With a net worth of around $10.7 billion and a grocery store empire that dominates the Texas landscape, Charles Butt is an heir and billionaire to get familiar with. Born in 1938, he is the grandson of Florence Butt, who created the Texas grocery chain, H-E-B, in 1905 when her husband with tuberculosis was no longer able to work. Charles got involved with the family business at an early age and became its chairman and CEO in 1971. The company’s involvement in giving stretches back to 1933, when his parents decided to contribute 5 percent of their business’s pre-tax income to charitable causes. In the early 2000s, Butt established his own philanthropic foundation, which is poised for big things in the years ahead.
Butt Signed the Giving Pledge
In May 2018, Charles Butt joined the Giving Pledge, committing to give away a least half of his wealth. Following on the heels of his big education gifts (see below), this was another sign that a previously low-profile giver was emerging as a major philanthropist. Butt does not have any children to leave his wealth behind to, so this is how he has chosen to channel his funds and leave a legacy. Yet the philanthropist’s foundation continues to be low-key, operating without a website or appearing to accept unsolicited grant requests from nonprofits.
Butt Is Primarily Concerned with Education
The H-E-B chain of supermarkets has continued to give five percent of its pre-tax earnings to charitable causes over many decades. “We donate to charitable organizations in the areas of hunger relief, education, health, the environment, diversity and the arts,” Butt wrote in his Giving Pledge letter. “Reasons for our beliefs include: It’s our civic obligation. The income gap between top and bottom earners is too great for the nation’s future stability. It’s the right thing to do.”
However, Butt’s personal philanthropy is largely focused on education at the primary and secondary school levels. He has thus far been most interested in supporting local public schools, and helped create the Holdworth Center, a nonprofit leadership institute to strengthen leadership and teaching in public schools. He’s supporting the center with an initial commitment of $250 million over its first five years.
“My personal giving, which is not directly related to the company, covered various things in a scattershot fashion over the years, but I found I wasn’t making a difference,” Butt said. “When I saw the challenges in public education about 20 years ago, I became focused on that. It seems to me that if you focus in one area you stand a chance of making a small difference. If you give to a lot of things you don’t give enough to make a difference.”
In addition to education, Butt has also awarded grants to health and cultural organizations.
Texas is at the Heart of Butt’s Giving
Butt is a resident of San Antonio, Texas, and his roots run deep in the Lone Star state. This is where he grew up and where his family business is, so it makes sense that many grants would stay there. There are hundreds of H-E-B stores in Texas and a few dozen in Mexico, too.
After Hurricane Harvey, Butt donated millions to the disaster relief fund. Last fall, Butt donated $2 million to a new Centers for Applied Science and Technology Med High School charter campus on the south side of San Antonio. Other local grantees are the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and the San Antonio Children’s Museum.
Learn more about this funder and how to get in touch in IP’s full profile of the Charles Butt Foundation.