The Mars Family Has a Soft Spot for Animals. Oh, and $60 Billion, Too

We've been doing some digging on Mars heirs Jacqueline, Forrest, and John Mars. It's not that we want a free lifetime supply of M&Ms, though we wouldn't be opposed. It's that the three grandchildren of Mars founder Frank C. Mars have an enormous $60 billion fortune to their names, and their philanthropy to date has barely gotten started in comparison to their net worth (See our initial profile on Mars). 

One area of philanthropic interest for the Mars heirs is supporting animals and wildlife. Here are three things to know about the family's giving in this area:

1. The Foundation Is Not the Only Way They Give

The Mars Foundation held just $15 million in assets at the end of 2012 and, that year, gave away a mere $741,000 in grants. In recent years, animal and wildlife organizations that have received money from the foundation include the World Wildlife Fund, which received $12,000 in both 2011 and 2012, and Defenders of Wildlife. The foundation has also supported Canine Companions for Independence, and the Wildlife Center of Virginia, as well as other organizations.

Let's be honest here—these are modest gifts. However, the Mars heirs (sometimes along with their spouses) have been individually doling out money to animal, wildlife, and conservation organizations for years. The names include Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Fund for Lake George and the Charles Darwin Foundation.

John Mars and his wife Adrienne also gave a whopping $1 million to the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2010, with smaller gifts to the zoo over the years. 

When taken as a whole, these gifts tell a more complete story and give us hints of where the Mars family will go in the future. 

2. Their Giving Is Personal

What's more, the Mars heirs seem to be personally invested in the environment. Brothers John and Forrest Mars both live in Wyoming, where the foundation has donated for regional conservation work. Jacqueline is an equestrian who lives in Virginia horse country. As we've seen a million times in philanthropy, a personal interest often shapes grantmaking. 

3. Bigger Giving Ahead

At 74, Jacqueline Mars is the youngest of the three Mars heirs and so it stands to reason that estate planning is very much on the minds of this trio of mega billionaires. It's impossible to say whether truly significant sums will be destined for philanthropy, but the prospect of estate taxes would certainly make it attractive for the family to give large gifts of equity to their foundation, when the alternative is selling to outsiders to meet tax obligations.

Typically, when family foundations scale up with new resources, they stick with pre-existing priorities—in effect, adding extra zeroes to the checks they are writing. Groups that are already in the door with the Mars family are in a good situation, and groups not yet through that door should be looking for a way in.

One question here are how the Mars children fit in. The three heirs have ten kids between them, who may eventually be left doing the heavy lifting of giving away big bucks. Not much is known about this next generation, but animal and wildlife groups have good reasons to get to know them, if possible.