Fidelity Investments is one of the largest mutual funds and financial service groups in the world. Founded in 1946 in Boston, the company is now in its third generation of family ownership and management, and the clan behind it, the Johnsons, is worth nearly $40 billion collectively. That makes them one of the richest families in the United States.
The family has several philanthropic outfits to their name and the Edward C. Johnson Fund has a particular interest in the arts, historic preservation, and environmental conservation. Serious money is coming out of the fund, too, with around $50 million going out the door in 2012.
This funder is not a major player in environmental philanthropy, but there's a clear interest in this area and a huge fortune waiting in the wings, so this is a funder for environmentalists to keep an eye on. Here are a few things to know:
1. Boston and Greater New England is their main locus
The Johnson Fund does much of its giving in the Boston and New England area. Its list of grantees in recent years includes the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, Friends of the Public Garden in Boston, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Vermont Land Trust, Stowe Land Trust, and the Earthwatch Institute, among others. These sums have generally been under $100,000 annually.
2. But other regions have received funds, too
Over the years, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute has received around $3 million. The institute is open 364 days of the year and hosts exhibits for visitors as well as works in marine conservation. The connection here appears to be that the Johnsons have a residence in Bermuda. What's more, an international arm of Fidelity has a Bermuda address.
Another international outfit recieving funds is the UK based National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty which received more than $230,000 in 2012. Fidelity has three main offices in the U.K. As the name suggests, the Natural Trust melds historic preservation and environmental conservation.
Speaking of preservation, recent funds have gone to Maine Historical Society, Historic New England ($1.3 million in 2011), New Hampshire Historical Society and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. It appears that the Johnsons are passionate about advocating for sites of nature and sites of history and perhaps see them as two sides of the same coin.
3. Edward Johnson's kids, particularly Abigail, should be watched
Edward C. Johnson III has three kids, Abigail, Elizabeth and Edward Johnson IV. Eldest sibling Abigail, who's worth more than $13 billion herself, recently became president at Fidelity, confirming rumors that she's likely to take the reins as chairman once Johnson retires. This may also hold true on the philanthropic side, which means that the philanthropy we're seeing from the fund right now might not look the same way several years down the line once Johnson's son and daughters take over.
For now, it's worth noting that Edward Johnson IV lives on Boston's Union Wharf and is president of family-owned Pembroke Real Estate. Pembroke is affiliated with the Urban Land Institute, Greenway Conservancy, and Boston Harbor Alliance according to its website. While none of these outfits appears to have seen recent support through the Johnson fund, other conservation outfits supporting Boston's waterways and coasts have. The Esplanade Association, for instance, recently received a modest gift of under $10,000 to help restore and enhance Boston's historic Charles River Esplanade.