A Conservative Billionaire Gives Big for Morals and Values, With a Close Eye on Youth

Conservative Colorado billionaire Philip Anschultz has made a fortune off versatility. After taking over the family oil business in the 1960s, he branched out into ranching, real estate, railroads, film production and alternative energy to become the present-day owner of more than 130 businesses. The conservative Weekly Standard magazine and the tabloid Washington Examiner newspaper are among his latest acquisitions. He's no less eclectic with his charitable giving. The Anschutz Foundation, which he and his wife, Nancy, started in 1984, funds human services of all kinds, including medical research, arts centers, charter schools, homeless shelters and crisis centers for women escaping domestic violence. But it shows particular interest in programs that serve youth.

To be specific, the foundation leans toward programs that help youth build character and to develop solid personal values such as empathy, respect for others, and personal responsibility. Philip Anschutz once said in an interview that while material aid like food assistance and emergency shelters are important, "people grounded in solid values will be better situated to prosper on their own." Anschutz's views are strongly colored by his evangelical Christian faith.

The Anschutz Foundation is a major philanthropic player. In a recent year, it held over $1 billion in assets and made over $50 million in grants. Transparency is not a strength of the foundation; it doesn't even have a website. Yet with a small staff, and strong family involvement, the foundation gets a huge number of grants out the door every year, across a wide number of issue areas. Anschutz and Nancy give additional money anonymously. Much more money is waiting in wings: Anschutz is worth over $11 billion. 

We've written before about Anschutz Foundation's extensive education giving, which has involved considerable support for charter schools and ed reform groups, often in Colorado. Anschutz also backs a wide range of conservative policy groups and religious organizations, grants that offer further insights into this donor's worldview. 

The slice of Anschutz money that specifically advances morals and values is significant, and takes various forms. One the biggest grantees of the Anschutz Foundation over the past 15 years is the Foundation for a Better Life, which "creates public service campaigns to communicate the values that make a difference in our communities." The foundation promotes a wide array of values, through billboards and advertising, with a list that doesn't appear to align with any particular ideological agenda or religious dogma. Regarding the purpose of its work, it says, "We believe that people are intrinsically good and often benefit from a simple reminder. We offer these messages in an effort to promote good values and positive role models."

Anschutz has acknowledged that this effort is not a typical philanthropic project with a clear, concrete impact. But he has said, “All that matters is that people absorb the ideas... that will positively affect how they conduct themselves in our society and they will be open to sharing them with others.”

Yet the Anschutz Foundation's giving on values also takes more focused forms, with grants going to a range of groups that work with youth in a hands-on way. 

Anschutz's grantmaking for at-risk youth is heavy on mentoring and counseling. It also looks favorably on programs that bring kids and their parents closer together. An example is the $15,000 it gave one year to Family Time Training, a Christian nonprofit that encourages families to spend more time together and to be more spiritually active. Note also the $20,000 grant that went out to Colorado Youth Outdoors, an organizer of outdoor activities for kids and their parents; and the $50,000 award to Concerts for Kids, a Denver, Colorado outfit that organizes family-friendly music events.

Of course, some young people don't have very healthy home lives and need to find some positive adult role models outside their homes. Anschutz keeps these youth in mind, too. It gave $25,000 one year to Colorado Youth at Risk, which provides faith-based mentoring to teens who are going through tough times. And it gave $10,000 that same year to Alternatives For Youth, a Longmont, Colorado-based nonprofit that runs mentoring programs to encourage young people to succeed at school and at life and to avoid bad influences and behaviors, such as drugs and alcohol.

Colorado UpLift, an urban youth-empowerment outfit, has gotten recent funds, as have a variety other groups that provide youth with constructive activities and pursuits, be it community service, camping trips, or intramural sports leagues, etc. The Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver is one of the foundation's biggest grantees, having received more than $1.5 million in 2013 alone. Various chapters of the Boy Scouts get money, too.

Psychological counseling and addiction recovery initiatives get a substantial amount of funding, also. That includes a number of rehabilitation programs that cater to youth. For example, Anschutz gave $65,000 in 2012 to the Aurora, Colorado, branch of Excelsior Youth Centers, a chain of mental-health and behavioral-therapy centers for children and teens.

In case you're wondering: Yes, Anschutz does spend most of its money within Colorado. But it does consider out-of-state grantees on at least a limited basis. Oklahoma City is an area of interest, for some reason. The foundation gave $30,000 in 2013 to Teen Recovery Solutions, an Oklahoma City teen addiction-treatment program; and $10,000 to the Oklahoma City chapter of Young Life, a Christian youth ministry.

As we said, the Anschutz Foundation gives away a ton of grants. But in addition to not having a website, it hasn't publicly issued any guidelines or procedural steps for applying for a grant from them.