The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created by Hilton Hotels founder Conrad N. Hilton and greatly expanded by Hilton’s son, Barron Hilton. The foundation historically has supported Catholic religious sisters and programs that aid the poor in developing countries, though it has made an increasing emphasis on public policy, particularly after the foundation’s endowment rose after Barron Hilton’s death.
Conrad N. Hilton
Conrad N. Hilton created Hilton Hotels. During his lifetime he acquired the Waldorf-Astoria and Plaza hotels in New York City, and the Palmer House in Chicago. 1
Hilton served two terms in the New Mexico state legislature in 1912-13 as a Republican, and in 1976, he donated $250 to Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful campaign to defeat the Republican Party’s nomination of President Gerald Ford. Hilton is not known to have engaged in any other partisan political activity. 2
Hilton was a devout Catholic. In a 2009 biography, the Hilton Foundation said that Hilton, while a student at St. Michael’s College, met Fr. Jules Desroches, “who became his first confessor” and told Hilton, “Connie, if three times daily you say a Hail Mary and ask St. Joseph to “Pray for Us,’ He will always take care of you.” His biographer stated, “Conrad recited these prayers every day for the rest of his life.” 3
Hilton was a founder of the National Prayer Breakfast and a major sponsor of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He also believed in the power of prayer to fight Communism. In the 1950s, he worked with author Fulton Oursler to compose an ecumenical prayer that concluded “America now knows it can destroy Communism and win the battle for peace. We need fear nothing or no one…except God.” Hilton Hotels donated 200,000 copies of the prayer to Americans. 4
Hilton Hotels Stock Controversy
Conrad Hilton died in 1979, and for the next nine years, the Conrad Hilton Foundation and Hilton’s son, Barron Hilton, had a dispute over the disposition of the 27 percent share of Hilton Hotels owned by Conrad Hilton. The Tax Reform Act of 1969 had prohibited a foundation from owning more than 20 percent of a corporation. An out of court settlement in 1988 divided the shares into thirds, with one-third going to the foundation, one-third to Barron Hilton, and one-third to a “unitrust” that neither side controlled. 5
The thirds were eventually unified upon Barron Hilton’s death in 2019. Like his father, Barron Hilton willed 97 percent of his fortune to the Hilton Foundation. 6 His death increased the Hilton Foundation endowment by $3.6 billion, leading the Chronicle of Philanthropy to call him the second most generous American in 2019 behind Michael Bloomberg. 7
As a result of Barron Hilton’s bequest, Hilton Foundation grantmaking increased from $207 million in 2020 to $339 million in 2021. 8
Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters
Conrad Hilton declared in his will that, for future generations: “the largest part of your benefactions dedicated to the Sisters in all parts of the world.” Two religious orders filed a class action lawsuit alleging that they were entitled to more than half of the foundation’s grants. In 1988, the suit was settled with the creation of the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters, which was controlled by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and later became independent. 9
In 2018 the foundation announced it was adopting a strategy whereby grants from the Fund for Sisters would primarily be used “to become global leaders in the provision of sustainable human development services” aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 10
Alignment with Left-of-Center Racial Policy
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation says it is committed to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” policies, stating that these policies “improves our culture, enables us to better reflect the world, and ultimately, helps our work to have greater impact.” 11
In 2020 the Hilton Foundation created an “Equity fund” with the stated aim being “to combat racism and other forms of bias and injustice across multiple dimensions, including gender, disability and LGBTQI+.” The foundation made $5 million in grants though this fund in 2020 and $11 million in 2021. Grants made in 2021 included $1.5 million grants to BVM Capacity Building Institute, Mississippi Center for Justice, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, Project South the Institution for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, Southern Education Foundation Institutional Department, and Southerners on New Ground, with million-dollar grants going to the Solidaire Network and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors for the Collective Future Fund. 12
The foundation, along with the California Endowment, the Annenberg and California Wellness foundations, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Emerson Collective, is a contributor to the California Black Freedom Fund, which aims to distribute $100 million to left-leaning Black-led nonprofits in California between 2021-26. 13
Left-Leaning Economic Policy Grantmaking
Families and Workers Fund
The Hilton Foundation is part of the executive committee of an effort led by the left-of-center Ford Foundation and Schmidt Futures called the Families and Workers Fund, which is trying to promote “the development of a more inclusive, effective public benefits system, with a focus on unemployment insurance.” Other foundations on the executive committee include the Amalgamated, Open Society, Rockefeller, and Skoll foundations. 14
Children’s Defense Fund
In 2021, the Hilton Foundation gave the Children’s Defense Fund $2,45 million to study the effects of a “time-limited cash transfer” on “transition-age foster youth.” 15
- Martin Morse Wooster, How Great Philanthropists Failed and How You Can Protect Your Legacy (New York: Capital Research Center, 2017), 286.
- Martin Morse Wooster. How Great Philanthropists Failed and How You Can Protect Your Legacy (Washington, D.C.: Capital Research Center, 2017), 287
- The Hilton Legacy: Serving Humanity Worldwide (Los Angeles: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation 2009), 18.
-  Whitney Bolton, The Silver Spade: The Conrad Hilton Story (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1954, xvii-xvii.i
- Al Delugach, “ Barron Hilton Wins Battle For Chain,” Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1988.
- For obituaries, see Richard Goldstein,” Barron Hilton, 91, Hotel Magnate Who Expanded Family’s Empire, Dies,” New York Times, September 21, 2019. Mike Kupper, “Barron Hilton, 1927-2019.” Los Angeles Times, September 21, 2019.
- Jim Rendon, Maria DI Mento, and Michael Theis, “Billion-Dollar Giving Streak,” Chronicle of Philanthropy, February 2020. The newspaper credited Hilton with $2.4 billion because he had previously pledged $1.2 billion to the Hilton Foundation in 2007.
-  “Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Grated $339 Million in 2021, Marking the Largest Grantmaking Year in Its History,” press release from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, February 18, 2022.
- Deanne Stone, “Honoring the Donor: The Conrad N. Hilton foundation,” National Center for Family Philanthropy, January 5, 20921, https://www.ncfp.org/knowledge/honoring-the-donor-the-conrad-n-hilton-foundation/
- “Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Approves New Catholic Sisters Strategy,” press release from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, August 23, 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180823005191/en/Conrad-N.-Hilton-Foundation-Approves-New-Catholic-Sisters-Strategy
- Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” https://www.hiltonfoundation.org/about/diversity-equity-and-inclusion (accessed May 5, 2022)
- “Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Awards $76 Million in New Grants in Third Quarter of 2021,”: https://www.hiltonfoundation.org/news/conrad-n-hilton-foundation-awards-76-million-in-grants-in-third-quarter-of-2021 (accessed May 5, 2022)
- Antonio Ray Harvey, “California Foundations Drop $100 Million in ‘Black Freedom Fund,’” Los Angeles Sentinel, February 11, 2021.
- “Families and Workers Fund Launches Mission to Foster a More Equitable Economic Recovery,” press release, October 5, 2021.
- “Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Grated $339 Million in 2021,” press release from the Conrad N. Hilton foundation, February 18, 2022.