Inspired by the concept of a community trust first demonstrated in Cleveland the year before, Oliver C. Fuller introduced the idea to the Milwaukee community in 1915. Fuller, president of the First Wisconsin National Bank, gathered a group of prominent area leaders, including Fred S. Hunt, Paul D. Carpenter, Adolph Finkler, Isaac D. Adler and Clement C. Smith, to form the Milwaukee Foundation Committee, a precursor to what is now the Board.
The Milwaukee Foundation was part of the first wave of community foundations and part of a movement that transformed philanthropy. By local citizens pooling together their assets in a local foundation, they were able to maximize their ability to address pressing local needs and plan for the future.
Proving his commitment to the community trust concept, Fuller made the first personal contribution in the form of a $1,000 gift, which he directed be divided between the Foundation’s operating expenses and a group of charities of his choosing.
A $25,000 gift from Patrick Cudahy later in 1915 (which amounts to about $587,000 in today’s dollars) gave an initial boost to the efforts of the Milwaukee Foundation. It took nearly a half century, however, before it reached a state of consistent and stable growth. Unlike fellow community foundations at the time, the Foundation did not have a full-time staff that was able to concentrate on cultivating donors or assets. In fact, the first full-time staff member, David Huntington, did not start until 1970. After that point, it took off and never looked back.
During Huntington’s 22-year tenure, the Foundation received its first fund established by a donor of color, grew its assets from $4 million to $100 million, and launched the first of many major grantmaking initiatives to improve the community, among many milestones.
Doug Jansson, who took over as executive director in 1993, led the Foundation to new heights. Under his 17-year tenure, it started three community affiliates, introduced online grantmaking, changed its name to reflect a growing leadership and philanthropic base and became the nation’s first certified community foundation during that time.
The Foundation is becoming even more of a philanthropic and community leadership force under the direction of Ellen M. Gilligan, who took over as president and CEO in 2010. It helped launch Milwaukee Succeeds, a communitywide education partnership aimed at improving academic outcomes for all of Milwaukee’s kids, coordinated Match Day, an online giving event that raised more than $7.6 million for food and shelter agencies since 2012, and created a new strategic plan to guide its work in philanthropy over the next several years.