The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is a private foundation created by tobacco heiress Doris Duke. The Foundation funds causes associated with the arts, preservation of Duke family properties, healthcare in Africa, and environmentalist land-preservation efforts.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation was created by Doris Duke (1912-1993), the only child of James Buchanan Duke, who made a fortune from tobacco and electric power and created the Duke Endowment. Doris Duke began to receive an inheritance from her father in 1925, with additional money from her father’s estate transferred to her in 1933 and 1940. By the time she died in 1993, her estate was worth $1.2 billion.1
Politically, Doris Duke was a liberal. She was a trustee of the Duke Endowment from 1933 until her death, but stopped attending board meetings in the late 1960s because, as she stated in 1988,
“I was only one trustee, one voice, trying to accomplish certain socially progressive objectives. The other trustees, however, disagreed with me.”2
Marshall Pickens, a Duke Endowment trustee from 1951 to the 1990s, told the Charlotte Observer that Doris Duke was “a pretty liberal lady in her thinking, socially and otherwise.”3
Staff members of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation discovered that Duke, during her lifetime, gave away, $97.7 million during her lifetime. Duke formed the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968 to preserve eighteenth-century buildings in Newport, Rhode Island. This foundation received $22.7 million during Duke’s lifetime. Duke University received $2 million.4
Doris Duke’s will took three years to clear probate.5 When the will cleared in 1996, it had the following pertinent clauses:
- Preserving her homes in Newport, Rhode Island and Honolulu, Hawaii as museums, (Duke’s Honolulu home Shangri-La, is now the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art).6
- Supporting “dancers, singers, musicians, and other artists of the entertainment world.”
- Supporting scientists fighting cancer, AIDS, and sickle-cell anemia “providing no animals are used in such research.”
- Preserving “wildlife, both flora and fauna, in the United States and elsewhere.”7
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation continues to carry out its founder’s directives. It supports the arts through grants to dance troupes and theaters as well as individual grants to actors, dancers, and musicians through its Doris Duke Artist Awards and United States Artists Doris Duke Fellowships, which it funds through the nonprofit United States Artists.
It supports medical research through the funding of various grants to fight diseases, with the grants restricted to scientists who do not use animals in their research.
Its Child Well-Being Program looks at ways to improve the lives of children, from programs that give children a place to play to funding research by Child Trends on national surveys on the problems children face.
The African Health Initiative, begun in 2013, supports public health programs in Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Building Bridges, operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art since 2007, funds “arts experiences” between “U.S.-based Muslims and non-Muslims.”
The foundation’s environmentalist grantmaking includes grants to fight climate change as well as to acquire land for natural preservation in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Recipients of the foundation’s environmental grants in 2015 include Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy. These grants were all multi-year grants of between $1 million and $5 million.
While Doris Duke said in her will that her homes in Newport and Honolulu be preserved as museums, she imposed no restrictions on preserving either Duke Farms, her childhood home in Somerville, New Jersey, or Duke Gardens, which she developed during her lifetime. This led the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, in 2008, to close Duke Farms between 2008 and 2012, demolishing most of the gardens to turn the property—four times larger than Disneyland—into a nature preserve.
“The future mission shouldn’t be to make Duke Farms the poor man’s Longwood Gardens, with smaller, less mature horticultural displays,” Rutgers University ecologist Steven M. Handel told the New York Times. “Duke Farms is going to have an important, unique mission in land stewardship and research and education.” 8
In 2015, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation began the process of getting permission to destroy Doris Duke’s home, which had been vacant since her death in 1993. The amount of deterioration to the home was unclear because the foundation did not allow independent third-party assessments. In 2009 the foundation received a $58 million low-interest loan from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority for infrastructure improvements at Duke Farms, and none of the money went to preserving Doris Duke’s house.
A local historic preservation group, DORIS (Destruction of House is Senseless) was formed to block the demolition, but the group repeatedly lost because there was no clause in Doris Duke’s will that said that the house should be preserved. 9 In March 2016, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Lee Solomon refused to block the demolition, and the house was destroyed. 10
Sam Gill is the president and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Prior to this, he served as senior vice president and chief program officer at John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He also served on the board of the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and on the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. 11
William H. Wright II is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Previously, Wright was a managing director at Morgan Stanley. He also sits on the board of Mount Sinai Health System, Inc. 12
According to its 2019 990 tax forms, the Foundation’s reported revenue was $0, its reported expenses was $0, and its reported assets was $1,773,173,370. 13
- Robert D. McFadden, “Doris Duke Leaves $1 Billion to a New Charitable Foundation,” New York Times, November 2, 1993, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/02/nyregion/doris-duke-leaves-$1-billion-to-a-new-charitable-foundation/
- Karen Garloch and Jack Horan, “Their Mission: Give Away $41 Million,” Charlotte Observer, November 13, 1988.
- Karen Garloch and Jack Horan, “Their Mission: Give Away $41 Million.”
- Judith M. Dobrzynski, “Confronting a $1.4 Billion Blank Page,” New York Times, November 10, 1998.
- For a discussion of the conflict over Doris Duke’s will, see Martin Morse Wooster, The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of ‘Donor Intent,’ third edition (Washington, D.C. Capital Research Center, 2007), 178-182.
- For a description and history of Shangri-La, see Doug Stewart, “Doris Duke’s Islamic Art Retreat,” Smithsonian, March 2004 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture-doris-dukes-islamic-art-retreat-103779190/
- Marina Dundjerski, “At Long Last, a Legacy,” Chronicle of Philanthropy, December 11, 1997.
- Anne Raver, “Transformation Involves Sacrifice,” New York Times, May 8, 2008. Jane Garmey, “Duke’s Storied Gardens Are No More,” Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008.
- Mark Di Ionno, “Grand Irony: Doris Duke Home Being Erased With Her Own Money,” Newark Star-Ledger, March 20, 2016. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/03/grand_irony_doris_duke_legacy_being_erased_with_he.html
- Dave Hutchinson, “N.J. Supreme Court Rules Duke Mansion Can Be Abolished,” Newark Star-Ledger, March 21, 2016. http://www.nj.com/news/somerset/index.ssf/2016/03/state_supreme_court_rules_doris_duke_mansion_demol.html For a history of the case, see Rikki Lynn Hauss, The Duchess of South Somerville (Totowa, New Jersey: Lightning Press, 2017).
- “Sam Gill.” n.d. Dorisduke.org. Accessed October 17, 2023. https://www.dorisduke.org/who-we-are/our-people/staff/sam-gill/.
- “William H. Wright II.” n.d. Dorisduke.org. Accessed October 17, 2023. https://www.dorisduke.org/who-we-are/our-people/board-of-trustees/william-h.-wright-ii/.
- Return of Private Foundation (Form 990-PF). 2019. Part I and Part II. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/137043679/07_2020_prefixes_01-25%2F137043679_201902_990PR_2020070117210343