Our History

Seattle Foundation ignites powerful, rewarding philanthropy to make Greater Seattle a stronger, more vibrant community for all. In the tradition of community foundations across the country, we've worked with local philanthropists since 1946.

1946

Post-war Seattle is in transition. Boeing and other industries that fueled the wartime economy take a hit and the city staggers.

$8,000

The total amount Seattle Foundation grants in its first year. As it grows, the Foundation provides initial investment in many organizations that still thrive to this day, including Overlake Hospital, YMCA Camp Orkila and Swedish Hospital.

Seattle icon and business leader Dr. Richard Fuller steps in to help. By the mid-1940s, Fuller has already founded the Seattle Art Museum, contributed to the Pacific Science Center Foundation and been named a First Citizen for outstanding civic work. Still, he wants to do more. Working with 14 community leaders, he pulls together a $289,000 endowment to improve the quality of life in Seattle and beyond and Seattle Foundation is born.


1962

Seattle hosts the World’s Fair and builds the iconic Space Needle as well as the Science Pavilion, which becomes the Pacific Science Center. Its first planetarium projector is purchased with a gift from Seattle Foundation.

$2.7 million

With an endowment of nearly $3 million, Seattle Foundation supports civic initiatives including the Seattle Garden Club and the Ship Canal Planting Project.

1970s

The decade begins with a bust, as major employer Boeing lays off 7,000 workers in just one day. Nonprofits step up to help. Organizations such as Daybreak Star Center and El Centro de la Raza (both Seattle Foundation grantees) get started through community-led action and occupation of unused spaces.

1976

Medic One, pioneering emergency response care, is established in King County. An early funder, Seattle Foundation helps the Seattle Fire Department purchase some of the first mannequins for CPR classes.

1980 

Anne V. Farrell becomes President/ CEO of Seattle Foundation as its first full-time employee. A leader in the community—she was the first female president of both the Rainier Club and the Seattle Rotary Club #4— Farrell grows the endowment from $10 million to $300 million during her 23-year tenure.


Seeing Green

As the Foundation and the City grow, environmental awareness rises. Seattle Foundation supports environmental groups including Washington Trails Association and provides early funding to Long Live the Kings, which protects wild salmon runs.

Mid-’80s

The AIDS crisis hits Seattle hard and Seattle Foundation jumps in to provide major, early funding to sick groups like Bailey-Boushay House, the first skilled nursing facility in the country dedicated to meeting the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the Northwest AIDS Foundation (now known as Lifelong) and the Chicken Soup Brigade.

1988

The Foundation begins its scholarship program, helping philanthropists invest in the next generation of civic, business and nonprofit leaders.

1990s

With the tech boom, wealth comes to Seattle, but not for everyone. The Foundation adapts by offering some of the country’s very first donor advised funds to help those earning the most to effectively invest in their community. Donor advised funds allow donors to make a charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time.

1992

Seattle Foundation begins investing in up-and-coming grassroots nonprofits through the Neighbor to Neighbor program. The Foundation also incubates other promising community ideas, resulting in philanthropy innovators such as Washington Women’s Foundation and Social Venture Partners. As one of the founding members of NPower, which provides hands-on technology assistance to nonprofits, the Foundation supports a model that is replicated across the country.

2004

A few years after the dotcom collapse, banker and community leader Phyllis J. Campbell assumes leadership of the Foundation. Under her direction, the Foundation establishes its Healthy Community Framework and the endowment reaches $470 million in 2005.

Hate Free Zone

In response to 9/11 and ensuing discrimination, Seattle Foundation provides support to movements like Hate Free Zone, a local immigrant rights group that goes national as OneAmerica and currently is an active voice in our region.

2007

As the recession hits, Seattle Foundation leads a community-wide effort to create the Building Resilience Fund—a three-year, $6 million effort to help local people hardest hit by the economic downturn.

2008

The Clapp Family establishes the Seattle International Foundation within Seattle Foundation to support local residents who want to engage in effective global philanthropy.

2009

Former Seattle Mayor Norman Rice is named President/CEO. The first African-American Mayor of Seattle, Rice catalyzes Seattle Foundation’s community leadership, especially around education and economic opportunity.

2010

Seattle Foundation helps launch the Roadmap Project, a community wide effort aimed at driving dramatic improvement in student achievement, from cradle to college and career, in South King County and South Seattle. The Foundation also incubates SkillUp Washington, which connects employers, post-secondary training and low-income adults to support a stronger community.

2011

Seattle Foundation hosts GiveBIG for the first time. What starts as a small way to engage all levels of philanthropists and help local nonprofits fundraise online grows to become one of the country’s largest single-day community giving events.

2014

Tony Mestres joins Seattle Foundation as President/CEO, following a successful career in the technology and communications industries, primarily at Microsoft. Under his leadership, the Foundation’s Center for Community Partnerships undertakes new, targeted efforts to achieve greater racial and economic equity in our region. These include a partnership with King County to create Communities of Opportunity, an initiative to improve health, social, racial and economic outcomes by focusing on places, policies and systems change.

2015

Seattle Foundation introduces its new brand, “the heart & science of philanthropy,” reflecting its role as a champion of the heart and a practitioner of the science of strategic philanthropy. This brand captures the Foundation’s emerging role as a partner to passionate, impact-driven philanthropists.

2016

$1 billion+

With nearly $1 billion in charitable assets and committed bequests, Seattle Foundation awards more than $100 million annually to nonprofit organizations working to make Greater Seattle a stronger, more vibrant community for all.

Working to raise the voices and   power of all, Seattle Foundation partners with King County Elections to create the Vibrant Democracy Initiative, with the goal of strengthening the voice and participation of underrepresented communities in advancing more equitable systems change.



Seattle Foundation continues to work with philanthropists and community partners to ignites powerful, rewarding philanthropy to make Greater Seattle a stronger, more vibrant community for all. See what we're up to now on our blog.