Our History

Defined as a spirit of goodwill toward fellow humans, philanthropy has been an inextricable feature of Northwest culture for generations. The first known acts of philanthropy in the Northwest United States occurred long ago in the Native communities that originally inhabited this region. Among many Northwest tribes, success is measured not by how much you have, but how much you give away. This belief system was expressed through the potlatch — a spiritual ceremony in which a member of the tribe invited the entire community in order to give everything away. The belief behind these practices — that sharing and serving one another would strengthen both yourself and others — created new opportunities for the entire community.

Centuries later, Oregon and Washington became industrial powerhouses, home to some of the largest timber companies in the world. Industry grew to include rail, shipping and banking, and the territory expanded to include Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Over time, wealthy business owners and their families began giving back to their communities.

 Norton Clapp, Philanthropy Northwest co-founder

Philanthropy continued in the Northwest primarily as a family affair until the economy shifted once again, bringing aeronautics and science to the region. In the mid 1900s, The Boeing Company shook things up in the giving community by creating their Employees Charitable Fund — the largest employee directed charitable organization in the world. Around that same time, the world’s first community foundation, The Seattle Foundation, was created. Major philanthropic player Microsoft moved to the region in 1979, and the tech boom that followed transformed the economy and culture of our region once again, bringing with it new wealth and a new sense of possibility. This generation of philanthropists included not only more young people, but also more women as the shifting social climate created a first-ever class of female wealth-generators.

As the grantmaking community continued to expand, funders voiced a desire to get acquainted with one other to discover how they could make a difference in the community both individually and collaboratively. In response to this demand, Norton Clapp, Medina Foundation co-founder and former Weyerhaeuser Company president, led the efforts to create the Pacific Northwest Grantmakers Forum in 1976 — known since 2000 as Philanthropy Northwest — with eight founding directors: Robert R. Hunt of Seattle Trust and Savings Bank; Ben Bowling of Seattle Foundation; Frank Dupar of Dupar Charitable Foundation; Robert B. Hitchman of Seattle Foundation; Justin Lee of Glaser Foundation; Nancy Skinner Nordhoff of Skinner Foundation Trust; Elgin Olrogg of Ben B. Cheney Foundation; Charles F. Osborn of Bogle & Gates; Rowland Vincent of Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation; and Gregory P. Barlow of Medina Foundation.

In the four decades that have passed since the founding of Philanthropy Northwest, we have come to serve a diverse group of philanthropic organizations across six states and beyond. We remain committed to helping philanthropists work together across geography, culture, race and wealth to improve our communities and support our members by providing educational programming, high-quality networking opportunities, information regarding public policy changes affecting our sector, facilitation of collaborative efforts and access to the best resources available to support effective philanthropy.

Please join us in 2016 as we celebrate our 40th anniversary and work together toward a vibrant, healthy future that honors our past, our people and our cultures!