Small but Fierce: Hilton Foundation’s Multiple Sclerosis Grantmaking

It can be easy to overlook the small programs at big philanthropies. Think RWJF, and you immediately think of healthcare giving, but did you know RWJF has given thousands to help coastal New Jersey rebuild after Superstorm Sandy? It’s easy to be dazzled by HHMI’s big-dollar brain research giving, and overlook the interesting summer fellowships for undergraduates.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is no different. You might know of their deep, historic commitment to a range of Catholic issues and organizations, to the tune of nearly $20 million annually. You might be able to guess at their support of hospitality education initiatives, given the Foundation’s roots in the Hilton Hotels fortune. (For the record, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is incorporated separately from Hilton Hotels, and has no organizational affiliation.) But were you aware of their multiple sclerosis program? The one that handed out three $800+ grants last year? We didn’t think so.

The program is indeed the smallest of Hilton’s eleven different priority areas, with just $2.2 million handed out in 2012 (compared with $11.9 million in Catholic education, the foundation’s biggest single priority area). But Hilton is a large and storied foundation, and with their policy of partnering only with established organizations with which they can build a relationship, it all makes a little bit more sense. That $2.2 million pot might be comparatively small, but when you consider that, in 2012, it was divided into three unapologetically substantial gifts, Hilton’s multiple sclerosis program begins to look more serious.

The three lucky recipients of MS funding via the Hilton Foundation in 2012 were the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, which received $900K over three years to study Vitamin A serum’s potential to slow or halt relapsing-remitting MS; the UCLA Foundation, which received $1.2 million over two years to develop a “pipeline” by which MS sufferers can acquire generic versions of neuroprotective drugs; and UC San Francisco, which received $885,000 over three years to develop a tablet-based program that can predict MS disease trajectories and display patient data and potential outcomes and risks. Big stuff. Because Hilton is invitation-only, they can be a tough club to join, but for those organizations lucky (and well-established and cutting-edge enough) to get in, Hilton’s support of their MS work can make a world of difference.