The Rumsfeld Foundation is a philanthropic foundation created by the late Donald Rumsfeld, a Republican politician who served three terms as a U.S. Representative from Illinois and as Secretary of Defense in the Ford and George W. Bush administrations. The foundation originally funded microfinance and grants to military charities, but announced after Rumsfeld’s death in 2021 that it would only fund scholarship programs that it created.
Donald Rumsfeld was a Republican politician and businessman who served from 1963 and 1969 as a U.S. Representative from Illinois and served as Secretary of Defense between 1975-77 and 2001-07. From 1977 until 2001, he was CEO or chairman of G.D. Searle, General Instrument, and Gilead Sciences. Financial disclosure forms filed during his confirmation as Secretary of Defense in 2001 listed his assets as between $55 million and $227 million and liabilities of between $12 million and $39 million, making his net worth between $16 million and $205 million. 1
In 1985 Rumsfeld founded the D.H.R. Foundation, later renamed the Rumsfeld Family Fund. In 1998, this foundation had $6.2 million in assets and gave $261,420 in 66 grants, including St. John’s College ($115,000), the RAND Graduate Institute ($21,000) and the Heritage Foundation ($10,000). 2
In 2007, after leaving the George W. Bush administration, Rumsfeld founded the Rumsfeld Foundation. In an interview in the Washington Post, Rumsfeld cited MoveOn.Org’s description of Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us” as part of a “tendency to try to criminalize public service.” He said the goal of the Rumsfeld Foundation was to counter this tendency by encouraging “reasoned and civil debate” on political topics and supporting lectures, microfinance programs, and programs that supported Central Asian nations. The Post also stated that Rumsfeld “did not intend to keep either foundation going after he and his wife died.” 3
The Rumsfeld Foundation began as a foundation that made grants supporting microfinance and veterans’ charities and a program that administered fellowships. Microfinance grants ended in 2016. In 2018, a dozen veterans organizations received grants of between $10,000 and $15,000, and the American Foreign Policy Council received a grant of $321,000. 4
The foundation announced in 2021 that it would stop its grants to military charities and concentrate on its fellowship programs. 5 In a 2015 interview in Philanthropy, Rumsfeld said that “I’ve seen people leave their money to others to decide what to do with it, and there are occasions when it gets handled in a way that’s totally different than how the individuals who earned it would have wanted.” He said it was his intent “to sustain” the fellowship programs “for five or ten years after Joyce and I are gone.” 6
The Rumsfeld Foundation offers two kinds of fellowships. One is for political leaders in ten countries in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Afghanistan, and Mongolia to come to the United States and meet Americans. The other provides fellowships for graduate students who plan to have careers in government. The foundation says as of 2021 it has awarded 215 fellowships to graduate students and 231 fellowships to residents of Central Asia, Mongolia, and Afghanistan. 7
In his 2015 Philanthropy interview, Rumsfeld said that when he grew up in Chicago, he saw Poles and Czechs whose efforts to flee Communism were aided by being “connected to a lot of people in the United States who were very friendly and helpful,” and he wanted to provide similar connections for “Uzbeks or Tajiks or Kazakhs.” He said he modeled the Rumsfeld Foundation graduate fellowship program was patterned after one sponsored by the Earhart Foundation, which spent itself out in 2015. Rumsfeld said that “we decided our foundation would assist those kinds of students interested in serving our nation,” and created his graduate fellowship program. 8
Indiana University emeritus professor Leslie Lenkowsky sates that Rumsfeld’s “work as a philanthropist has also left an important mark, showing how much a donor can accomplish with a clear vision, sound strategy, good people, and patience.” 9
- Bill Brubaker, “Rumsfeld’s Wealth Funded Foundation, Washington Post, January 23, 2001.
- Bill Brubaker, “Rumsfeld’s Wealth Funded Foundation,” Washington Post, January 21, 2001.
- Bradley Graham, “Rumsfeld foundation Aims To Encourage Public Service,:” Washington Post, September 17, 2007.
- 2018 Rumsfeld Foundation Form 990.
- 2021 Rumsfeld Foundation Annual Report, https://www.rumsfeldfoundation.org/library/doclib/2022/01/2021-Annual-Report.pdf (accessed February 9, 2022).
- “Interview With Donald Rumsfeld, Philanthropy, Summer 2015, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/magazine/summer-2015-interview-with-donald-rumsfeld/ (accessed February 9, 2022)
- 2021 Rumsfeld Foundation Annual Report, https://www.rumsfeldfoundation.org/library/doclib/2022/01/2021-Annual-Report.pdf
- “Interview With Donald Rumsfeld,” Philanthropy, Summer, 2015, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/magazine/summer-2015-interview-with-donald-rumsfeld/ (accessed February 9, 2022).
- Leslie Lenkoswsky, “Rumsfeld’s Rules For Philanthropy,” Philanthropy Roundtable, July 13, 2021, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/rumsfelds-rules-for-philanthropy/ (accessed February 9, 2021)