NET WORTH: $200 million, estimated
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Best-selling author
FUNDING AREAS: Education, Human Services & Justice, Churches
OVERVIEW: John Grisham and his wife Renee channel much of their philanthropy through the Oakwood Foundation Charitable Trust, which has given away between $2 and $4 million annually in recent years. The couple's philanthropy focuses on Mississippi and Virginia. Grisham's alma mater Mississippi Sate University has received millions. The University of Mississippi, meanwhile, is the site of the Grisham Writers in Residence. Another area of interest is justice outfits such as the Innocence Project, where Grisham sits on the board of directors.
BACKGROUND: John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker. He majored in accounting at Mississippi State University and graduated from Ole Miss law school in 1981. Grisham went on to practice law for nearly a decade, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives and served until 1990. One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants. Getting up early in the morning every day to get in several hours of writing before work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Grisham has since gone on to write thrillers like The Pelican Brief, and The Firm, with a number of his works being turned into movies as well.
EDUCATION: Grisham has given his alma mater Mississippi State University millions. Grisham's law school Ole Miss, meanwhile, is home to the Grisham Writers in Residence. Grisham and Renee have also supported places like African American Teaching Fellowship, UNC Chapel Hill, and the Ixtatan Foundation, which describes itself as aiming to "enhance the socio-economic development of San Mateo Ixtatán, Guatemala by creating greater access to education and community development programs, that promote creativity, diversity of thought and resource sharing while honoring local culture." Renee sits on the board of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
HUMAN SERVICES AND JUSTICE: From some of the books that Grisham has written, to his experiences as a lawyer, it's clear that improving the justice system is important to him. Indeed, Grisham even took time off from writing for several months to return to the courtroom to honor a commitment prior to switching careers. Grisham sits on the board of directors of the Innocence Project, which campaigns to free unjustly convicted people on the basis of DNA evidence. He and Renee steadily support the organization, as well as places like Legal Aid and Justice Center in Virginia and Southern Environmental Law Center.
Grisham has also showed willingness to support disaster relief efforts and local building projects. Last decade, Grisham and his wife Renee set up the Rebuild the Coast Fund, which raised $8.8 million dollars for Gulf Coast relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Grishams donated $5 million toward that effort. Grisham has also given support to various human services outfits, especially in Mississippi and Virginia. United Way, Charlottesville Free Clinic, and Planned Parenthood have all seen support. The couple has also supported the Building Goodness Foundation, a nonprofit that "connects skilled volunteers from the design and construction industries with vulnerable communities at home and abroad."
Finally, it's worth noting that Grisham served on the Mississippi House of Representatives during the 1980s as a Democrat, and his liberal outlook is important to his philanthropy. Grisham, for instance, has also supported Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
CHURCHES: Grisham is Christian, and a number of churches, Baptist churches specifically, have support including Cove Presbyterian Church, Crozet Baptist Church, and University Baptist Church.
LOOKING AHEAD: Grisham has recently supported Vital Voices Partnerships , which "identifies, trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe." He's also given to Doctors Without Borders. These efforts, along with his steady support of the Ixtatan Foundation, reveal that there's a global element to his philanthropy. Back stateside, Virginia and Mississippi are priorities for this funder and will likely continue to be.
Oakwood Foundation Charitable Trust
P.O. Box 4200
Tupelo, MS 38803