In Philanthropy: Rescinded Pledges, Billion-Dollar Foundations Changing Course and Modern Monuments

Diana Blank, a media-shy philanthropist, is closing down her foundation after giving $1 billion in donations.

From new grants earmarked for modern city monuments to a mysterious donor shutting down her billion-dollar foundation, these are some of the biggest moves in philanthropy to watch.

Group of people dressed in traditional Indigenous clothing pose in front of monument.
Visual Artists – The Continuous Thread: Celebrating Our Interwoven Histories, Identities and Contributions, (2019). Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission

New monuments from the Mellon Foundation

The New York-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a new batch of grants through its Monuments Project, which aims to give $250 million by 2025 to fund public projects and monuments accurately representing U.S. stories and citizens. The foundation, which has now donated $151.9 million to 67 grantees for the project, will give a total of $25 million to nine different cities this summer.

A grant for the city of Los Angeles will fund the construction of a memorial focused on the 1871 Chinese massacre, when 18 Chinese residents were murdered in the city. The foundation’s donation will also support nine projects from Chicago’s Monuments Projects, which aims to create both new commemorative sites and interventions alongside existing monuments. Other grantees include the cities of Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Portland, Columbus, Providence and Asheville.

The Mellon Foundation, which has given more than 18,000 grants since its founding in 1969, launched the Monument Project in 2020 to help visualize the stories of those who have been historically overlooked.  “Through the monuments and memorials that mark them, our civic spaces are where many of us first learn about the American Story,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, in a statement.

Nearly 70 grants have been distributed under the project, with several of them nearing completion. A monument designed by artist Theaster Gates in Memphis will open this September, while a set of totem poles in Juneau, Alaska, were recently unveiled. And at the new “Irei Names Monument” at the University of Southern California, the public will soon be able to stamp an Ireichō, otherwise known as a “book to console the spirits.”

Is eBay founder Pierre Omidyar stepping away from his foundation?

Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire behind the 1995 founding of ebay (EBAY), is reportedly planning to scale back donations to his network of philanthropic foundations and companies known as The Omidyar Group (TOG), according to Puck. The group, which was established in 2004, focuses on leadership, governance, communities and informing citizens and supports organizations like the Democracy Fund and First Look Media.

Man wearing glasses and black suit speaks into mic
Pierre Omidyar speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2010. Brian Harkin/Getty Images

Both Omidyar and his wife Pam have long been public with their philanthropic intentions, having signed the Giving Pledge in 2010 and promised more than half of their $9.5 billion fortune to charity. “We don’t just write checks; we engage deeply with the organizations we support to help them reach and improve the lives of millions, not just thousands,” said the Omidyars in their pledge letter. The couple has given more than $4 billion as of 2023.

“TOG Organizations are now shifting even deeper into modes of collaboration and diversifying support of our work,” said the group in a recent blog post, adding that this shift will include seeking new forms of funding. “For some TOG teams this will mean partnering with new funders to support mission critical work.”

However, the Omidyars will continue to be involved in philanthropic initiatives, according to TOG. “The Omidyars remain deeply committed to TOG organizations and teams—this is not a wind down or spin out strategy or a downsizing tactic,” the group told Observer in a statement.

The end of a $1 billion era for Diana Blank

In other billionaire philanthropy news, a relatively unknown donor is planning on shutting down her foundation after 25 years. Diana Blank, who was once married to Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, first established the Atlanta-based Kendeda Fund in 2007. It has since given out $1 billion, as reported by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Older woman wearing straw hat and pink shirt holds plant
Diana Blank, 80, has given $1 billion over the past few decades. Kendeda Fund

After decades of million-dollar donations to organizations like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Tides Foundation and Wild Montana, the Kendeda Fund will close its doors by the end of the year. This decision was made by Blank in 2013, prompting a ramping up in the foundation’s giving over the past decade. Around $141 million of Blank’s donations have gone to causes in Atlanta while $104 million went to Montana. Other focus areas for the organization include girls’  rights, gun violence prevention, veterans health and southeast sustainability.

Blank has largely shied away from the public eye. She kept her donations anonymous until 2013, when she revealed her identity and her approach to “unrestricted funding,” a method of philanthropy where donors don’t have a say in how funds are spent, in an interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “I just followed the things I was interested in—education, the environment, the arts. We did not have to go through layers of approval,” she said.

A couple changes their mind on a rescinded pledge

In Wenham, Massachusetts, Gordon College announced a $26.5 million commitment from real estate developer Dale Fowler and his wife Sarah Ann.  The couple has a long and tumultuous history of philanthropy involving the private Christian college, having previously rescinded a donation to the school after years of gifts.

Red brick chapel shown on grassy area surrounded by trees
Gordon College’s chapel pictured on its campus in 2019. Boston Globe via Getty Images

The college’s 475-acre campus is named in honor of the Fowlers, who have helped fund renovations to Gordon College’s buildings in addition to donating a fleet of electric vehicles. They announced a $60 million gift to the school in 2007, later tacking on an extra $50 million. But the couple decided to reverse the latter donation after they took issue with Michael Lindsay, who became Gordon’s president in 2011.  “We have not had a very pleasant relationship with that individual,” Dale told the Boston Business Journal in 2015.

But he appears to have a more positive view of Gordon’s current president, Michael Hammond, who took over the position in 2021. “We are very impressed with this new president and his team and their willingness to innovate in not only their academic program and the campus experience, but in how they are telling the great story of Gordon,” said Dale in a statement. The Fowlers have long been big donors in education, having given $100 million to Chapman University for its engineering and law schools, in addition to making a $28.5 million donation to California Baptist University earlier this year.

In Philanthropy: Rescinded Pledges, Billion-Dollar Foundations Changing Course and Modern Monuments