Less than two years after the death of billionaire Harry Weinberg, his namesake foundation has assumed its place among the nation's top 20 philanthropies, giving out $22 million in its 1992 fiscal year and authorizing another $40 million in future grants.
The 1992 grants, made to more than 100 organizations worldwide, reflect the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation's philosophy of rewarding non-profits that display shrewd business instincts, said Bernard Siegel, its president.
"If there's a mandate that permeates the whole operation, that's it," Mr. Siegel said. "Everything Harry did was based on common sense and good business sense."
For example, one of the recipients on this year's list is a Houston ecumenical group, Northwest Assistance Ministries, which took advantage of Texas' real estate bust to buy a strip shopping center, filling the empty stores with social service agencies.
The Weinberg Foundation gave the group $42,200 toward its mortgage. But the foundation made the award a challenge grant and stipulated that the group may not remortgage after it pays off the current debt.
According to a preliminary list, the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital in Baltimore received one of the largest single grants, for $1.5 million.
The foundation had up to a year following the end of its fiscal year Feb. 29 to disburse the money. But foundation officials said the $22 million had been paid in full by mid-March.
Mr. Weinberg, who grew up in poverty in Southwest Baltimore, had little formal education but amassed a fortune through real estate and other business ventures. By the time of his death in November 1990, his worth was estimated at $1 billion.
He had set up the foundation in his and his wife's name in 1959. For 31 years it existed quietly, attracting almost no attention for its grants, overshadowed by better-known local philanthropies like the Abell Foundation, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation Inc. and the Morris Goldseker Foundation of Maryland Inc.
But Mr. Weinberg's death, and publicity generated by the announcement that he had bequeathed almost his entire estate to the foundation, thrust the charity into the spotlight. Non-profits across the country expected a windfall.
Initially, they were disappointed. Mr. Weinberg escalated the amount of donations during the last few years of his life, Mr. Siegel said, giving more than was required by federal tax laws. His intent was to give the five trustees -- Mr. Siegel and Mr. Weinberg's brothers, Nathan and William, all of Baltimore; Alvin Awaya of Honolulu; and Robert T. Kelly Sr. of Scranton, Pa. -- about three years to become acclimated to the demands of running the foundation and Mr. Weinberg's businesses.
"One of the few things he miscalculated in his life was when he was going to die," Mr. Siegel said. "He thought we would have three years without any pressure. As it happened, he lived longer than expected. So instead of having three years, we had one."
So in the previous fiscal year, only $1.8 million in new grants were awarded, and most of that went to the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. However, this year's preliminary list of awards and the authorization for $40 million in coming years indicate the foundation is living up to expectations.
Grants from the Weinberg Foundation are limited to groups serving the poor, with an emphasis on the elderly. Its charter specifies that 25 percent go to Jewish charities, 25 percent to non-Jewish groups, with the remaining 50 percent unrestricted.
The charter states that the foundation's mission is to be worldwide, but Baltimore groups tend to be well-represented among the recipients.
"There's no question that with three of us here all the time, it will cause Baltimore to get more than if we were in Tombouctou and Baltimore was just another city," Mr. Siegel said.
Federal tax laws are designed to ensure that a charity donates about 5 percent of its value annually. The Weinberg Foundation, with assets of $700 million, can be expected to award about $35 million a year. When Mr. Weinberg's estate is finally settled and all businesses revert to the foundation, it will be richer still.
In 1988, the last year for which data are available, only 15 foundations nationwide had assets greater than $700 million, and their grants that year ranged from $37 million (Carnegie Corp.) to $184 million (Ford Foundation).
MAJOR WEINBERG FOUNDATION DONATIONS
Hawaii $25,000 Lackawanna County (Scranton, Pa.) $12,500 Maryland $75,000 $112,500
ASSOCIATED CATHOLIC CHARITIES
Baltimore $250,000 Hawaii $1,025,000 $1,275,000 AMERICAN RED CROSS
Baltimore $59,500 Kauai, Hawaii $225,000 Oahu, Hawaii $1,250,000 $1,534,500 JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL $40,000 SHEPPARD & ENOCH PRATT $500,000 MEALS ON WHEELS $500,000
JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER OF GREATER WASHINGTON $25,000 WILLIAM S. BAER SCHOOL $3,000 NORTHWEST ASSISTANCE MINISTRIES (Houston) $42,200 HEBREW FREE LOAN ASSOCIATION
Baltimore $25,000 Jerusalem $50,000 $75,000 MID-TOWN CHURCHES COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION $75,000
APPALACHIA SERVICE PROJECT $150,000 HAWAII ECUMENICAL HOUSING CORP. $150,000 THE HOSPITAL FOR SICK CHILDREN $525,000 THE CHIMES $5,000 LEVINDALE HEBREW GERIATRIC CENTER $1,524,000 ISRAEL GUIDE DOG CENTER FOR THE BLIND $50,000 SCRANTON LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR $200,000 $6,786,200 (fiscal year ended Feb. 29)