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Chronicle of Philanthropy Highlights Steven Hilton

Friday, April 11, 2014

Steven Hilton, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation President and CEO (and SCG member) was recently highlighted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (full article below):

The way Steven Hilton sees it, he and the foundation started by his grandfather grew up together.

A considerable chunk of Mr. Hilton’s adulthood—more than three decades—will have elapsed by the time he steps down as head of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation at the end of 2015.

Mr. Hilton last month announced his retirement from the foundation’s presidency, a post he has held since 1998. He started as a program assistant in 1983. He first witnessed and then later supervised much of the grant maker’s growth from a $6-million annual grants budget 30 years ago to $100-million, and from a mere handful of staff members to 50 people.

“If there’s one thing I’d like to be known for, it is carrying forward my grandfather’s philanthropic legacy and building the foundation as he would,” says Mr. Hilton, 63, an heir of Conrad Hilton, the hotel mogul.

Major Growth
During his time at the foundation, which focuses largely on helping the poor, Steven Hilton has led efforts to develop grant programs in areas such as aid to foster children and domestic-violence research and prevention. He has overseen the fund’s growth from five grant-making priorities to 12, supported by an endowment that mushroomed from $200-million when he was first hired as a program assistant to $2.4-billion today.

The assets have seen a couple of significant growth spurts along the way: In the late 1980s, William Barron Hilton, Steven Hilton’s father, split shares of his father’s hotel stock between the family and the foundation, with the fund getting about $330-million. And at the end of 2007, Barron Hilton made a $1.2-billion pledge to the foundation; he has also vowed to give most of the rest of his fortune to the organization upon his death.

As a vice president and board member of the foundation in 1995, Steven Hilton also took up a suggestion by James Galbraith, a fellow trustee, to start a prize that rewards charities that do exemplary work to alleviate human suffering.

The Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, first awarded in 1996, has annually offered an unrestricted award of $1.5-million, making it the largest prize of its kind.

The grant maker, established in 1944, now sends more than 40 percent of its grant dollars overseas each year—something the late founder, who built his hotel chain around the world, would applaud, says his grandson.

The Hilton foundation’s increasing emphasis on international efforts is rooted in one of its founder’s philosophies: Reach people whose needs are most dire.

The fund supports an array of mostly social-service causes, like preventing homelessness. Two of its grant-making goals are to aid Catholic education and religious orders.

For instance, it spends $16-million in grants annually to groups made up of Catholic nuns, many of which do charity work with poor people around the world. Another grant-making priority, to which the foundation commits nearly $10-million each year, is aimed at helping children worldwide who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

“It is more challenging for grant makers to work overseas,” Mr. Hilton says. “You’re further away from the groups on the ground that are doing the work, and often the governments aren’t as receptive or as transparent as you’d like them to be. Still, if you want to be doing work where there is the most need, overseas is where you have to go.”

Water-Shortage Concern
The foundation’s international grants include considerable attention to one of Steven Hilton’s chief concerns: a global shortage of clean, potable water.

In the last 25 years, the foundation has made more than $100-million in grants to water projects in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Mexico. Mr. Hilton says those grants have helped to increase access to safe water for more than two million people.

“If you look at the effect of unclean water, it’s staggering how much suffering is going on,” he says. “Two and a half million people die from unsafe water each year, and 95 percent of them are from developing nations.”

A health-and-fitness fanatic who surfs and teaches a t’ai chi class at the grant maker’s headquarters in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains, Mr. Hilton says he will sometimes slip away from his office to a “board meeting” to ride the waves.

Once he slips away from the president’s desk for good next year, he’ll remain on Hilton’s board, though he says he won’t take part in the search for his successor. Mr. Hilton says that no family members have expressed an interest in running the foundation. His two children, both in their 20s, are “indirectly involved” in the foundation’s workings, he says.

“We’ll be conducting a very open national search,” he says. “If there’s somebody in the family who might want to be considered, they’ll be included in the process.”

Mr. Hilton predicts that his successor will take over an organization that is poised to remain strong financially and within its program areas for years to come, though he doubts the foundation will expand its portfolio anytime soon.

“Twelve grant-making areas is a lot of turf to cover,” he says. “Efforts can get diluted and you might not have the impact you’d like.”

Read the complete article on The Chronicle of Philanthropy website (Chronicle account log in required).

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