MacArthur Foundation

SOURCE:  Wikipedia, captured 2020-08-11

  • Founded: 1970
  • Co-Founders: John D. MacArthur (co-founder)  |  Catherine T. MacArthur (co-founder)
  • Focus: Climate change, nuclear challenges, non-profit journalism, local issues in Chicago
  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • President: John Palfrey
  • Endowment: $7.0 billion
  • Website:

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation that makes grants and impact investments to support non-profit organizations in approximately 50 countries around the world. It has an endowment of $7.0 billion and provides approximately $260 million annually in grants and impact investments. It is based in Chicago and is the 12th-largest private foundation in the United States. It has awarded more than US$6.8 billion since its first grants in 1978.

    The MacArthur Foundation's stated aim is to support "creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world." MacArthur's current grant-making priorities include mitigating climate change, reducing jail populations, decreasing nuclear threats, supporting nonprofit journalism, and funding local priorities in its hometown of Chicago. The MacArthur Fellows Program, also referred to as "genius grants" or "genius award," awards $625,000 no-strings-attached grants annually to about two dozen creative individuals in diverse fields "who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits." The MacArthur Foundation's 100&Change competition awards a $100 million grant every three years to a single proposal.


    John D. MacArthur owned Bankers Life and Casualty and other businesses, as well as considerable property holdings in Florida and New York. His wife, Catherine, held positions in many of these companies. Their attorney, William T. Kirby, and Paul Doolen, their chief financial officer, suggested that the family create a foundation to be endowed by their vast fortune. One of the reasons MacArthur originally set up the MacArthur Foundation was to avoid taxes.

    When MacArthur died on January 6, 1978, he was worth in excess of a billion dollars. He left 92 percent of his estate to found the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The composition of the MacArthur Foundation's first board of directors, per MacArthur's will, also included J. Roderick MacArthur, John's son from his first marriage, two other officers of Bankers Life and Casualty, and radio commentator Paul Harvey. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, later joined the MacArthur Foundation's board of directors.

    The elder MacArthur believed in the free market. However, he did not spell out specific parameters for how his money was to be spent after he died. MacArthur told the MacArthur Foundation's board of directors, "I figured out how to make the money. You fellows will have to figure out how to spend it."

    Between 1979 and 1981, John's son J. Roderick MacArthur, an ideological opponent of his father with whom the elder MacArthur had an acrimonious relationship, waged a legal battle against the MacArthur Foundation for control of the Board of Directors. The younger MacArthur sued eight members of the Board, accusing them of mismanagement of the MacArthur Foundation's finances.

    By 1981, most of the original board had been replaced by members who agreed with J. Roderick MacArthur's desire to support liberal causes. This ultimately resulted in the creation of what, in 2008, historian and conservative commentator Martin Morse Wooster called "one of the pillars of the liberal philanthropic establishment." In 1984, MacArthur again sued the Board of Directors, asking a Cook County circuit court to liquidate the entire MacArthur Foundation. He dropped the suit later that same year when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.


    John E. Corbally, the first President of the MacArthur Foundation and later board chairman from 1995 to 2002, was followed in 1989-1999 by Adele Simmons, who was the first female dean at Princeton University. Jonathan Fanton, president of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, served as the MacArthur Foundation's next president. Robert Gallucci, formerly dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, served as the MacArthur Foundation's fourth president from 2009 to 2014. Gallucci was fired in 2014. Julia Stasch, who formerly served as MacArthur's Vice President for U.S. Programs, was named the MacArthur Foundation's President in 2015. Stasch had formerly served as chief of staff to Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley. She announced that she would step down in 2019. In March 2019, John Palfrey was named the next President of the MacArthur Foundation, effective September 1, 2019.

    MacArthur Fellowship

    The MacArthur Fellowship is an award issued by the MacArthur Foundation each year, to typically 20 to 30 citizens or residents of the United States, of any age and working in any field, who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work." The program was initiated in 1981. According to the MacArthur Foundation, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but an investment in a person's originality and potential. MacArthur Fellows receive $625,000 each, which is paid out in quarterly installments over five years. The Chicago Foundation for Women was one of the nonprofit organizations to receive a US$1million four-year grant in 2017. No one can apply for the program, and, generally, no one knows if he or she is being considered as a candidate. Nominators, serving confidentially, anonymously and for a limited time, are invited to recommend potential Fellows. Candidates are reviewed by a selection committee whose members also serve confidentially, anonymously and for a limited time. Ultimately, the selection committee makes recommendations to the MacArthur Foundation's Board of Directors for final approval.


    In June 2016, the MacArthur Foundation requested "proposals promising real progress toward solving a critical problem of our time in any field or any location." The winning proposal would receive a $100 million grant. Almost 2,000 proposals were submitted. In December 2017, the MacArthur Foundation announced that the winning proposal was submitted by the Sesame Workshop, and the International Rescue Committee. The grant was put toward educating Middle Eastern refugee children.

    Additional Reading

  • [, 2021-09-28] This Year's MacArthur 'Genius Grants' Were Just Announced - Here's The Full Winner List.

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