Thomas & Dorothy Leavey Foundation: Los Angeles Grants

OVERVIEW: Medical research, education, and Catholic organizations regularly receive grant funds from the Leavey Foundation, which was established on an insurance company fortune. But unlike most other foundations in the area, Leavey awards grants to individuals as well.

FUNDING AREAS: Hospitals, medical research, higher and secondary education, and Catholic church groups

IP TAKE: The Leavey Foundation grant money is handed out quietly and often anonymously. Los Angeles-based organizations definitely have a leg up on the competition, and giving tends to be evenly disbursed among medical, educational, and Catholic organizations.

PROFILE: Philanthropic foundations established on insurance company fortunes seem to be a dime a dozen in the Los Angeles area. However, the Farmers Insurance Group philanthropy, the Leavey Foundation, continues to take a more subtle and anonymous approach to grantmaking. Although the husband-and-wife cofounders, Thomas and Dorothy Leavey, are now deceased, their daughter Kathleen has stayed true to her parents' wishes and style since she started running the foundation.

Thomas Leavey cofounded Farmers Insurance in 1928 based on the premise that rural drivers should pay less for insurance because they encountered less risk than their urban-dwelling counterparts. After the insurance company became one of the most successful in the nation, Leavey and his wife started the Thomas & Dorothy Leavey Foundation in 1952 to share their fortune with medical, religious, and educational institutions they supported.

Since that time, the Leavey Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable organizations, including the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Music Center, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California. Since Kathleen took over the operations, she's overseen funding for Los Angeles grants that have included $2 million to Loyola Marymount University, $1 million to Saint Paul the Apostle Church, $500,000 to Homeboy Industries, and $250,000 to Sisters of Nazareth of Los Angeles.

After Thomas passed away in 1980, Dorothy, a longtime volunteer, guided the foundation's grantmaking until the age of 101. Before Dorothy's death in 1998, the Los Angeles Times published an article about her approach to philanthropy. Shortly after her family name was prominently displayed on buildings in Hollywood and the USC campus, Dorothy commented, "It's embarrassing, very embarrassing seeing your name on buildings. I just don't like to have it bannered about. I don't care for a lot of hoo-rah."

Today, you can find the Leavey name "bannered about" Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, the USC Leavey Library, Mount St. Mary's College, and the Hollywood Assistance League. But as you browse through the Los Angeles Times, you're not likely to see many headlines about large grants the foundation is still funding on a regular basis. Don't let this absence persuade you that the Leavey Foundation is a dying philanthropy, however.

In 2013, Leavey awarded 105 grants between $1,500 and $1 million, totaling $13.1 million in annual distributions. And unlike most other foundations in the area, it awards grants to individuals as well. More than $384,000 was awarded to individuals seeking grants and scholarships that same year (128 grants to individuals of $3,000 each). 

It seems that Kathleen inherited a great deal of humbleness from her parents, because the foundation's grant money is still handed out quietly. Kathleen's involvement in philanthropy isn't limited to her family foundation; she also sits on the board of directors of the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and serves as vice president and chairman at the University of California.

As you can imagine, the Leavey Foundation doesn't exactly advertise its grantmaking guidelines or spell out its application process. Los Angeles-based organizations definitely have a leg up on the competition, and giving tends to be evenly disbursed among medical, educational, and Catholic organizations. You can reach Kathleen Leavey directly at 310-551-9936.

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