The F.M. Kirby Foundation is a family foundation run by the great-grandchildren of founder Fred Morgan Kirby (1861-1940), an entrepreneur whose five- and ten-cent store chain was merged into the F.M. Woolworth Company. The foundation’s endowment was substantially expanded by F.M. Kirby’s grandson, Fred Morgan Kirby II, because of the family’s substantial investment in Alleghany Corporation, a holding company created in the 1930s to control railroads including the Chesapeake and Ohio and New York Central that now primarily holds investments in insurance companies.
The Kirby Foundation’s grants include programs in conservation, education (including substantial donations to Lafayette College); support of locally based charities in Morristown, New Jersey, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; and center-right public policy organizations.
Kirby Family Businesses
Fred Morgan Kirby (1861-1940) was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and began his career, along with Frank Woolworth, as apprentices at the Moore and Smith Dry Goods Store in Watertown, New York. In the late 1870s, William Moore put overstocked products on a back table to sell for five cents. Kirby and Woolworth were inspired to set up chains of five- and ten-cent stores, with the first F.M. Kirby store opening in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1884. 
Eventually F.M. Kirby Company expanded into a national 96-store chain that merged into Woolworth’s in 1912. Kirby received $9 million and a promise from Woolworth that none of his employees would be laid off. 
F.M. Kirby’s son, Allan Kirby, bought a controlling interest in the Alleghany Corporation in 1936. Alleghany controlled railroads such as the Chesapeake and Ohio and took control of the New York Central from its founding Vanderbilt family in 1954. Allan Kirby’s son, F.M. Kirby II (1919-2011), became Alleghany president in 1967, selling off the railroads; under Kirby’s tenure, Alleghany’s largest transaction was selling the mutual fund company Investors Diversified Services to American Express in 1983 for $1 billion, tripling Alleghany’s investment. Barron’s reporter Andrew Bary noted in 2007 that Alleghany had returned 15 percent on average since 1967 and the company “may be the closest thing to a small-scale Berkshire Hathaway in the public market.” 
Foundation Control Dispute
In the late 1980s, F.M. Kirby II engaged in a major legal battle over who would be trustees of the F.M. Kirby Foundation. In 1991, the Delaware Chancery Court ruled that F.M. Kirby II had the power to block his brother, his sister, and their children from joining the Kirby Foundation board, limiting controlling family members to himself, his wife, and his children S. Dillard and Jefferson. 
The Kirby Foundation’s primary beneficiary has been Lafayette College, which seven members of the Kirby family attended. Lafayette has been a beneficiary of Kirby family generosity ever since F.M. Kirby became a trustee in 1916. Philanthropy magazine estimated that Lafayette has received $100 million from the Kirby Foundation through several decades. Lafayette College president Daniel Weiss told the magazine that the Kirby Foundation was “with us through thick and thin.” 
The Kirby Foundation also supports medical research. F.M. Kirby II personally gave the University of Pennsylvania medical school $2 million in 2006 to endow a chair of molecular ophthalmology.  The largest health-related grants in 2020 went to the Little Falls Hospital in Dolgeville, New York ($415,000), the American Cancer Society ($250,000), and the JDRF Foundation ($200,000). 
Another major program of the Kirby Foundation are arts and culture grants. The foundation was the lead donor in an effort to transform an abandoned movie theatre in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania into the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 1986.  Other six-figure arts grants by the foundation in 2020 supported the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, New Jersey and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. 
About nine percent of Kirby Foundation grants in 2020 went to public-policy organizations, mostly center-right groups. The two largest grants for public policy-related institutions were $120,000 donations to the Center for Individual Rights and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.