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Funders Forum

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

December 2010

"Christmas is forever." These words appear on the gravestone of hotel entrepreneur Conrad N. Hilton, a devout Catholic who established the Los Angeles-based family foundation that bears his name. In the view of his grandson and the foundation's current president, Steven M. Hilton, the sentiment behind this epitaph extends beyond the Christian faith, encompassing the loving and giving that lie at the core of all major spiritual traditions. The Foundation Center asked Mr. Hilton:

Hilton Foundation

Question Why and how does the Hilton Foundation pursue its chosen program areas, and in what ways do you work with colleague organizations?

Answer "It comes down to donor intent. The foundation's mission and guiding philosophy were drawn from Conrad Hilton's Last Will and Testament. We take his intentions and hopes for the foundation very seriously, as seen in our Annual Report and on our web site, which consistently include quotes from the Last Will. In fact, when you walk into our offices, you see an etched glass excerpt from his will. Additionally, we request that each board member sign a document promising to honor the spirit of his Last Will. As a family foundation, we look beyond the specific language to the personality of Conrad Hilton, who was incredibly enthusiastic and a great entrepreneur, and incorporate these qualities into all we do. His vision for the foundation was 'relieving the suffering, the distressed, and the destitute' in areas of great need, and 'sheltering little children with the umbrella of charity,' as well as 'supporting Catholic sisters.' There are no territorial, religious, or demographic restrictions — the guidelines are broad enough to give the foundation's board and staff the flexibility to carry out his original intent while responding to the needs of today.

"We look for significant humanitarian needs that are underfunded or overlooked, and, working with expert consultants and in-house staff, strive to impact the largest number of people in the most effective way. We also leverage our resources and strategies by learning from and partnering with other grantmakers — particularly those who have already been involved in areas of interest that are new for us — to jointly fund different initiatives. We encourage other funders to participate in supporting our areas of focus through matching and challenge grants. A defining component of our grantmaking strategy over the past couple of decades has been large multi-year grants that enable us to stay with issues for many years: clean water, drug abuse prevention, and homelessness have been our areas of long-term focus. The chronic homeless are the most difficult to reach due to drug abuse, mental illness, or both. We have been concentrating on this challenge, particularly in L.A., which is considered the homelessness capital of the U.S. and is right in our backyard. I feel on a personal level that what we at the foundation do is an incredible blessing and a way to reach out and make a positive difference in the world. It is a spiritual path that brings us all together — funders, grantees, and those in need whom we strive to assist."

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