The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was created in 1940 as the charity for the five sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.: John D., III; future U.S. Vice President Nelson; Laurance; Winthrop; and David Rockefeller. Two of these five men, Laurance and David, also established their own foundations, though David announced that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund would receive $225 million after his death, which occurred in 2017. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Family Fund, and the David Rockefeller Fund all have the same mailing address, although the three nonprofits are legally distinct.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund also operates the Pocantico Conference Center, at Kykuit, a historic home of the Rockefeller family located about 20 miles north of New York City.
For the first 25 years of its existence, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund largely pursued the philanthropic interests of the brothers. Laurance was interested in conservation, so the fund bought land trusts in Wyoming that extended the basis of Grand Teton National Park. Nelson Rockefeller persuaded the fund to donate to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. John D. Rockefeller III was interested in population control, so the fund supported the Population Council.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s greatest influence came in the late 1950s when it published a series of reports about what America’s foreign and domestic policies should be. According to Nelson Rockefeller biographer Joseph E. Persico, the fund’s 1958 report Prospect for America was so influential “that during the 1960 election, both parties lifted from it for their platforms. The very emblem of the Kennedy administration was taken from a section of the Rockefeller Brothers’ report entitled ‘The New Frontiers.”
In the late 1970s, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund had a crisis over donor intent. After serving as Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller returned to philanthropy in 1977. He said that he should be chairman and CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and that half of the fund’s $190 million endowment should support the capital campaigns of 25 organizations the Rockefellers had long favored, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Population Council, and Rockefeller University.
Nelson Rockefeller’s death in 1979 ended the effort by the Rockefeller brothers to control the foundation. But between 1970 and 1981, the fund did donate $100 million, or half its endowment, to 18 organizations the family had long favored, including Rockefeller University, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center, and Sleepy Hollow Restorations, which restored historic homes near the Rockefellers’ family estate in Westchester County, New York. These grants, New York Times reporter Peter Kihss wrote in 1979, were terminal ones. “The intent in most cases,” Kihss wrote, “was that the Brothers Fund would be ending its major responsibility to the institutions, basically leaving them—facing the inroads of inflation—to make their own way.”
Rockefeller Brothers Fund Today
By 2014, about half of Rockefeller Brothers Fund grantmaking was concerned with climate change. The fund voted to divest its endowment of all investments in fossil fuels. In an interview with The Guardian, the fund’s chair, Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, daughter of former U.S. Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) said that the fund had been under some pressure from its grantees (most notably Carbon Tracker and 350.org) to divest and that the fund had a “moral obligation” to divest because “the money that is for our grantmaking, and what we are doing now, and that helps fund our lifestyles comes from dirty fossil sources.”
Canadian journalist Vivian Krause has shown the effect of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s environmental grantmaking in Canada. In a 2016 article in the Financial Post, she charged that the fund was the lead donor, first through the Tides Foundation and then through the New Venture Fund , in a successful effort to limit energy production in Alberta. When left-wing Alberta premier Rachel Notley in 2016 announced a cap on carbon emissions from oil production in that province, Krause wrote, “The Rockefellers got exactly what their funding paid for.”
Krause also reported that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, collaborating with the Moore Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and Packard Foundation, used grants over several years to create the Great Bear Rainforest, a protected area on the west coast of British Columbia that is the size of Ireland.
Domestically, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is also interested in restricting election-related speech. The fund donated $200,000 in 2008 and 2009 to Public Campaign (now the Every Voice Center), an organization seeking to ensure that nearly all of the money for political campaigns comes from the government.
Since 2013, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has contributed to numerous anti-Israel organizations. The Fund gave at least $880,000 to groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Zochrot, and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights that support the “boycott, divest, and sanctions” (BDS) movement that favors breaking off economic and social ties to the Jewish state. Rockefeller Brothers Fund president Stephen B. Heintz, wrote in an email that such grants were needed to “end the fifty-year long occupation in order to bring justice, dignity, and freedom to all Israelis and Palestinians.”