Edward C. Johnson Fund: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Johnson fund is one of several philanthropic outfits of the Johnson family. It gives away tens of millions annually, mostly to Boston and greater New England outfits. 

FUNDING AREAS: Arts & Culture, historic preservation, conservation, health 

IP TAKE: The Johnsons are among the richest families in America, so there's a lot of money waiting in the wings here. Now that Edward Johnson has stepped away from Fidelity, there's an opportunity for a greater focus on philanthropy.  

PROFILE: Edward Johnson’s father, Edward Johnson II, founded Fidelity Investments in 1946. Fidelity has grown to manage trillions in assets. After graduating from Harvard and spending a few years in the army, Johnson joined his father and eventually took over the company. Johnson recently ceded control of Fidelity Investments to his daughter Abigail Johnson, who now serves as president and CEO. Collectively, the Johnson clan is worth around $26 billion.

Johnson’s philanthropy remains largely close to home, but he does support charities throughout the country through Fidelity’s charitable arm. The Johnsons also have a unique foundation called the Brookfield Arts Foundation, which purchases art and then donates it to museums.

Art is a clear passion for the family and at least $115 million from the Johnson fund has gone to Brookfield alone. Johnson himself has also been a trustee at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston since the 1970s and his daughter Abigail has been on the board of governors since 2006. Over the years, the Museum of Fine Arts has received more than $13 million from the Johnson fund. 

The fund has also supported the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Children's Museum, the Museum of Science, and the New England Aquarium with significantly more modest sums. At the end of a recent year, the funder claimed over $269 in assets and nearly $52 million in total giving. For comparison, the previous year, the fund reported over $300.5 million in assets and more than $82.3 million in total giving. Grants were as low as $500 and as high as over $16.8 million that year. 

The Johnsons have also given big to select health outfits, though the fund's list of health grantees in recent years isn't as long as in other areas. Massachusetts General Hospital has received at least $500,000 annually over the last couple of years. Johnson also sits on the board at Alzheimers Research Forum which has received more than $3 million over the years. Health Leads received $250,000 from the fund in a past year.

The fund is also into environmental conservation. Friends of the Public Garden and the Earthwatch Institute have received funds in recent years. The Esplanade Association, which helps restore and enhance Boston's historic Charles River Esplanade, recently received a modest gift of under $10,000. Emerald Necklace Conservancy received similar funds to help protect the Emerald Necklace Park System. 

Big sums have also gone to Historic New England in Boston and to other preservation and historical societies in Maine and even North Carolina. In addition, the Johnsons fund Boston area private schools such as the Shady Hill School and libraries. More traditional community organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs and little league organizations have also received money: “The Johnsons are extremely important both as a major employer and as part of the Boston and Massachusetts brand and they are very philanthropic in what they have done,” said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

So far, the Johnson Fund is not spreading money around to lots of human service and education groups, in contrast to many local funders. 


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