OVERVIEW: The Mars Foundation gives at a small level, but it spreads its money widely to a long list of annual grantees and they've given steadily in recent years to environmental groups.
IP TAKE: The Mars family heirs control one of America's largest fortunes, and have a clear interest in environmental issues. Environmental fundraisers should watch this foundation like hawks.
PROFILE: While mostly known for candy such as M&Ms, Mars, Inc. is a global manufacturer of confections, pet food, drinks and other food products. Mars is still a family-owned business and the heirs to the family fortune are Jacqueline B. Mars, Forrest E. Mars, Jr. and John F. Mars, who are Frank Mars' grandchildren. They're each worth $20 billion. At 74, Jacqueline is the youngest of the Mars heirs.
The Mars Foundation no website or staff, and shares its mailing address with Mars, Inc., in McLean, Virginia.
The foundation has a steady track-record of giving small grants to conservation groups. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation landed a $30,000 grant in 2012 and the Student Conservation Association got a similar sized grant. In 2011, groups receiving Mars' money included Eco Health Alliance in New York and the Environmental Defense Fund. Groups getting smaller checks included the Nature Conservancy, Galapagos Foundation, Potomac Conservancy, and Rocky Mountain Natural Research Center.
Separate from the foundation, the Mars heirs have given to the NRDC Action fund, League of Conservation Giving, Ocean Conservancy, Wilderness Society, and the National Park Foundation. Mars, Inc., has given to the Rainforest Alliance.
Philanthropy is often fueled by personal interests and for the Mars heirs, they appear to have a strong interest in the natural world and preserving it. John and Forrest Mars both live in rural Wyoming and Jacqueline is an equestrian who lives in Virginia horse country.
The foundation has also shown interest in theater and dance, historical institutions like Ford's Theater Society and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (nearly $5 million given between 2008-2010) and to various nonprofits in the DC and Virginia area aimed at improving outcomes for disadvantaged youth.
Overall, the picture that emerges here is of three Mars heirs that clearly do have strong interests and have been engaged in steady philanthropy, albeit on a scale that has not yet been comparable to their net worth. In addition, none of the three Mars heirs has signed the Giving Pledge. Looking ahead, though, we could imagine a scaled up Mars Foundation with big programs on the environment, wildlife, the arts, and human services.
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The Mars Foundation
6885 Elm Street
McLean, VA 22101
( 703 ) 821-4900