The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ranked No. 1 on the Business Journal’s Foundations list, has responded to the coronavirus pandemic by loosening its pocketbook to help vulnerable communities and local nonprofits.

The foundation, which relocated its headquarters from Agoura Hills to Westlake Village in 2018, has given away more than $62 million as of August, more than $20 million of which has gone to support COVID-19 suppression efforts.

Local grant recipients include the Conejo Free Clinic, Food Share of Ventura County, the California Community Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley and the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles.

While many foundations are upping their grant programs at the expense of their endowments – during a recession, no less – the Hilton Foundation has never been richer.

Its endowment, which had a reported value of $6.6 billion in 2019, doubled in size last September when Chairman Emeritus William Barron Hilton died. The second son and successor of hotelier Conrad Hilton was an entrepreneur in his own right, having founded several companies and serving as the first owner of the Los Angeles Chargers football franchise before going on to lead Hilton Hotels Corp. and the Hilton Foundation.

According to an email from the Foundation’s Senior Manager of Communications Julia Friedman, Barron Hilton left “the vast majority of his fortune” to the foundation. “Our endowment doubled in size to close to $7 billion,” she said.

Friedman said the foundation was already planning to increase its grant-making payout for 2020 as a result of the larger endowment. The pandemic has just redirected those extra funds to organizations most affected by the virus.

Otherwise, she said, operations at the Hilton Foundation haven’t been badly interrupted. Staff are working from home and on-premise meetings and events have been shifted to digital formats. “We are fortunate enough to not have to do any fundraising,” Friedman said.

The foundation last month awarded its flagship grant, the 2020 Humanitarian Prize and an accompanying $2.5 million, to the nonprofit Homeboy Industries, a gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in Los Angeles.

Presidential trouble

In Simi Valley, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute operates a bit differently than the Hilton Foundation. Its charity consists of student scholarships rather than business and nonprofit grants.

Those student programs are still happening, but the Foundation is giving out less money this year than in years past.

According to an email from Chief Marketing Officer Melissa Giller, the Foundation has taken a “huge financial hit” from the pandemic.

With $374 million in assets managed in 2019, the Reagan Foundation is No.3 on the Business Journal’s list.

Especially hurt, Giller said, is the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

While the Presidential Library and Museum are operated by the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, it is the Reagan Foundation that runs the front desk, staff, membership ambassadors program and gift store. The foundation also manages the revenue from museum tours and exhibit ticket sales, though it gives a portion back to NARA “based on a Memorandum of Understanding signed back in 2016,” Giller wrote.

All those lines of income really add up.

Back in March, the Presidential Library and Museum made headlines when Executive Director John Heubusch sent a letter to members saying the museum was missing about $150,000 a week in lost revenue from admissions, concessions, events and other on-site sales.

Giller confirmed this is still the case six months later, citing ongoing interruptions in “ticket sales, museum store sales, membership sales, souvenir photos and royalties from the café.”

More specifically, she said, books sold by keynote speakers were formerly a big generator of merchandise sales for the Museum and have since dried up.

“We had a great conversion rate of selling books at those free events where guests could go through a line in the Museum Store and get the author to personalize a book for them,” Giller wrote.

The last time former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke on campus, she said, the event drew about 1,000 guests and sold more than 600 books. The Library’s virtual event with Gingrich on June 23 garnered almost 4,500 views – far higher attendance than the in-person event – but fewer than 200 people bought books, even though they were pre-signed.

“It’s much harder to sell a book when you don’t get to meet the author in person,” Giller wrote.


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