Our History

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  • The Children of John D. Rockefeller Jr.
    The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was created in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Pictured in 1960 (left to right): John 3rd, Winthrop, Abby, Laurance, David, and Nelson. © Ezra Stoller/Esto

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is a private, family foundation helping to advance social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world. It was created in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.—John D. 3rd, Nelson, Winthrop, Laurance, and David—as a vehicle by which they could share advice and research on charitable activities and coordinate their philanthropic efforts to better effect. Abby “Babs” Rockefeller Mauzé, the eldest child and only daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, joined the RBF’s board in 1954 and served as a trustee until her death in 1976. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made a substantial gift to the Fund in 1951, and in 1960 the Fund received a major bequest from his estate. Together, these constitute the original endowment of the Fund.

In 1952, the founders began to include on the board of the Fund trustees who were not members of the Rockefeller family. In 1958, the first of a number of daughters and sons of the founders joined the board, and the first of their children became trustees in 1992. Since the establishment of the Fund, three generations of family members have served as trustees. Beginning with John D. Rockefeller 3rd, who served as president from the inception of the Fund until 1956, seven presidents have distinguished the Fund with their vision and leadership. These presidents, along with the other trustees, officers, and staff, have ensured that the RBF remains dedicated to the philanthropic ideals of the Rockefeller family. The presidents include Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1956-1958; Laurance S. Rockefeller, 1958-1968; Dana S. Creel, 1968-1975; William M. Dietel, 1975-1987; Colin G. Campbell, 1988-2000; and the RBF’s current president, Stephen B. Heintz, who assumed office in February 2001.

On July 1, 1999, the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation of Stamford, Connecticut, merged with the RBF, bringing the Fund’s total assets to approximately $670 million. Shortly after the merger, the Fund initiated a strategic review process designed to systemically evaluate all its programs in light of the opportunities before humanity—both global and local—at the dawn of the 21st century. This extensive and complex process has led to the integration of some programs and the phasing out or scaling back of others. As part of this effort, the RBF’s current program architecture came into effect on January 1, 2003.

75th Anniversary, 1940-2015

To commemorate its 75th anniversary in December 2015, the Fund unveiled an interactive timeline of programmatic highlights and institutional milestones. It also commissioned a series of essays examining its history.

International Philanthropy

Read the essay on our website | Download the PDF

Conservation and the Environment

Read the essay on our website | Download the PDF

Reflecting on Risk and Failure

Read the essay on our website | Download the PDF

12 Lessons from Family Philanthropy

Read the essay on our website | Download the PDF

Visit the 75th anniversary timeline