Perpetuity at the Bradley, Weinberg, and Foellinger foundations

There are certainly many examples of philanthropies operating in perpetuity while honoring the original donors’ objectives. This article explores three of them. Some common threads tie them together: A fervent commitment among existing trustees and staff to implement the wishes of the original donors; a thorough review process for grants to ensure alignment with donor intent; and a strong record of written and spoken wishes from the donor on his or her philanthropic objectives.

The Bradley Foundation 

The Bradley Foundation is one example of a philanthropy operating in perpetuity that has preserved donor intent, even though many decades now separate the foundation’s work and the donors’ original giving.

Lynde and Harry Bradley were brothers and business partners who founded a manufacturing business, the Allen-Bradley Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1903. With six years separating them, the brothers were never close confidants, but their dramatically different personalities enabled them to establish a partnership that guided Allen-Bradley through its growth years. 

Both brothers—but particularly Harry—had strong conservative beliefs which later shaped their philanthropic giving. After a brief illness, Lynde passed away in 1942. Close to the time of his death, Lynde had been working to establish a foundation, and Harry partnered with Lynde’s wife, Caroline, to complete the process. Initial giving was focused on Milwaukee nonprofits and schools.

Harry Bradley’s philanthropy soon turned to public-policy causes. He was deeply anti-communist, a supporter of Robert Taft’s 1952 presidential campaign, and a major backer of Barry Goldwater in 1964. He supported the Hoover Institution and conservative radio programs in the Midwest. And he provided early and frequent support to William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review to help the magazine through its financially rocky years.

Harry passed away in 1965. His death coincided with new government pressure on philanthropies that owned private companies to diversify their portfolios. Accordingly, many of the Bradley trusts were liquidated and the foundation began to separate from the company. In the 1960s and 1970s, public-policy grants became even more frequent, with support for groups such as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Morality in Media. Even so, most giving went to local organizations like Marquette Medical School and St. Luke’s Hospital.

In 1985, Allen-Bradley was sold to Rockwell International, a leading defense and aerospace conglomerate, for $1.7 billion. The assets of the charity started by the brothers—now known as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to honor the founders and complete the divorce from the company—ballooned overnight from $14 million to almost $300 million.

The Bradley Foundation now grants between $35 million and $45 million annually to hundreds of charities in Milwaukee and conservative causes across the U.S. Since 1985, the foundation has made more than 13,000 grants totaling over $1 billion to more than 1,900 organizations.

“We spend an enormous amount of time—both staff and board—reflecting on what Lynde and Harry would have done today had they still been here,” says President Richard Graber. With that commitment in mind, board and staff recently underwent a planning process that yielded four focus areas: Constitutional order, free markets, civil society, and informed citizens. While specific grantmaking targets may change over time, the foundation adheres to the values and principles of its founders. 

“Lynde and Harry Bradley believed not just in freedom, but also in the richness of community and culture that are the basis of a well-lived life,” Graber says. “The Bradley Foundation seeks to further those beliefs by supporting the study, defense, and practice of the individual initiative and ordered liberty that lead to prosperity, strong families, and vibrant communities.”

To Graber, two ingredients comprise the Bradley Foundation’s long-term fidelity to donor intent. First, have a rigorous process for selecting new board members and staff that ensures they are philosophically compatible. Second, thoroughly evaluate grant requests. “If you get these two things right—the people part, and the rigorous process for grantmaking—then you’ve got a pretty good chance of staying true to donor intent.”

The Weinberg Foundation

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, based just outside Baltimore, made a similar transition. Harry Weinberg was a successful businessman who built a transportation empire in the mid-twentieth century and accumulated wealth in securities and real estate. As early as the 1930s, Harry Weinberg was helping Jews escape Germany and find safe haven in the U.S. With that keen philanthropic heart, he created the Weinberg Foundation to aid the poor and vulnerable, with a special emphasis on Jews. 

Harry Weinberg passed away in 1990. The foundation’s charter has always specified a desire to help people in the lower half of the economic spectrum, but with a few exceptions delves into little detail beyond that. It was incumbent upon the first generation of trustees to faithfully apply what they knew about Harry’s philanthropic aspirations. They based their understanding of his donor intent both on his writings and spoken words.

By 2005, with a new president and some new trustees, it was time to codify Harry’s donor intent formally, and more clearly identify the geographic and issue areas where grants would be made. 

“We were looking at what Harry would have wanted, and what would be consistent with his goal of helping poor people,” says Donn Weinberg, Harry’s nephew and a trustee of the foundation through 2018. The trustees settled on particular programs supporting jobs, housing, health, and education, with a special emphasis on the elderly, at-risk children, and veterans. Special efforts are also directed at rural communities in the United States, and Israel.

Today, the foundation that Harry Weinberg founded in 1959 has assets totaling $2.6 billion, and continues to fund programs that provide services and create opportunity for vulnerable populations.

The Foellinger Foundation

The Foellinger Foundation of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was created in 1958 by Helene and her mother, Esther. Helene was publisher at the News-Sentinel from 1936 to 1980, one of the few female newspaper publishers at the time and certainly one of the youngest. Helene specifically wanted the foundation to operate in perpetuity, so even though the board discussed sunsetting a few years ago, it ultimately decided to continue with no end date.

The Foellingers’ philanthropic interests were strictly geographic. All grants were to support causes in Allen County, Indiana, with nine out of 10 going to early childhood, youth, and family development efforts, particularly for those who are most in need. Following Helene’s death in 1987 and the settlement of her estate, the foundation’s assets jumped from $20 million to $70 million.

The first key to protecting donor intent at the Foellinger Foundation after Helene passed away was putting the right person in charge. Helene trusted Carl Rolfsen and indicated in writing that he should head the foundation. “For many years, he was the voice of donor intent,” says Cheryl Taylor, who served as president of the foundation from 2001 to 2020.

By 2000 Rolfsen and the board began to realize the need to document more formally the founders’ vision for future generations, but neither Helene nor Esther had left a written mission statement or detailed statement of intent. To document the Foellingers’ goals, Rolfsen and his board found speeches that Helene had given on personal responsibility. Those “very much highlighted her personal philosophy,” says Taylor, “in articulating the difference between the individual’s role and the community’s role.” Remarkably, the Foellinger Foundation halted grantmaking between 2000 and 2002 to focus exclusively on codifying its founders’ vision.

Rolfsen also turned his attention to the selection of future board members. He and his colleagues developed an exhaustive approach to board recruitment. Board nominees must come through a committee structure, and each new board member is formally mentored by an experienced board member. Upon arrival, the new members receive an intensive course in the Foellingers’ intent, and each is required to sign a statement affirming that intent.