Report Criticizes Secretive Hess Foundation

For Immediate Release

New Philamplify Report Criticizes Secretive Hess Foundation

NCRP investigation calls for greater transparency, strategy and public leadership to increase impact of this $807M foundation

Washington, D.C. (6/16/15) – Today, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) released a comprehensive analysis of the Hess Foundation as part of its Philamplify initiative to maximize philanthropy’s positive impact in our communities. “Hess Foundation: Will This Secretive Foundation Evolve Beyond Checkbook Philanthropy?” found that the foundation is mysterious even to its peers and the nonprofits it supports, and has no discernible strategy for its $30 million in annual grantmaking.

Hess_Cover“The Hess Foundation is doing the bare minimum. If it wanted to, the foundation could have so much more impact on the issues it supports in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” said principal researcher Elizabeth Myrick.

A complementary Philamplify video on the Hess Foundation captures the frustration of NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman when he can get no response from the foundation even after multiple emails, phone calls, letters and in-person requests. “This is by far the least transparent foundation of its size that we’ve ever seen,” said Dorfman. “Hess Foundation is completely inaccessible and has no website, which is outrageous in this digital age.”

Without a website, public information about the foundation is based solely on tax filings. NCRP’s study, which independently gathered feedback from Hess grantees, provides a rare glimpse into the foundation’s work.

Hess Foundation was established in 1954 by the late Leon Hess, founder of oil company Hess Corporation and former owner of the New York Jets. It is now led by his son and current CEO of Hess Corporation, John Hess. With more than $807 million in assets, it is ranked just outside the top hundred largest foundations in the country, and is the fifth largest in New Jersey, where it is based at accounting firm CohnReznick.

In addition to the foundation’s lack of transparency and strategic direction, the assessment found that the majority of its grants go to “large, established, often elite organizations” that have direct and personal ties to Hess family members. Less than 1 in 5 grant dollars explicitly benefit underserved communities and even fewer go toward solving critical social issues. The foundation and the charitable lead trust from which it generates income are heavily invested in Hess Corporation stock. It is governed by Hess’ three children, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, and another trustee. It does not have any professional staff.

The report’s recommendations include improving the foundation’s transparency, developing a grantmaking strategy that reflects the Hess family’s reported social justice values, collaborating with local nonprofits and grantmakers, diversifying its investments and increasing its annual payout to hire staff that can implement new strategies and build community partnerships.

As part of Philamplify’s efforts to promote mutual accountability, transparency and knowledge sharing, the full report, “Hess Foundation: Will this Secretive Foundation Evolve Beyond Checkbook Philanthropy?” which includes all findings and recommendations, is available for free on NCRP encourages readers to share feedback about this assessment and the foundation.

About Philamplify

Conducted by top-notch researchers, Philamplify’s foundation assessments provide a comprehensive examination of a foundation’s grantmaking and operations. The reports incorporate the opinions shared by the foundation’s grantees, peers and other stakeholders, and offer recommendations designed to maximize foundation effectiveness. users can comment on and agree or disagree with these recommendations and nominate foundations they want “philamplified.”

Last month, NCRP released its assessment of the Walton Family Foundation. Other previous assessments include reports on The California Endowment, Daniels Fund, the Lumina Foundation for Education, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and William Penn Foundation. Additional assessments covering other top U.S. foundations will roll out in the coming months.

About NCRP

Since 1976, NCRP has served as the voice of nonprofits and the communities they serve in philanthropy. Through research and advocacy, NCRP works to ensure that philanthropy contributes in meaningful ways to the creation of a fair, just and equitable world. Visit for more information.


For interviews with Lisa Ranghelli, NCRP Executive Director Aaron Dorfman and Philamplify researchers, please contact Alison Howard at (202) 387-9177 x33 or