OVERVIEW: The Charles Koch Foundation is one of several arms of the Koch family's philanthropy and gives to hundreds of higher education institutions each year across the country. Its higher education giving program provides millions of dollars in support for campus programs and initiatives that advance the Kochs' free market, libertarian views. Koch's focus on free societies and economic freedom also provides the fuel for funding several research institutions and scholarships.
IP TAKE: Major backing is available from Koch, but it sometimes comes with conditions attached. If you plan to seek Koch funding, first make sure you are on the same page with the foundation's expectations.
PROFILE: Charles Koch and his younger brother David inherited Koch Industries from their father, Fred C. Koch. Septuagenarians Charles and David serve as Chairman/CEO and Executive Vice President respectively of the Wichita, Kansas-headquartered company. Koch Industries has a presence in nearly 60 countries and employs about 100,000 people. Together, the Koch brothers are worth over $80 billion.
The Koch family has several philanthropic outfits including the Fred & Mary Koch Foundation, the Koch Cultural Trust, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Charles C. Koch Foundation.
The Charles C. Koch Foundation was established in 1980 and holds hundreds of millions of dollars in assets. The foundation has several staff, a mix of Koch family members and business associates. Koch is deep into supporting higher education and currently gives grants to about 250 universities and colleges across the country annually.
The key to understanding Koch's philanthropy is understanding Koch's philosophy, which is rooted in the idea of economic freedom and a free society. As such, the foundation’s goal is to “support the study of free societies... and hope to promote a better understanding of the link between free societies and prosperity.” The foundation's largest recipient over the years has been George Mason University, with the GMU Foundation receiving more than $10 million in one recent year alone. A key connection between Koch and George Mason is a man by the name of Richard Fink, who once taught economics at George Mason and serves as a director (and former president) of the Charles Koch Foundation.
Fink and Koch started kicking around think tank ideas in the late 1970s. Eventually, in the 1980s, Koch provided millions of dollars to George Mason University to set up what is now known as the Mercatus Center. The think tank touts itself as "the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas—bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems.” The current president of the Koch foundation, Brian Hooks, was executive director and chief operating officer at Mercatus from 2005 until 2014 (Click here to learn more about the Center).
The foundation also helps fund the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) at George Mason University. Founded in 1961 by Dr. F.A. “Baldy” Harper, the institute assists undergraduate and graduate students worldwide who have "an interest in individual liberty by offering scholarships, seminars and career assistance." IHS has received several million dollars over the years (Click here to read more about IHS). Additional research institutions also receive support.
No geographic region appears to be left untouched by the Kochs and institutions across the country have received funds. Unlike the millions going to George Mason, however, these gifts are usually under $50,000 annually. That said, there have been some larger gifts in recent years, including $1 million to the University of Maryland to “help create The Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets,” according to the Foundation Center. Arizona State University also received seed funding to start the Center for Political Thought and Leadership, which appears to be a center in the same vein of Mercatus.
Koch's gifts to universities have not been without controversy, in part because grants come with strings attached. Consider an alleged attempt by the funder to dictate how Florida State University's economics department could use funding. The allegations included claims that the Koch Foundation wanted partial control over the university's hiring of faculty members. For more on this controversy and the broader issue of funder control over how dollars are spent, see this IP post.
For individuals, Koch’s Academic Programs are designed to support those who “engage students in the principles of free enterprise, classical liberalism, and societal well-being” through approaches such as guest lectures; reading discussions, seminars, or colloquia; course development; and research fellowships. Koch also supports scholarships, and has a scholarship program at Utah State, for example.
Grants from the Koch Foundation have also supported nonprofit organizations, many of which are involved in program development or implementation directly related to university work. Lastly, Koch offers a number of scholarships, fellowships, and professional development opportunities to individuals through the Educational Programs of a separate organization, the Charles Koch Institute.
Grantseekers should apply online through the foundation's website. Before doing so, however, it is worth reviewing Koch’s guiding principles, giving principles, and recent education news to get a better sense of whether your work aligns with the projects the foundation prioritizes.
- John Hardin, Director, University Relations