Solid Foundation

Written by Christine Riccelli

Since the 1930s, the Cowles family, who built their fortune in the media industry, has given millions to local educational, cultural and human services organizations and projects. “The feeling is that it is the family’s responsibility to give back to a state that has been so good to us over time,” says Charles C. Edwards, Jr., the president of the family’s foundation.

That sentiment is shared by other families—some well-known in Central Iowa, like the Hubbells or Kruideniers; some less so, such as the Sehgals—who have established private foundations to make a difference and, in the process, help ensure their legacy. “Private family foundations are an important component of community change and vitality, no matter how much they have in assets or what their particular area of giving is,” says Angela Dethlefs-Trettin, executive director of the Iowa Council of Foundations.

Of the nation’s approximate 75,595 grant-making foundations, nearly half, or 38,339, are family foundations, according to the Foundation Center, a national association based in New York. About a third of all family foundations have been established since 2000.

Whether they’ve been around for generations or are newer to the game, family foundations often shy away from publicity, preferring to operate behind the scenes. In fact, some of the family foundations dsm contacted for this article declined to be interviewed.

Because the public doesn’t donate to these foundations, “they don’t have to meet the public support test and don’t need a public buy-in the same way other foundations and nonprofits do,” Dethlefs-Trettin says.

That’s different from community foundations, such as the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, which are publicly supported grant-making organizations that manage and administer funds established by multiple donors. Family foundations also differ from private company foundations—think The Wellmark Foundation or the Principal Financial Group Foundation Inc.—which base their grant-making decisions on a corporate vision or strategy.

In Iowa and the Midwest, family foundations’ desire for privacy may also “reflect a cultural value of modesty,” says Lance Noe, director of Drake University’s Center for Professional Studies. “Privacy allows family foundations to support causes that they believe in, but which may place them on the side of an issue, again reflecting the cultural value of trying to avoid confrontation while seeking to make a better community. Des Moines is not a huge community, so most (families) prefer to avoid creating disharmony as they make decisions about supporting causes.”

He adds that family foundations can be a good resource for projects that aren’t mainstream because they don’t have to answer to donors, customers or a large and diverse board. “Some family foundations may prefer to support cutting-edge or unconventional approaches,” he says.

Whatever the cause, many families recognize their philanthropic decisions create a family legacy that provides a way each generation “learns the core values of their family,” says Sue McEntee, chief operating officer of the Charitable Giving Resource Center in West Des Moines. Family members often want to stay active in the giving decisions “so their values continue to be seeded throughout the community after generation one’s departure,” she says.

Because of this emphasis on values and the targeted approach of their giving, family foundations usually have specific guidelines for applications and often don’t accept unsolicited proposals, McEntee says.

In fact, networking and personal contact can be key when seeking support from family foundations, especially from smaller ones, Noe says. “For some family foundations, your personal credibility and (their) comfort in knowing you is equal to or even more important than the formal proposal,” he says.

Although many family foundations prefer to work quietly, they also increasingly realize the importance of community partnership, experts agree. Fred and Charlotte Hubbell, for example, have a private family foundation with about $4 million in assets, but also earlier this year joined the elite Leadership Circle at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. Circle donors pledge $2 million to the community foundation through initial contributions and deferred gifts.

Increasingly, philanthropists recognize there’s simply not enough money available to unilaterally solve a particular problem, Dethlefs-Trettin says. Families “realize that collaboration is often necessary to really move the needle on a particular issue and make a longer-term impact,” she says.

For a closer look at four local family foundations, turn to page 132, and for a sample listing of private foundations based in Polk County, go to page 138.

Top Iowa Foundations by Assets
Includes both private and community foundations

Iowa West Foundation
$393 million
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
$207 million
Community Foundation of
Greater Des Moines
$185 million
Greater Cedar Rapids
Community Foundation
$101 million
The Hall-Perrine Foundation Inc.
$97 million

Top Iowa Foundations by Total Giving
Includes both private and community foundations

Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
$27 million
Iowa West Foundation
$26 million
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
$12 million
AEGON Transamerica Foundation
$9 million
Principal Financial Group
Foundation Inc.
$7 million
Source: Iowa Council of Foundations


All in the Family

Written by Meghan Malloy

Gardner and Florence call Cowles Foundation
The Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation has been donating millions of dollars to Iowa’s private colleges, the capital city’s arts community and other causes for seven-plus decades.

Charitable giving is “something passed from one generation to the next,” foundation trustee and Gardner Cowles Sr.’s great-grandson Charles C. Edwards, Jr., said of the family’s philanthropic spirit.

One of Des Moines’ oldest and most prominent families, the Cowleses once owned The Des Moines Register and Tribune and several other media properties. The family and the newspaper independently gave to charitable causes, says Edwards, former publisher and president of the Register and now dean of Drake University’s journalism school and business college. After the Cowles family and other shareholders sold the Register to Gannett Co. Inc. in 1985, the foundation became even more active, he says.

The foundation reported assets of about $7.6 million on its 2009 990-PF informational filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Beneficiaries include private four-year Iowa universities, such as Grand View University, Luther College in Decorah, Simpson College in Indianola and Drake, where the Cowles presence is well-known. Drake’s main library is named for Gardner Cowles, who in 1904 bought the newspaper that became the Register; the family has donated millions to various campus projects over the years; and the law school has benefited from the largesse of both the foundation and the Kruidenier family, who are direct relatives of the Cowleses through Gardner Cowles’ daughter, Florence Cowles Kruidenier. (The Kruidenier family has a separate foundation, the Kruidenier Charitable Foundation.)

Other grant recipients include the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines Metro Opera and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

“The foundation does not usually make smaller-sized gifts. Larger gifts are more of the focus,” Edwards says. “We like to step in and have an impact on campaigns by giving them seed money to help them leverage money, or to help campaigns for certain organizations get started, rather than come in at the tail end of projects.”

The foundation does not typically accept a broad range of applications for grants, Edwards says, but organizations and private institutions usually already know if they fall within the guidelines for a grant.

“It’s self-selective,” Edwards explains. “Most of the time, a group will already know if they qualify as an organization that the foundation would be interested in supporting.”

The Bright Foundation
To Lois Bright, the key to abundance is simple. “We worked hard, saved carefully, invested wisely and gave back when we could,” the 100-year-old Des Moines woman said. “I am always surprised when I remember that such a simple formula produced so much.”

Since 1994, The Bright Foundation has awarded scholarship grants to Iowa colleges and universities and provided gifts to organizations benefiting children and the arts. The foundation reported assets of $10.4 million on its 2010 990-PF informational filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

The Brights came from modest Lineville, Iowa, a community of only a few hundred residents that sits on the Iowa-Missouri state line, says Dan Kelly, foundation board member. Just prior to the Great Depression, the newlyweds left southern Iowa for the capital city, where Dale attended college and held various jobs; Lois found work sewing back seams on stockings for Rollins Hosiery Mill on Des Moines’s East Side, Kelly says.

In 1939, Dale joined Western Tool & Stamping Co., a tool and die company that employed just seven people at the time. Rising through the ranks, Kelly says, Dale, who retired as a vice president, helped the company expand to become the nation’s largest lawn mower manufacturer, with more than 800 employees.

Over the years, the couple saved their earnings, which they used to start The Bright Foundation.

Dale Bright died in 1996 though Lois continues to make generous contributions, specifically scholarships to schools through the Iowa College Foundation and the Iowa Scottish Rite Masonic Foundation. Among other beneficiaries are Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Grand View University and Des Moines Area Community College.

In addition to educational groups, The Bright Foundation also has provided grants to the Des Moines Public Library, the Des Moines Art Center and Des Moines Metro Opera. Kelly says Lois Bright also gives to organizations in her native Wayne County, Iowa, and on Des Moines’ East Side, where she and Dale made their home.

The foundation does not take grant applications, Kelly says. Recipients are pre-selected, though foundation officials will consider requests from organizations that directly benefit or focus on education and children. Grants made in 2010 ranged from $2,600 to $150,000, according to the 2010 990-PF.

Jim and Helen Hubbell Charitable Foundation
One of Des Moines’ most well-known families, the Hubbells built their wealth in the real estate and insurance industries, starting when F.M. Hubbell arrived in Des Moines in 1855. The patriarch’s great-grandson, James Hubbell Jr., who died in 2009, and his wife, Helen, established this foundation in 1976.

“My parents were committed to charitable giving and set aside assets for that purpose,” says Fred Hubbell, the couple’s son who serves as the foundation’s treasurer. His three siblings—James III, Harriet “Rusty,” and Michael—also are foundation officers and are involved in grant decisions. “The assets were not just to benefit their generation, but future generations, too,” he says.

“The gifts they gave through the foundation were joint gifts; they were both very active in the community,” Hubbell adds. “They (were) generous not only with their time, but their finances in the community.”

The foundation reported total assets of $3.9 million in its 2009 Form 990-PF informational filing with the Internal Revenue Service, with gifts ranging from $200 to $55,000. Beneficiaries include the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, Hawthorn Hill, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Science Center of Iowa, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, the Des Moines Symphony, Drake University and Simpson College.

“Both of my parents (were) active in a lot of cultural causes,” says Hubbell, who, with his wife, Charlotte, established the Fred and Charlotte Hubbell Foundation in 1997.

The foundation accepts unsolicited applications, Hubbell says, and the family bases its grant decisions on a variety of factors, including if and how a certain organization “meets serious needs in the community” or promotes a positive quality of life. Those characteristics are the defining criteria for the foundation when they choose beneficiaries, which can change over time based on the impact an organization has on the community.

“The nature of philanthropic giving has grown in this community, not only with our foundation but others as well,” Hubbell says.

Sehgal Family Foundation
Unlike many local private foundations, the Sehgal Family Foundation makes most of its grants to India, the native country of founder Suri Sehgal (pronounced SEE-gall).

Sehgal, 77, established the foundation in 1998, after he sold various businesses he had owned. An agricultural scientist, Sehgal earned a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University and moved to Des Moines in 1963 to join Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., where he worked until 1988.

“For my uncle, this foundation (is) about giving back to his country of origin,” says Jay Sehgal of West Des Moines, Suri’s nephew and the foundation’s executive vice president.

Suri Sehgal, who now lives in Florida, continues to serve as the foundation’s president. The foundation reported assets of $45.3 million on its 2009 Form 990-PF informational filing with the Internal Revenue Service, making it the second-largest private foundation in Polk County (following the Richard O. Jacobsen Foundation), according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

The foundation primarily supports water management and agriculture development in rural India. In the United States, it has supported biodiversity projects at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

Local grant recipients include Des Moines public schools, the World Food Prize and the Iowa International Center (formerly the Iowa Council for International Understanding). The organization’s Sehgal Center for International Visitors is named for the family, who made a three-year grant to the organization through the foundation.

“This goes hand-in-hand with what we do,” Jay Sehgal says, explaining that his uncle often promoted Iowa and worked with the international community while he lived in Iowa.


Private Foundations in Polk County

Compiled by Christine Riccelli

The following listing of private family foundations based in Polk County includes their total assets and examples of organizations the foundations have supported. The list is not comprehensive. Total assets are what each foundation reported on its 2009 or 2010 Form 990-PF informational filing with the Internal Revenue Service. Sources also include the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

Richard O. Jacobson Foundation Inc.
$58.2 million
Iowa State Fair, Iowa State University, Science Center of Iowa.

Sehgal Family Foundation
$45.3 million
Iowa International Center, numerous agricultural projects in India.

Edwin T Meredith Foundation
$13.3 million
Orchard Place, United Way of Central Iowa, Science Center
of Iowa.

John R and Zelda Z Grubb Charitable Foundation
$12.1 million
Hope Ministries, Easter Seals of Iowa, Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

Madelyn M. Levitt Foundation
$11.8 million
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Hospice of Central Iowa.

John Ruan Foundation Trust
$11 million
Blank Park Foundation, Des Moines public schools, Des Moines Community Playhouse.

The Bright Foundation
$10.4 million
Des Moines Area Community College, Grand View College, Des Moines Art Center.

W.T. and Edna Dahl Trust Foundation
$9.8 million
World Food Prize, ChildServe, Iowa Public Television.

Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation
$7.8 million
Terrace Hill Foundation, Simpson College, Youth Homes of Mid-America.

Dean and Sandra Carlson Foundation
$6.3 million
Youth Emergency Services & Shelter, Meals from the Heartland.

Susan J. Glazer Foundation
$5.6 million
University of Iowa, Blank Children’s Hospital, Bravo Greater Des Moines.

Gartner Family Foundation
$4.6 million
Des Moines Public Library, Iowa Public Television, Des Moines Metro Opera.

Kruidenier Charitable Foundation
$4.5 million
Salisbury House Foundation, Iowa Legal Aid, Blank Park Zoo.

Fred and Charlotte Hubbell Foundation
$4 million
Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, Iowa Public Radio, Iowa Environmental Council.

Jim and Helen Hubbell Charitable Foundation
$3.9 million
Youth Homes of Mid-Iowa, Des Moines Art Center, Terrace Hill Foundation.

Gabus Family Foundation
$3.4 million
The Rotary Foundation (Chicago), Urbandale Tree Park.

Myron & Jacqueline Blank Fund
$2.7 million
Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

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