made some high-profile national gifts like the one to Washington’s National Portrait Gallery that created the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, and the $38 million grant to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association that spurred creation of a great library devoted to the study of George Washington at his Mount Vernon estate. The foundation has longstanding interests in health care, journalism, and Nevada colleges that reflect its founder’s passions.
But it has also put a special emphasis on serving its home region. A deep and innovative effort to improve local food banks has been an important part of this. Unlike much charitable food support, Reynolds’s efforts were focused on helping groups get their supplies to people who most need it via improved distribution. Its 2002 Charitable Food Distribution Initiative awarded grants to food banks in Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arkansas (the three states where Reynolds made most of his money in the newspaper business) so they could plan and build better distribution networks. The foundation then launched further efforts to make these food banks more efficient. The initiative granted a total of $69 million over a decade, much of it to build new or expanded facilities for more effective distribution to families whose access to food is “insecure.”
Andre Agassi grew up in Las Vegas, spending the first 15 years of his life there before heading to a tennis academy in Florida to begin one of the most storied careers in professional tennis. But his heart never left home. At age 24, in the meaty middle of his playing career, Agassi formed a foundation with the aim of helping underprivileged kids in his hometown. After briefly running an after-school program, it founded a Boys & Girls club, and the following year built a shelter and educational center for abused children. “But then a light bulb went off,” Agassi explains. “We realized we were sticking band-aids on real issues.”
Agassi decided that to help kids lastingly, they needed education. So he built his own charter school and focused his foundation on its success. He planted his flag in West Las Vegas, the city’s most depressed neighborhood, about nine miles from the glitzy Strip. The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy opened in 2001 and now spans grades K-12, with more than 1,100 students. Their campus was built with $40 million of private money raised by Agassi. Tuition at the charter school is free, and students are chosen by lottery (though Agassi convinced regulators to allow him to give admissions preference to children who live within a two-mile radius of the school). School days are two hours longer than at other Las Vegas public schools, and the school year is ten days longer. There is no tenure for teachers. The school is centered on Agassi’s detailed “code of respect.”
Thomas Frist Sr. was a founder of modern hospital systems. He and his son built the Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America, which numbered 165 hospitals and 115 surgery centers as of 2015. They also built a charitable arm which became known as the Frist Foundation in 1997. It is dedicated to improving the quality of life in Nashville, with a particular interest in funding the visual arts.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts opened in 2001 with 24,000 feet of space in the city’s old central post office. Rather than having a permanent collection, the center was built to host visiting exhibitions, which flow through the building every couple months, on average. Much of the $10 million granted annually by the Frist Foundation is operating support for this Visual Arts center. The foundation’s other priority in Nashville has been to build up the charitable infrastructure. It has created and sustained a community foundation, a volunteer center, management consulting services for local nonprofits, and annual grants to nonprofits to improve their technology.
The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte has a tricky mission: to faithfully tell the story of the American Southeast since 1865. It’s a period that brought the region Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil-rights movement, an economic boom, waves of northern and then international immigration, and tumultuous change. The museum opened in its 40,000-square-foot space in the city’s recently revitalized First Ward in 2001, with a permanent exhibition called “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South,” plus a range of special exhibitions. This and subsequent enhancements were made possible by $5 million of support from Leon Levine, who opened a store called Family Dollar in Charlotte in 1959 and expanded it into a company with 7,600 outlets in 45 states.
“We want to help build the quality of life here,” Levine says of his hometown of Charlotte. Levine tells us that in his philanthropy as in his businesses, he has sought to provide useful services and fill gaps in people’s lives. Selling household items at low cost allowed families to have things they might not otherwise be able to afford. The museum has gone beyond recording the region’s history and attempted to strengthen its surrounding community by hosting educational events tied to important current issues—like a discussion of problems in the city’s education system, and a bus tour of Charlotte’s neighborhoods.
After selling his company Netscape, Jim Barksdale and his wife, Sally, gave the largest gift ever to improve literacy—$100 million—to start the Barksdale Reading Institute in 2000 in the state of Mississippi, where 700,000 adults couldn’t read at a high-school level. The institute works with public schools and universities to improve teaching of reading and increase the literacy levels of Mississippi students in grades K-3. Finding cost-efficient progress elusive within conventional schools, the BRI in 2010 added a “principal project” which places new highly qualified principals in chronically underperforming schools, giving them wide authority over personnel, curriculum, discipline, grading, etc., and a mandate to improve reading instruction with special teaching and testing. Barksdale’s latest gift, creating the Mississippi Principal Corps at the University of Mississippi, builds upon this approach by producing an annual cohort of specially trained reform-minded principals. A 2012 gift by the Robert Hearin Support Foundation reinforced the program.
Darla Moore was the highest-paid woman in banking. Then she married multimillionaire investor Richard Rainwater in 1991. Working together, they tripled his fortune to $1.5 billion by 1998.
That same year, Moore gave $25 million to her alma mater, the University of South Carolina (which renamed its business school after her). That gift was followed by an additional $45 million to the Moore School of Business in 2004, and $5 million to the school’s aerospace center. She also gave $10 million to Clemson University in her father’s name, and founded the Charleston Parks Conservancy and the Palmetto Institute (a think tank focused on expanding the state economy).
The pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, William Barnes, asked his congregation to create a volunteer medical clinic to serve immigrants, itinerant agricultural workers, homeless persons, seasonal tourism employees lacking health insurance, and other needy locals. Within six months, the church had opened a clinic where volunteer doctors, nurses, and helpers were seeing patients at no charge. Central Floridians began to drive long distances to visit Shepherd’s Hope, so other churches joined as partners, and in 2015 there were five Shepherd’s Hope clinics operating in greater Orlando, seeing low-income patients from one to four days per week.
Every clinic relies on three sponsors. Churches are the primary providers of volunteer doctors, nurses, therapists, and other assisting persons, who are motivated to serve by their faith commitment. The church also is expected to provide an advisory committee to oversee the center, to appoint a volunteer director and fill other positions, and to supply several thousand dollars for expenses. A facility partner provides space in a building. And a hospital partner offers donated pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tests, and other specialty services. When uninsured persons get sick they often show up at emergency rooms which are expensive to operate, so hospitals have economic as well as humanitarian incentives to assist Shepherd’s Hope.
The other crucial support to these clinics is philanthropic donations. The Dr. Phillips, Edyth Bush, Robert Wood Johnson, Magruder, Friends, Komen, and Eckerd Family foundations were crucial in the early years of setting up the clinics. The organization gets no direct government funding. The state removed a crucial obstacle to the clinics’ success, however, by passing a law that grants immunity from malpractice suits to any health-care professional who volunteers in a program serving low-income patients. Shepherd’s Hope has provided more than 160,000 free medical consultations since opening.
Students can get a refreshing lesson in free enterprise at, of all places, the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas. The man who built the Dr Pepper brand after starting his career driving trucks had a dream of educating the public on the many creative nuances and social benefits of creating a successful business. He proposed to do this by using soft drinks—the embodiment of an industry built on fun and fancy rather than necessity—as a model. In 1997, the museum created the W. W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute to bring his dream to life.
“Advertising and Marketing Kid Style” is one of three day-long programs put on for Texas school children by the Clements Institute. Students first tour the museum’s exhibits—which include a replica of an old corner drugstore and a section of bottling equipment—to get acquainted with the principal product and the soft-drink industry in general. Then they get a crash course in entrepreneurship, with hands-on training that leads them to create their own product, logo, and marketing campaign, including a video commercial. Staff members judge the finished products and marketing materials. This gives students a taste of market competition and of the hard work it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Starting in the 1950s, the city of Hartford slowly tumbled from being one of the wealthiest cities in America to becoming one of the poorest. The city hit bottom in the mid-1990s when several key industries closed, moved, or cut staff. The population was shrinking and crime was roaring. Hartford’s leading citizens and organizations decided to act.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving began advocating for a plan to develop the city’s neglected riverfront and make it a centerpiece of revitalization. The foundation provided $1 million over four years to fuel the effort. Individual donors, businesses, and governments then joined in.
Meanwhile, the president of Hartford’s Trinity College, Evan Dobelle, decided to fight the deterioration of the neighborhood around his college. In 1996, he announced a $175 million initiative with investment from the college endowment to encourage more owner-occupied housing, and to improve schools, nonprofits, and performing arts in the area. The Kellogg Foundation and others added funding. Dobelle would go on to champion similar investments by nonprofit universities aimed at shoring up single-family living in college towns across New England.
By 1998, almost 500,000 people a year were frequenting Hartford’s riverfront. $1.5 billion in further investment was being directed into the area. Hartford was on its way to being a liveable city again.
Beneath its sometimes rude exterior, New York City is actually a generous town. A study by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy concludes that, adjusted in the center’s own way for the cost of living, high-income households in the New York metropolitan area give more to charity than in any other city—on average, nearly 9 percent of their disposable income. This dates way back. For instance, when a collection of businessmen decided after the Civil War that the city needed to add some polish to its industrial vigor, they quickly provided funds for what became the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, local cultural institutions supported by philanthropic giving are some of the most important elements in making New York what it is.
What happens, though, when it’s not a museum that needs help, but the culture of the city itself? By the end of the 1970s, New York City was broke, the Bronx was burning, crime and drug abuse were spiking, essential agencies seemed ungovernable, and racial tension was literally murderous. Dystopia lurked around every corner.
Once again, private philanthropy stepped in. Nonprofit “business improvement districts” were created to provide basic street services where the city government was falling down. Philanthropically supported research organizations like the Manhattan Institute spewed new ideas on how to tame and revive the metropolis. Donor-funded researchers like Charles Murray, Lawrence Mead, the Working Seminar on Poverty, and others churned out fresh ideas that, within a decade, led to new laws undoing the excesses of what Bill Clinton criticized as “welfare as we know it.”
Idea-based philanthropy similarly helped spread the “broken-windows” understanding that tolerating petty offenses and visual blight will quickly lead to bigger crimes. Acting on this new insight eventually pushed New York City crime down to less than a fifth of its 1990 peak. As urban war zones stopped smoking, Habitat for Humanity and other housing charities built blocks and blocks of single-family homes ringed by carefully tended lawns in places like the Bronx, where just a few years before, arson-scorched empty towers had seemed likely to molder forever.
As the gravest emergencies were gradually solved, smart philanthropists improved other aspects of the city’s quality of life, often by challenging prevailing assumptions. Richard Gilder and allied donors (capped by a $100 million gift from John Paulson) formed the privately funded Central Park Conservancy to resuscitate the worn fields, dangerous thickets, and dilapidated structures of the city’s crown jewel open space. Stephen Schwarzman led a rehabilitation of the New York Public Library, Roger Hertog revived the New York Historical Society, and David Koch and cadres of other donors revitalized important institutions like Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum. Robert Rosenkranz established a brainy live debate series in the city called “Intelligence Squared.” Another group of donors created the High Line, which attracts 4.4 million annual visitors and is estimated to have sparked $2 billion of surrounding real-estate development. Sandy Weill, the Kraus family, and others funded an explosion of enhancements to the city’s hospitals.
A city where ugliness, dysfunction, and danger had become the norm was once again made livable. And private giving sparked many of the turnarounds.
Nicholas Pritzker came to America from Russia in 1881 at the age of 10. He taught himself English, got a law degree, and went into business. His sons built on the family holdings, and in 1957 they bought a hotel near Los Angeles—which they subsequently expanded into the Hyatt hotel chain. In addition to many national philanthropic achievements like the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Pritzkers have placed many philanthropic crowns on the head of their Chicago motherland.
In 1996, Robert Pritzker made a $60 million challenge grant that revitalized Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology. The family backed the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, the Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering at Illinois Tech, Pritzker College Prep charter school, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. The Pritzker Military Library, the A. N. Pritzker Elementary School, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, and other institutions are also their handiwork.
In 1962, when Fred Meijer was working in the grocery business started by his Dutch immigrant parents, he developed the concept of the retail superstore. Three decades later he was at the head of one of the largest private companies in America, with more than 200 huge outlets combining grocery and discount items. He was also by then a major philanthropist in his home region of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Even when his parents were pouring everything into their small business and had little spending money, Meijer remembered that his parents made art and culture experiences for their children a priority. “I had piano lessons, clarinet lessons, and violin lessons. I was encouraged to sing in choirs. No matter how hard up we were, things like that came as a part of life.” In 1995, Meijer gave the Grand Rapids public a gift of art in nature: the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. It is a high mix of 158 acres of horticultural and lakefront beauty with more than 100 pieces of large outdoor art created by prominent modern sculptors. The nonprofit attracts over 600,000 visitors annually. Thanks to Meijer’s gifts plus the contributions of 23,000 members from the surrounding community, it is comfortably endowed to provide years of rich programming organized by its 200 staff members and 800 volunteers.
Chef and entrepreneur David Lee floundered around for several years when he set out to help feed, and then employ, some of Seattle’s homeless. Then in 1994 he received a grant from the local Medina Foundation (which had been giving away about $4 million a year since its founding by philanthropist Norton Clapp in 1947) so that Lee could rebuild his kitchen. The efficient new setup allowed his nonprofit to begin to thrive as a working restaurant and catering service that employed the homeless. Soon, 60 percent of its operating budget was coming from sales and 90 percent of its trainees were employed after they graduated from the program (with 70 percent still employed a year later, both extraordinary rates for this population).
The program expanded over time. With funding from Medina, a café was started at Antioch College. Top chefs from all over Seattle began to donate their time. Today, FareStart trains 800 struggling individuals per year. In 2011 it launched an effort to bring its formula to organizations in other cities, and now dozens of similar nonprofit operations are loosely linked through its Catalyst Kitchens network.
Just a quarter of a mile from the tourist centers of Orlando, Florida, sat a squalid neighborhood plagued with drug problems and lousy schooling. Harris Rosen, who had made his fortune building and operating hotels in the area, decided to personally do something about this. He developed and funded a simple approach to improving the lives of local families.
First, Rosen created a string of good quality, small, home-based preschools across the neighborhood—by offering to renovate space in residents’ houses and provide all operating funds if they would become trained as teachers. All two-, three-, and four-year-old children in the low-income neighborhood may attend these schools free of charge. Then Rosen offered an incentive at the other end of the childhood spectrum: a full scholarship, including books and travel, for any neighborhood resident who graduated from high school and got accepted into a Florida two- or four-year public college or vocational program. Support was recruited from other philanthropies and civic groups in the neighborhood like the Tangelo Park Baptist Church, the local YMCA, and the area schools.
The results are impressive. The neighborhood’s elementary school has earned “A” ratings on the Florida standardized annual exam for five of the past seven years—one of only two or three low-income schools in the state to earn the top rating. High-school graduation rates, which were below 50 percent when the program started, are now close to 100 percent. More than half of neighborhood youngsters go to college. Crime rates are down, property values have tripled, and new families are moving into the neighborhood. As of 2015, Harris Rosen had injected $11 million of his money into improving Tangelo Park, and he continues to spend about $500,000 per year on his program.
After reading a newspaper report that just a few sections of New York City supplied 70 percent of the entire state’s criminals, Atlanta real-estate developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins asked Atlanta’s chief of police about his own city’s crime patterns. He learned that just two or three neighborhoods generated most of Atlanta’s offenses, the worst being East Lake, dominated by a government housing project in which 90 percent of the residents had been victims of a felony. “I decided right then,” Cousins told Philanthropy magazine, “East Lake was going to be our target.”
Cousins realized his years of quiet giving to anti-poverty causes must change to public engagement. We’d “given a lot of money,” he explained, “but we had not given ourselves.” Cousins and his family and friends started to work with local residents and a new city housing official on a plan to tear down the housing project and build mixed-income housing under the control of a new charity. It wasn’t easy to reach an agreement, but eventually the existing 650-unit project was replaced with a 542-apartment complex that leases half of its units at market rates and half for government housing vouchers. The new foundation in charge would have authority to change the dysfunctional culture of the old project—for instance, by requiring residents of working age to either work or enroll in a program that will help them find work, or else leave.
The foundation also took over the nearby East Lake Country Club, which had once been among the city’s finest but was nearly bankrupt by 1993. Cousins invested in the facility but required new members to donate $200,000 to the foundation overseeing the area housing upgrade. He also directed all future club profits to the foundation. Now the club hosts the PGA Tour Championship each year, buoying the neighborhood.
Cousins also built the Charles Drew Charter School to educate area children. It replaced the neighborhood’s disastrous elementary school.
A few numbers tell the story of East Lake’s transformation: violent crime dropped 95 percent. The fraction of adults on welfare tumbled from 59 percent to 5 percent. Where once only 5 percent of local fifth graders met state math standards, by 2007, 78 percent did, and 80 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded state reading standards. The median home value jumped from $46,000 in 1996 to $212,000 in 2004. One neighborhood activist says simply, “We tore down hell and built heaven.”
In 2009, the East Lake Foundation established a new nonprofit to spread the lessons of East Lake. Now known as Purpose Built Communities, it helps unfold similar efforts in other cities across the country.
Charles Koch is known for distilling the rules that make free markets work, and applying them to both his business endeavors and his philanthropy. He began this in his hometown of Wichita, where he became CEO of Koch Industries at age 32 and expanded the company 2,800-fold to $100 billion in revenues and 67,000 employees.
As he looked around Wichita in the late 1980s, Koch saw few people who knew how to run companies in ways that would both maximize their value and benefit American society. He decided to start a nonprofit that would teach young people those things.
He founded Youth Entrepreneurs with his wife, Liz, in 1991. It was open to any high-school students, but targeted at-risk youth. It started out as an eight-week program at Wichita High School North that was later expanded into a two-semester course. It teaches the basics of entrepreneurship through hands-on experience as well as classroom training. The students write business plans, are encouraged to use them to launch businesses, and get not only academic credit but chances to do internships at local businesses, to be mentored, to win scholarships, and get venture-capital funding. The program was offered in 41 high schools across Kansas and Missouri as of 2015.
The program graduates more than a thousand students every year. Compared to their peers, its alums demonstrate better business skills and are more likely to pursue higher education (by 58 percent to 32 percent).
In 1984, Bill Daniels read an article in the Denver newspaper about a fifth-grade class that couldn’t get funding to start a business. A successful cable-TV entrepreneur, Daniels decided there ought to be opportunities for young people to learn about money and business. Daniels decided to open a bank for children—a real bank, state-chartered, FDIC-insured, offering a full range of services.
It took a good deal of struggle to win over government regulators lacking Daniels’ vision. In 1987, though, he finally opened Denver’s Young Americans Bank. The world’s only institution of its sort, it only accepts new customers who are 21 and under, offering them savings and checking accounts, loans, credit cards, and ATM cards—as well as instruction in their optimal use, money management classes, classes on entrepreneurship, and financial summer camps. Since its creation, the bank has served 70,000 customers.
In 1990, Daniels added Young AmeriTowne to provide students with hands-on experience in business and civics. Today his nonprofit has four branches spread across Colorado that have given half a million young people practical instruction on the American economic system.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, established by the head of Johnson & Johnson, has a special interest in health care and is one of America’s largest foundations. Big national foundations rarely consider grants to small local projects, and when they do it is typically in a top-down fashion, recruiting locals to execute one of their national projects. But in 1987, RWJF inaugurated a new program, eventually known as Local Funding Partnerships, which gave grants in the $50,000–$500,000 range to local organizations who come with their own ideas on what problem to attack, and how to do it. “The best ideas for solving pressing community problems,” explains the foundation, “come from members of the communities themselves.” Local funders were required to provide a dollar-for-dollar match to each grant.
The program was instantly popular and highly competitive, with just 6 percent of the hundreds of annual proposals winning awards. Some sample projects that were funded: Preventing teen pregnancies among Hmong refugees in Minnesota (1988). Providing support services to frail elderly so they can remain in their homes in Maryland (1989). Creating dental care for people with AIDS in Texas (1992). A Los Angeles program to combat teenage obesity (1998). An effort to reduce emergency-room visits by homeless adults in Georgia (1999). A satellite clinic in Ohio for Amish children with rare genetic disorders (2002).
In addition to money, RWJF offered expertise and managerial guidance to its local grant winners. In 2013, the last annual meeting of the Local Funding Partnerships program was held. By then, pairing grants from a national donor with local ideas and local matching funding had become a philanthropic commonplace, and many of the experimental health interventions tried through the program were accepted practices.
A total of 369 grants in 49 states were given during the 25-year life of the Local Funding Partnerships program. A 2002 outside evaluation found that fully 75 percent of the experimental projects launched by the partnership turned into sustained and successful health-care programs.
His whole life long, Henry Segerstrom introduced himself as a farmer. His Swedish immigrant family had grown lima beans in Orange County in southern California near an area that some locals derisively called “goat hill,” with an eye to its stark lack of amenities. Even after the region became a heavily populated bedroom community for Los Angeles, Orange County was often thought of as a place devoid of services, entertainment, or any coherent “downtown.” Farmer Segerstrom changed all of that. He began by erecting, in the middle of his family’s agricultural spread, an early indoor mall that he called South Coast Plaza. He gradually grew it into today’s highest-grossing shopping center in the U.S.
The middle-class families who bought homes to raise their children in suburban Orange County now had a place they could buy things. But Segerstrom didn’t stop there. He realized they would also hunger for places they could walk with neighbors, enjoy the outdoors, and take in the arts. Eventually they would also want their own office towers, businesses, and other economic engines so they wouldn’t have to commute north to Los Angeles to earn their bread. So he went to work to create a new urban form, what some people have called an “edge city.”
He did this by adding a heavy dose of philanthropy to his keen real-estate-developer instincts. His first step was to donate land and money to build a little drama company with talented leaders into the South Coast Repertory Theater, which soon attracted enthusiastic audiences and drew acclaim as one of the finest institutions of its type. Then Segerstrom repeated that success on a larger scale—donating land and money in 1979 to create a large center that would host other performing arts: orchestras, dance companies, choruses, and Broadway shows. This ambitious cultural hub was built without a penny of public money.
Critics predicted doom for a music and dance mecca perched in a “suburban wasteland,” but it opened in 1986 and rapidly became the germ of a booming arts district. Fountains, plazas, and landscaping created beautiful spaces, and in 2006 the theater and performance auditorium were matched with a dramatic new adjoining Segerstrom Concert Hall. Henry Segerstrom picked Cesar Pelli to design that rippling-glass building, and donated valuable land plus $50 million to bring it into existence. Around 2019, the Orange County Museum of Art will become the next addition to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It too will spring up on Segerstrom-donated land, and be funded with donations from his family and many local donors who have rallied behind his lead to become patrons of the area’s public life.
Woven around these philanthropically generated art anchors are an attractive mix of gardens, restaurants, retail shops, manicured office towers, private condos and apartments, public art, and even a dramatic landscape installation by Isamu Noguchi. The mix of private and philanthropic development is seamless, highly successful, and quite unique compared to the ways cities have conventionally grown up.
What is now essentially Orange County’s downtown is not a clone of Los Angeles. It remains low-key, leafy, easy to park, not-entirely-urban. Yet it is rich in visual beauty and artistic and commercial choices. And it is booming as its own independent economy. It’s an urban village of an unusual and distinctly American type, wrested into being by an entrepreneurial philanthropic vision.
William and Maude McKnight established the McKnight Foundation in 1953, after William had helped build the 3M Company. As the foundation has grown into one of the largest in the country, with more than $2 billion in assets, it has remained focused on its own state of Minnesota. And in the mid-1980s the McKnight Foundation became even more rooted when under the leadership of the founders’ daughter Virginia McKnight Binger it decided to take a strongly community-based approach to philanthropy.
As the state economy underwent major changes, the McKnight team believed decisions needed to be better informed by residents closest to local needs. The foundation particularly wanted to improve the quality and quantity of rural philanthropy beyond the state’s dominant Minneapolis-St. Paul core. So in 1986, the McKnight Foundation launched six independent regional foundations ranged across the 80 counties of its state.
Each foundation focuses on improvement and growth of its particular region, and its priorities in areas like economic development, education, community building, and families, youth, and seniors are set by leaders living in those regions. To date, the McKnight Foundation has invested $237 million in these foundations to help them carry out their local priorities. These so-called Minnesota Initiative Foundations function as regional spark plugs—a blend of economic development corporation and community foundation, and are nationally recognized for the strength and impact of their work.
Gabriel Homes, a nonprofit launched by Catholics in northern Virginia, was a pioneer in helping people with mental disabilities. It was started by local residents who saw appropriate housing as the most pressing need in accommodating mentally disabled persons in their community. The organization opened its first group home in 1985, housing several developmentally disabled adults in ways that allowed them chances for independence, for work, and for shared social life. The costs of the residents’ medical care remained a problem, however, until the Arlington Health Foundation (a local trust with $350 million in assets) made a 1998 grant that allowed Gabriel Homes to hire three part-time health-care staff. By 2008, Gabriel Homes had expanded to seven homes, the number it maintains today.
“Do things that will promote the well-being of the citizens of the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky. Kentucky has long been thought of as a backward state and projects which the Trustees should undertake are those which will correct this impression, so that Kentucky and Louisville will be recognized nationally.”
That was the gist of the directive that lumberman and real-estate developer James Graham Brown left for his foundation before he died as the richest man in Kentucky. His trust has followed through. Hardly a major project has been completed in Louisville over the past half century without the foundation’s involvement. It helped create the Louisville Zoo, Louisville Waterfront Park, the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville, and the Kentucky Derby Museum. It has funded many improvements to local universities, including a current program that supports ten students every year at the University of Louisville or Centre College in the hope of making them “lifelong ambassadors” for the region.
The Louisville area is now thriving, with more than a million residents, growing industries, and booming tourism. The James Graham Brown Foundation remains the largest philanthropy in the state, and has awarded more than 3,000 grants totaling over half a billion dollars.
The Morehead-Cain Scholarship is a prestigious merit-based award that attracts top students to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by paying not only all tuition and board, but also all supplies and expenses, plus a generous stipend for travel or study every summer. It was created by the Morehead Foundation in 1951, and renewed by the Cain Foundation in 2007 with a fresh $100 million endowment. Its alumni include many high achievers.
In 2009, Charlotte philanthropist Leon Levine, founder of the Family Dollar stores, decided to create a similar merit scholarship for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Like its model, the Levine Scholarship offers full tuition and board plus subsidized travel and internships. “But we put a little extra spice in ours,” notes Levine.
During one of their summers, the Levine scholars work in a local nonprofit. And then they are given $8,000 to start their own charitable project. Levine sees this as a triple win: Getting some philanthropic good done, and conditioning top students to think about charitable problem-solving. And to top it off, “by the time they graduate, we will have the potential of keeping them in Charlotte. That could be a bonus for the entire community.”
“It seems like every time Charlotte needs a pick-me-up, the Levines are there,” former mayor Anthony Foxx once told the New York Times.
In 1766, missionaries of the Moravians, a Protestant group mostly living in what is now the Czech Republic, arrived to establish a settlement in the North Carolina wilderness. The Moravians were a serious, religious, industrious, musical people, and they built a thriving community which became a center of trade and culture. It eventually spawned the current North Carolina city of Winston-Salem, which grew up around its original core.
Most of the city’s old Moravian center never got knocked down, and in 1950 a group of local volunteers and donors came together and decided to preserve the interesting wooden and brick architecture, the original church, the burial ground (where remains were interred separately by sex rather than in family units), the wooden bridge, and the many unusual gardens. The historic adjoining Salem Academy was included, a new museum of Southern decorative arts was created, and “living history” interpretation was launched to run period businesses like the tavern, bakery, and candy shop, and to demonstrate traditional crafts. Today the museum has more than 200 employees, thriving retail elements, a book publishing house, a research center, numerous gardens, and a bustling business renting its historic spaces for business and social events. The nonprofit is almost entirely privately funded—a combination of $8 million of its own annual revenue and about $2 million per year of individual contributions and foundation grants.
Crazy Horse famously refused to be photographed, and after he died in U.S. Army custody in 1877 his burial place was kept secret. So what would he make of a 560-foot-tall memorial to him and his people?
For 65 years, Thunderbird Mountain in the Black Hills has been slowly transforming into an epic tribute to the Lakota fighting chief. Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who cut his teeth as an assistant on nearby Mount Rushmore, began blasting away sections of the mountain in 1948. Ziolkowski continued the laborious work until his death in 1982. Since then his widow, Ruth, has directed the project with the help of seven of their ten children. In 1998, they completed Crazy Horse’s face. Since then they have been excavating his horse one high-explosive gouge at a time. “Go slowly so you do it right,” was Korczak’s parting wisdom to Ruth.
The nonprofit project—the world’s largest mountain carving—has been funded entirely by philanthropic gifts and admission fees. Ziolkowski turned down millions in government funds because of his commitment to “individual initiative and private enterprise,” according to the memorial’s foundation. It’s a good guess that Crazy Horse, a fellow skeptic of U.S. government involvement in people’s lives, would have approved.
Back before there was a state of Oklahoma, Lloyd Noble was born in the town of Ardmore, then part of the Chickasaw Nation. After stints teaching in rural schools and studying at the University of Oklahoma, he and a partner bought a drilling rig. In 1926 they struck gold—or its Sooner liquid equivalent—in the famed Seminole oil field. By the 1930s he was a very wealthy man.
It was Noble’s view that his home state’s long-term welfare depended more than anything else on healthy land—something that the Dust Bowl disasters showed should not be taken for granted. In 1945, he created the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation (named after his father) to help Oklahoma’s farmers be good stewards of their soil. While the foundation has funded universities and think tanks extensively, its most important work has always taken place within 100 miles of its home in Ardmore. The foundation employs agricultural consultants who work with more than 1,700 local farmers to provide them with research, information, and new techniques in agronomy, plant biology, and related subjects. Roughly a quarter of the foundation’s 360 employees have Ph.D.s, and it has led ambitious projects like the development of a new kind of sustainable perennial forage grass for livestock.
The Noble Foundation has also awarded more than $300 million in scholarships for young Oklahomans and grants to local charities, generally in ways that link back to the field of agriculture. Overall, the foundation has spent a billion dollars on its charitable activities, and been one of the best friends Oklahoma farmers and ranchers could ever have.
As a footnote (though to Sooner fans, football is anything but a footnote), Lloyd Noble is also the man who revived Oklahoma’s pigskin program in the mid-1940s. Once described as “the most charitable and influential regent Oklahoma University had ever seen,” his benefactions ranged from paying bonuses out of his own pocket to top-flight professors, to luring coach Bud Wilkinson to Norman.
Edmund Hayes owned small woodlands and sawmills in Oregon, and was a leader in finding newly efficient and effective ways to manage timberland. He started purchasing already-cut forestland and second-growth timber. “We Grow Trees” became his company motto at a time when replanting was thought to be nature’s responsibility. By the end of Hayes’s career, putting in seedlings after cutting timber had become routine, and loggers were learning to profit from second-growth cuttings on land they would often own themselves and manage to maximize multiple uses. Today, forestry science has gone even further in finding new value and efficiencies in woodlands management, including selective logging and multiple overlapping uses of the same acreage.
Hayes eventually became a board member of Weyerhaeuser lumber company and also one of the more generous philanthropists in Oregon. He was the first chair of the Keep Oregon Green Association, a pioneering forest-fire prevention nonprofit. He funded studies of early Oregon history, medical research, libraries, and churches.
After his death, his family endowed a Hayes professorship at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry that continues today to generate fresh ideas on “silviculture alternatives.” The latest Hayes professor is using insights from the new field of complexity science to better understand the confluences of hundreds of factors that allow a forest to thrive and produce timber, wildlife habitat, clean water, and other valuable goods all at the same time. Believing that “Oregon will always need diverse and productive forests and the wood products that come from them,” the Hayes family donors have emphasized the same mix of practicality and bold new ideas that characterized the philanthropic and business career of their father.
Eli Lilly made his fortune in pharmaceuticals, with a company he founded in 1876. In 1937, three members of his family, son J. K. Lilly and grandsons Eli and J. K. Jr., founded Lilly Endowment with gifts of stock in the company. The men were grateful to the region where their business had prospered, and their foundation has remained deeply committed to Indiana ever since, with about 70 percent of its annual grants staying in the state. Community development, education, and religion have been its major focuses.
The Lilly family believed that strong church communities were essential to a healthy society, and their foundation has consistently funded religious research, ministerial training, even specific congregations. In its secular funding there has been an emphasis on the infrastructure of civil society—everything from library restoration to vehicles for fire companies. Raising the educational level of Indianans has been a preoccupation of the endowment in recent years. Its efforts are a major reason that Indiana is currently considered one of the nation’s leading states in educational experimentation and reform.
The foundation has not shied away from general operating support grants, as many foundations do. And its longtime advocacy of self-sufficient communities has led the number of community foundations inside Indiana to grow from fewer than a dozen to more than 80. In 2014 the endowment’s assets totaled $10 billion and it disbursed $344 million.
Fred Kirby was one of the founders of the F. W. Woolworth Company (predecessor to today’s Foot Locker). He revolutionized retail in America, introducing affordable fixed pricing across his 96 stores, which he merged into Woolworth’s in 1911 to create one of the biggest retailers in the nation. He got involved in philanthropy in 1931 via his F. M. Kirby Foundation, which has since been a force for social good in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (as well as a supporter of national organizations that reinforce free enterprise and individual liberty). The foundation’s nearly half-billion dollars of grantmaking over the years has built up colleges like Lafayette, churches, homeless shelters, YMCAs, and medical research facilities across its region.
James Duke was entirely committed to concentrating his philanthropy in the area where he grew up and then made good. In 1874, when he was 18, his parents opened a small tobacco factory in Durham, North Carolina. The market was tough, and Duke eventually convinced his family to start larger-scale machine production to outproduce the competition. By the early 1900s, he had built a global tobacco empire. Then he turned his attention to the brand new and booming industry of rural electrification. He wanted to use the waterways of the western Carolinas to provide inexpensive hydropower that could attract industry and speed economic growth in his poor region. His business vision for the Carolinas had a philanthropic component itself, as he was determined to build his home region into something great.
In 1924, he took up philanthropy directly by starting the Duke Endowment. He tightly focused his foundation on specific areas. First was Methodism, which he credited with building the character and work ethic that made him successful. Duke stipulated that 12 percent of his endowment’s expenditures would go to support the denomination’s rural churches and their clergy. (Methodism flourished in the Carolinas thereafter—see 1924 entry on our list of achievements in Religious philanthropy.)
As someone who had lost his mother at an early age, Duke sympathized with the ill and the orphaned. Ten percent of his money would go to children who lost their parents, and 32 percent to hospitals. (North Carolina’s growth in hospital beds per capita was almost twice that of comparable states after the endowment went into action.)
The remaining 46 percent of spending from his endowment, Duke spelled out, would go to four Carolina universities. Among other effects, this support transformed Durham’s small Trinity College into today’s
high-ranked Duke University.
His strong localist bent, and precise expression of his philanthropic desires, separated Duke from many of the other major philanthropists of his time. He was keen not to have his life’s creation spent on projects unpalatable to him. And he believed that by focusing his giving on the Carolinas he could do more good than would be accomplished by spreading his dollars thinly. It is hard to argue with his logic given how much success his universities, his Methodist church, and his social projects have had in his designated region in the decades since he
In the early years of the twentieth century, Italians were one of the largest immigrant groups in America. So when a tremendous earthquake rocked southern Italy and Sicily in 1908 and killed 100,000 people, Americans leapt to mobilize relief. One of the most significant charitable efforts was centered in Boston, where would-be helpers launched what is now one of the grand philanthropic traditions in our country.
Marathon road races were all the rage in America a century ago, partly due to Johnny Hayes’s gold medal for the U.S. in the 1908 Olympic Games. So when the Boston American went looking for a vehicle to raise money for earthquake relief, the decision was quickly made to organize a charity event around a marathon. The newspaper publicized a January 9, 1909 contest managed by the local amateur athletic association, and Boston businesses covered the costs. It was announced that all proceeds from admission to the grounds where the finish could be viewed would be devoted to the victims in Italy.
Despite freezing temperatures, 108 runners participated, and thousands of spectators turned out. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised (the exact figure is not known). In 1909 currency that was an eye-popping result. The Boston Marathon thus became the first in a long history of charity marathons held all across the United States, which collectively now raise close to $2 billion annually.
Even as the phenomenon spread to other cities, interest has never waned in the cradle of the concept. In 1989 (the year the charity mechanism for the Boston race was formalized into its current structure), 5,000 runners participated in the Boston Marathon; by 2015 that was up to 30,251. The latest year’s charitable haul was $38.4 million, with those funds going to a few dozen local charities ranging from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a daughter of Hawaiian royalty, was offered the throne of her Pacific land in 1872 but refused it, preferring to pursue good works through her private means and devout Christian faith. She inherited ancestral land that eventually made her the largest property owner in the islands, and her husband, Charles, was very successful in business. They both put much of their energy and wealth into helping others, and drew up wills to make sure their estates would also eventually be devoted to worthy causes.
With the lion’s share of her bequest, Bernice established the Kamehameha Schools to provide native Hawaiians with “a good education…and also instruction in morals and in such useful knowledge as may tend to make good and industrious men and women.” After her death from breast cancer Charles set to work making her schools a reality. A boys’ facility opened in 1887, following by a girls’ counterpart. Today the Kamehameha Schools remain the state’s largest private landowner, controlling 365,000 acres. The organization’s total endowment of $9 billion makes it one of the best-financed charities in the nation, allowing it to educate more than 7,000 children every year at almost no charge to their families.
Biddy Mason was a slave brought into California by her owner in 1851. California had just become a state, and a free one. That meant anyone in its territory held in involuntary servitude was free. In 1854, a county sheriff in Santa Monica informed Mason’s owner that she and his other slaves were now entitled to independence, and could not be taken to Texas, where he was threatening to legally re-enslave them. A judge placed Mason into protective custody and settled her in 1856 in the home of a free black family in Los Angeles.
Biddy took up work as a midwife and home nurse, assiduously saved money, and—though she had no formal education whatever and was illiterate—soon owned a residence of her own. She showed a facility for buying and selling property, and made thousands of dollars investing in plots in the area that would become downtown Los Angeles.
Mason soon started using her wealth to help others through charitable aid. She founded and worked in the city’s first nursery for orphans and abandoned children. She arranged credit and loans so families in financial straits could buy food from local grocers. She built a boarding house for people in need of shelter. She visited prisoners in the local jail, and patients in hospitals and asylums. In 1872 she provided the funds and land to construct the first African-American church in Los Angeles.
By the time of her death in 1891, Biddy Mason owned property on the east side and the west side of Los Angeles, plus many plots in the downtown area on Second and Third Streets, Spring Street and Broadway, Eighth and Hill Streets, and elsewhere. She was one of the wealthier landowners in the city. Her daughters and then grandchildren continued to use her fortune to help people in need, especially African Americans newly arrived in the region.