What's the Deal With the Johnson Family and Its $40 Billion Mutual Fund Fortune?

The Johnson family might not yet be engaged in large-scale national or international philanthropy, but their fortune, nearly $40 billion, makes them among the richest families in the United States. That wealth, along with a long history of giving, makes the family very important to watch. And this is especially true now, as Edward C. Johnson III, the octogenerian CEO and chairman of Fidelity Investments, gradually hands over the reins to his presumtive successor, his daughter Abagail, and potentially finds himself with more time to pursue his interest in philanthropy.

Here are a couple of must-knows about the philanthropy of this Boston-area family: 

1. They have several philanthropic outfits

Between the Edward C. Johnson Fund, the family’s charitable foundation, and the Fidelity Foundation, the Johnsons give out millions of dollars annually, with the bulk of these funds going to Boston-area institutions. The Edward C. Johnson Fund alone gave out $50 million in 2012, and tends to be the more regional of the two outfits. What's more, the Johnsons also own and operate the Brookfield Arts Foundation, which purchases art and lends it to museums. Brookfield Arts has received more than $115 million from the Johnsons for its work. 

2. Art is top on the family's list of interests

Apart from collecting art and then loaning it to various Boston-area museums, Johnson himself has also been a trustee at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston since the 1970s and Abigail is on the board of governors. Over the years the Museum of Fine Arts has received more than $13 million from the Johnson fund. (See - Edward C. Johnson Fund: Grants for Visual Arts)

3. Historic Preservation is also important to the family

In one of the oldest areas of the country, the Johnsons have given steadily, but on a smaller scale, to numerous historical preservation and conservation societies mainly in the Boston area, though their support really extends throughout New England. 

4. Environmental conservation is another interest

As of now, the family's conservation giving is modest and regionally focused, with outfits in the Boston and the greater New England areas receiving the majority of its grants. But the family has a clear interest in this region, and so environmental groups should keep an eye on these folks, especially in light of the vast wealth waiting in the wings here. (See - Edward C. Johnson Fund: Grants for Conservation)

5. Other areas have also received support from Johnson

While the family's list of recent health grantees isn't long, large sums have gone to Massachusetts General Hospital. Johnson also sits on the board at Alzheimers Research Forum which has received more than $3 million over the years. 

In education, Boston area private schools have received funding. More traditional community organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs and little league organizations have also received money.

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All in all, the track record of Johnson family giving isn't very exciting to look at right now, even though it stretches back for decades. The scope of the Johnsons' giving remains modest compared to the size of their fortune, and it's been largely local. This is a family that certainly has the capacity to move a major cause at the national level, but so far has chosen not to do so. 

That said, you never know when things are going to change when it comes to the philanthropy of a family with so much money. A turning point could come if Edward C. Johnson III finally steps to the sidelines of the family business and then decides to hit the gas with his giving. Johnson alone is worth over $7 billion.