The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust is the philanthropic legacy of Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock, co-founder of the electronics firm Tektronix. The foundation primarily gives to charities in five states in the Pacific Northwest, but it also gives to center-right and faith-based advocacy nonprofits.
Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock
Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock founded Tektronix with Howard Vollum in 1946. The company first made oscilloscopes, then branched out to other types of electronic equipment. “While alive,” the Vancouver, Washington Columbian noted, “Murdock donated money to a variety of causes such as faith-based groups, universities, Boys & Girls Clubs and mental health organizations.” 1
Murdock never married and had no children. After his death in a plane crash at age 54 in 1971, he left $91 million to create a foundation, but gave limited guidance on what the foundation should do. A video about Murdock’s life produced by the foundation explains that when the trust began operations in 1975, the trustees decided to primarily limit grants to nonprofits in five Pacific Northwest states and the Canadian province of British Columbia. 2
In 2019, the Murdock Trust noted that it had given away $1 billion in 6,718 grants in 44 years. Foundation CEO Steve Moore said the foundation’s goal was to “really take the long view on things and say, ‘We’re here in the community and we’re here long term.” 3
The largest grants made by the Murdock Trust in 2019 were to Young Life ($2.9 million), St. Martin’s University ($800,000), and Seattle University ($794,000). 4
Grants to Center-Right and Faith-Based Nonprofits
In 2019, the Murdock Trust made six grants of $100,000 or more to center-right nonprofits: $150,000 grants to the Center for Religion and Diplomacy, Discovery Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Property and Environment Research Center; $137,500 to the Pacific Legal Foundation; $125,000 to the Manhattan Institute; and $100,000 to the Becket Fund. In addition, the trust donated $200,000 to Christianity Today International and $100,000 to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. 5
Criticism of Murdock Trust
The Murdock Trust has gotten criticism from left-wing activists critical of grants to Alliance Defending Freedom, a social-conservative public interest law firm, and the Freedom Foundation, a think tank that seeks to reduce government worker union power in Oregon and Washington state. In 2017 the student body presidents at four Oregon universities wrote a piece in the Portland Oregonian saying the trust was “funding extreme politics that counter our values of inclusivity and respect” by giving grants to these organizations. 6 Peter Starzynski, executive director of the union-backed Northwest Accountability Project, told the Vancouver, Washington Columbian that the trust funded “divisive, hateful organizations” that “undermine working families, women’s health, and the LGBTQ community.” 7
The trust responded that the criticism was about “a small handful of grants, often from groups who were ideologically at odds with the grantee in question.” 8 The trust linked to a 2018 piece in the Spokane Spokesman–Review that alleged that the Northwest Accountability Project, a 501(c)(4), had made its leadership exceptionally difficult to identify. 9
- Patty Hastings, “Who Was Melvin Jack Murdock? Vancouver, Washington, Columbian, June 28, 2019.
- “The Jack Murdock Story,” https://murdocktrust.org/history/ (accessed February 4, 2022).
- Patty Hastings, “Murdock Charitable Trust Passes $1 Billion in Giving,” Vancouver, Washington Columbian, June 28, 2019, https://www.columbian.com/news/2019/jun/28/murdock-charitable-trust-passes-1-billion-in-giving/ (accessed February 4, 2022)
- 2019 Murdock Trust form 990.
- 2019 Murdock Trust form 990.
- “Amid Worthy Philanthropy, Hate Finds Footing,” Portland Oregonian, January 11, 2017. https://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/2017/02/amid_worthy_philanthropy_hate.html (accessed February 4, 2022)
- Patty Hastings, “Murdock Trust Passes $1 Billion in Giving,” Vancouver, Washington Columbian, June 28, 2019, https://www.columbian.com/news/2019/jun/28/murdock-charitable-trust-passes-1-billion-in-giving/ (accessed February 4, 2022)
- Answering Seven Tough Questions About the Murdock Trust,”: https://murdocktrust.org/2018/07/answering-questions/
- Sue Lani Madsen, “On Freedom and Accountability,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, February 10, 2019, https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/feb/10/sue-lani-madsen-on-revenge-and-accountability/ (accessed February 4,2022).