Wealth Created by Wal-Mart Supports Massive Philanthropic Efforts in Arkansas

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which Sam Walton’s daughter Alice opened in Bentonville on Nov. 11, 2011, represents the single largest philanthropic act made possible by Wal-Mart wealth in Arkansas, but innumerable other gifts have transformed medical, education and athletic institutions across the state.

Wal-Mart made a number of Arkansans very rich, and that wealth has been manifested in billions of dollars worth of gifts to educational, medical and cultural institutions in the state.

Efforts to give away Wal-Mart-generated wealth started with relatively small steps. In 1973, for example, Wal-Mart gave $85,000 worth of company stock to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

During the next 39 years, the giving accelerated as the wealth grew and its owners began to consider their legacies. By 2012, Wal-Mart money stood behind at least five of the 25 largest nonprofit organizations in the state — $2.2 billion in assets — and a billion-dollar-plus art museum.

And according to the Foundation Center of New York, the Walton Family Foundation Inc., Arkansas’ largest nonprofit by asset size, is No. 50 on the center’s ranking of largest U.S. foundations by asset size but No. 2 (behind the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) when ranked by total giving.

Almost every institution of higher education in the state has benefited, but none more than the UA.

In 2007, the year that Sam Walton’s widow, Helen, died, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported: “Since 1998, the Walton family has contributed more than $359 million to the state’s flagship university through the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and private family gifts.”

That included the $300 million gift the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation announced in 2002. At the time, it was called the largest donation ever given to a public university. Ten years later, it is the 13th-largest gift ever to an institution of higher education, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

On March 14, 2003, the UA reported that it had received “the entire sum of $300 million that was committed to it by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, as announced by Chancellor John A. White on April 11, 2002. The transfer of funds was made Wednesday, March 12, 2003, entirely in cash.

“As a result, the University endowment has increased from $214 million (as of June 30, 2002) to more than $500 million.”

Entire multibillion-dollar health care, educational and athletic facilities and at least one college might not exist in Arkansas without wealth created by Wal-Mart.

And in the last seven years, a cultural institution praised by the likes of The Economist and The New York Times has arisen in a corner of the Ozarks because of one woman’s desire to use her Wal-Mart money to serve her love of American art and history.

‘As Much Benefit as Possible’



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