Rockefeller Brothers Fund Timeline

1940s: Beginning at the Brink of War

In its first decade, the Fund’s largest combined giving was to war relief and reconstruction worldwide.

The Fund began giving to the YMCA and YWCA in 1941 and continued through the 1980s.

The Fund’s relationship with the The National Urban League began in 1941, when the organization specialized in industrial relations.

The American Council on Race Relations played a crucial role in promoting equality in the United States after World War II. The RBF supported the Council from 1946 until it closed its doors in 1950.

1950s: The Fund at Mid-Century

By the early 1950s, the Fund had an endowment for the first time, it began operating its own programs, and used these to respond to world events with more experimental initiatives.

Created in 1956 in response to Cold War tensions, Special Studies convened leaders from a wide variety of fields including government, business, and academia, to explore and define the “problems and opportunities” the United States would face in the coming 10 to 15 years.

In 1958, the Fund began supporting the Southern Regional Council in its efforts to make the desegregation of public facilities in the South both successful and peaceful.

1960s: Tradition and Tumult

Against a backdrop of political protest and social upheaval, the 1960s saw the RBF increase its endowment and make between $6 and $8 million in grants each year.

In 1968, the Fund developed an umbrella organizing mechanism for addressing the complex problems of race in the inner city. Coordinated by RBF staff, it made modest grants to a range of organizations, each of which worked on a facet of the broader issue.

1970s: Decade of Disquiet

Despite intergenerational conflicts, the Fund responded to the concerns of the era with programs in equal opportunity, urban problems, U.S. Southern development, the environment, and fostering the health of the private sector.

Launched in 1970, the Fund’s Southern Program was concerned with the economic and social disenfranchisement of black Southerners, in particular the roles of poverty and land loss in massive outmigration from the rural South to Northern cities.

The RBF made grants to the Center for Community Change through the Fund’s Southern program beginning in 1972, providing technical assistance to agricultural development groups in the U.S. South.

Better known as the Filer Commission, the Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs was established in 1973 through the efforts of RBF founding trustee John D. Rockefeller 3rd and several others.

1980s: Global Interdependence

The 1980s saw the Fund focusing on issues at home and abroad in the areas of agricultural reform, post-apartheid democracy in South Africa, and nuclear non-proliferation. In New York City, it worked on the social toll of AIDS, affordable housing, sustainable urban development, and public education.

Supporting human rights and anti-apartheid concerns in South Africa since the 1960s, RBF deepened its interest in these fields by helping to establish the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Johannesburg.

In the 1980s, the Fund continued to work on strengthening the nonprofit sector in the United States, including support for Independent Sector, a new leadership network for nonprofit organizations, foundations, and corporations committed to the public good.

1990s: Changing Geopolitics and Civil Society

The 1990s witnessed the fall of two seemingly entrenched political orders: Communist regimes in the Eastern bloc and apartheid in South Africa. These seismic geopolitical shifts both invited the Fund’s response and reaffirmed its existing involvement in both regions.

Founded in 1990 to reinforce the overall process of democratization, the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (HFSR) was one of the Fund’s cornerstone grantees in post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, civic groups emerged across the region, yet few funds were available to start NGOs and organizers had little management experience. In 1990, the RBF formally extended the scope of its Nonprofit Sector program to include Central and Eastern Europe.

2000s: Globalization’s Discontents

The years since 2000 have witnessed rapid and chaotic trends in globalization as well as violent regional conflicts with devastating immediate consequences and far-reaching global effects.

Beginning in 2000, the RBF has supported the Third World Network in improving the terms of negotiations for developing country interests, furthering the Fund’s commitments to democratize global institutions and give the global South a stronger voice in global governance.

In 2002, the RBF joined more than 100 other foundations in an amicus brief supporting a federal lawsuit brought by the Brennan Center, Dobbins v. Legal Services Corporation, which challenged government-imposed restrictions on the use of private philanthropic funds in nonprofit legal aid services.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network (BIRN) is a network of nongovernmental organizations working to develop media and investigative reporting in the Balkans. The RBF has supported BIRN since 2006.

Founded in 2007 with RBF support, the Institute for Advanced Studies (GAP) is an independent, Kosovo-based think tank that aims to bridge the gaps between the Kosovar government and the public on economic, political, and social issues.