Private foundations are non-profit organizations funded by a single donor, managed by a board of directors/trustees. The difference between spend down foundations and those that aim to live in perpetuity, is that modern philanthropists prefer the former, by giving away its assets over a short period of time while old-school tycoons like Rockefeller, Kellogg, and Ford opt to continue their foundations for as long as is possible. They prolong their life-span by only donating profits produced by interest on corpus funds. The Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundations have exceeded a span of 100 years, retaining assets exceeding $6.4 billion combined in 2016.
Private foundations with a spend -down approach are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Microsoft founder and his philanthropist wife plan to give away the foundation’s assets within 20 years after they pass away. Given the scale and impact of Bill Gates’ foundation, it the largest foundation in terms of total assets, and also gave away the most money among private charities in 2015. In this list of the wealthiest private foundations in the United States, there are a couple of things worth noting, besides learning about the 5 largest private foundations in the USA:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (~ $40 Billion)
The foundation is funded through the tech giant Microsoft and the investments spearheaded by Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates. The Microsoft founder funds the largest non-public foundation in the U.S. It focuses mainly on 4 areas: education, global development, global policy & advocacy and global health. In early 2020, Bill announced that the foundation would concentrate mostly on coronavirus research and response.
Ford Foundation (~ $12.14 Billion)
This Foundation was founded by Ford Motors scion Henry Ford and son Edsel, in 1936, with the sole aim of advancing human welfare issues. In 1968, the Foundation made a historic donation to fund the children’s show ‘Sesame Street’.
J. Paul Getty Trust (~ $10.5 Billion)
Jean Paul Getty was the first person to discover oil in Saudi Arabia and the first to reach a billion-dollar net worth. Although he is known as one of the most affluent people in the world, his frugal ways are legendary. His wealth will probably end up in the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getty Museum is easily one of the world’s richest art institutions, possessing some of the most cherished artworks among private collections around the world. The J. Paul Getty Museum, affectionately called the Getty, is located in California and the charity was established by one of the world’s richest people.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (~ $9.5 Billion)
Johnson & Johnson heir, Robert Wood Johnson II established the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 1972 which is the largest charitable organization in the USA, focusing on health care. They award $400 million worth of grants annually for various health-related matters like doctors’ and nurses’ training, poverty alleviation, and childhood obesity.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (~ $8.6 Billion)
Sponsored by Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Hewlett, the Foundation supports educational and cultural institutes to address social and environmental issues. With most grants amounting to less than $1 million, the Foundation awards $200-300 million every year to Climate Works Foundation, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University.