Insights into the Hilton Foundation’s Local and Global Giving—and What Lies Ahead

A few weeks ago, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation released its grantmaking efforts for the second quarter of 2016 and announced that it approved $22.9 million in new grants. We’ve been particularly interested in what this foundation is doing lately because it’s recently undergone a big leadership transition and entrusted the top position to a non-family member for the first time.

Upon hearing the news of Peter Laugharn’s hiring last year, we speculated that the appointment of a globally oriented outside leader like Laugharn might be a sign that the Hilton Foundation would start gravitating more toward the international parts of its work—while perhaps also streamlining grantmaking that is rather far-flung, with 11 priorities listed on the foundation's website. That sort of breadth at a family foundation often signals decades of accreted commitments, as opposed to intentional strategic planning. 

Of course, this was pure speculation on our part and, so far, there's been no big shift in Hilton grantmaking that we can see. But just maybe some changes lie ahead. 

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That's one takeaway I garnered after connecting with the Hilton Foundation to ask a few questions. Among those questions was how grantmaking is being approached differently than in the past since Peter Laugharn has taken over as president and CEO.

Here’s what a Hilton spokesperson told me:

A great deal of analysis and planning, involving both staff and board, goes into shaping strategy and grantmaking for our program areas. Our goal for 2016 is to look carefully at how and where we are supporting our programs, and how we operate as a Foundation. In 2017, we will be reviewing program strategies and our objective at that time is to look toward to future, and determine our direction in terms of grantmaking in relation to our growth. We will take a close look at our current resources and will prepare a plan for possible additional resources. In 2018, our board of directors will finalize the new strategic plan and we will implement any resulting changes.

That "growth" referred to will take the form of an infusion of new resources from a bequest by Baron Hilton, which is likely to double the foundation's assets—and also jack up its grantmaking. As for the any changes in priorities that might occur, that remains to be seen. But obviously quite a few local nonprofits in the Los Angeles area have a big stake in how Hilton's next phase unfolds.

Meanwhile, for 2016 Q2, Hilton awarded grants to 13 organizations that serve disadvantaged and vulnerable populations locally, nationally, and internationally.

Related: What Are the Hilton Foundation’s Biggest Issues in L.A. Right Now?

I also asked the foundation about what its staff and board think the greatest local needs are in Los Angeles right now and what the foundation is most interested in supporting in the city going forward. Spoiler alert: local groups working in the fields of homelessness and foster youth can rest assured that Hilton has not abandoned them in favor of more global pursuits.

A Hilton spokesperson shared:

The two program areas that have the most impact in Los Angeles are Homelessness and Foster Youth. The goal of the Homelessness Strategic Initiative is to eliminate chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County through permanent supportive housing. The foundation has supported this cause in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. Our Foster Youth Strategic Initiative is geared toward youth in both New York and Los Angeles; 34% of California's foster youth live in Los Angeles. The foundation works with partners to support foster youth as they emerge into adulthood, strengthen the systems that provide services to youth in care, and research best practices and needs in the field of child welfare. Some of our other program areas support organizations and/or vulnerable populations in Los Angeles, including our Substance Use Prevention, Catholic Education, Multiple Sclerosis and Hospitality program areas as well as the SDG Philanthropy Forum. We remain committed to our current strategic areas of investment.

You can see a full list of Hilton 2016 Q2 grantees and a description of their causes on the foundation’s grants page.

Also of note, the Hilton Foundation just awarded the third largest grant in its history. It’s sending a whopping $15.3 million over to Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania to expand a Higher Education for Catholic Sisters in African Initiative. This program will educate 858 Catholic nuns in 10 countries, enabling them to acquire baccalaureate and master degrees via online and onsite learning. To learn more about this huge international commitment, I asked the Hilton foundation why Catholic sisters and support for Africa were its largest causes this grant cycle.

This is how the Hilton spokesperson explained this headline-worthy grant to me:

Our recent grant to Marywood University in support of the work of the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) honors Conrad Hilton’s faith in Catholic sisters as especially efficient, effective and trustworthy agents of social change. The size of the grant as well as the ambition of its goals is also an acknowledgement of the strong partnership that has developed among Marywood, ASEC and the Hilton Foundation over the past decade as we explored together how best to meet the educational needs of African sisters while at the same time strengthening their congregations and the bonds of solidarity among them. We see this grant as a prudent, long-term investment in human capital that will enable congregations of Catholic sisters in Africa to engage more fully in the global partnership for human development.

Through Phase II of the Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program, over 850 Catholic sisters from different congregations across Africa will have the ability to earn diplomas and degrees from prestigious African colleges and universities. The program design allows sisters to remain in their home countries, meaning that education can be delivered in a cost-effective manner with minimal impact on sisters’ community life.

To date, the Hilton Foundation has awarded $69,047,970 so far in 2016, putting it well within the possibility of toppling the 2015 year-end total of $107,875,238. In the meantime, we hope this gives you some insight into how Hilton is giving at the local level and overseas these days.