The Arkansas Community Foundation made a rapid-response minigrant to the Jefferson Comprehensive Health Counseling Associates.

In the face of a pandemic that has turned our focus to the moment, one that has combined terrifying threats to life with those to livelihood, Arkansas’s grantmaking foundations have made significant contributions to both the now and the post-pandemic future.

Looking ahead, the University of Arkansas will benefit in a profound way from the $194.7 million donation to establish the UA Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research. The gift, from the multitrillion-dollar Walton Family Foundation, will support research in neuroscience, bioscience, materials science and engineering, food and technology production and data science. The grant was one of the largest for a research and development program in the nation.


The future of higher education and the arts was also bolstered in 2020 by the Windgate Foundation, which in 2020 gave $17.5 million to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and $15 million to Hendrix College (a record for the school) for scholarships and other support. Those grants came on the heels of almost $45 million in grants in 2019 to Crystal Bridges ($17.5 million), the Arkansas Arts Center ($10 million), the UA ($9.8 million), Arkansas State University ($7.4 million) and UA Fort Smith ($1.7 million).

Windgate, the Arkansas Community Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation also responded quickly to COVID-19’s impact on nonprofits that support social services and the arts.


Windgate’s board of directors, which normally meets three times a year, met every two weeks or so starting in March 2020 to address the immediate needs of nonprofits struggling to sustain their operations and serve their grantees. COVID-19 restrictions made the annual fundraising events that many nonprofits rely on impossible, fees-for-service revenue was wiped out and donations were down, a survey by the Clinton School of Public Service, UA Little Rock and the community foundation confirmed.

Windgate quickly got in touch with its grantees to reassure them that scheduled grant payments would be going out normally and that grantees could delay challenge grant matches and reporting for the time being, Executive Director Pat Forgy said. It also provided more than $11 million in COVID assistance grants nationwide; 42 Arkansas organizations received a total of more than $2.5 million.


“It was really hard emotionally at first,” Forgy said, “as we listened to dozens of stressful stories. Most of the visual arts-related organizations that we support were completely shut down.”

The Arkansas Community Foundation, which manages charitable funds for individuals as well as its own fund, created a COVID-19 relief fund in April to award $1,000 mini-grants —  “a little injection of dollars to help stop the bleeding,” communications chief Jessica Hughes Ford said — and other grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

“If you are a nonprofit in Paragould and you have an event every year to raise operating funds, you may have lost $100,000. What do you do?” Ford asked rhetorically. “We’ve never seen this level of demand on our nonprofits. It was the perfect storm.” 

A total of $3.5 million, supported by gifts from the Walton Family Charitable Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Windgate, went to 814 organizations, such as food pantries, counseling groups, organizations with transportation needs, organizations trying to get safety information out to non-English speakers in the Marshallese and Hispanic communities, medical clinics and others. A Hot Springs clinic was able to remake its patient intake area so it would be safe; the White River Health Foundation was able to deliver food to clients in senior centers; the city of Osceol was able to purchase supplies that would let businesses reopen. The Community Health Centers of Arkansas Inc., with ACF’s help, collaborated with the New York Institute of Technology’s Delta Population Health Institute to train workers as the need for telehealth expanded.


At this writing, most of Arkansas’s largest grantmaking foundations have not filed their 2019 tax returns with reporting websites such as Guidestar and ProPublica, and requests for the information, which is public, to the Walton Family Foundation, the Pat and Willard Walker Foundation and others are still waiting responses. That means this end-of-year look at giving in Arkansas is incomplete. (It will be updated periodically on the Arkansas Blog.)

However, the Walton Family Foundation published on its website details on giving in 2019: Total giving was $528.8 million, $66.1 million of which went to the “Home Region.” The bulk of Home Region giving went to the promotion of cycling and trail building, municipal parks projects, the arts and charter school education. Along with numerous gifts ranging from the four-figure to six-figure range, the foundation gave around $4 million in several grants to the Northwest Arkansas Trailblazers for trail engineering in Bella Vista, Bentonville, Springdale, Fayetteville and Rogers; trail maintenance and complete street designs; a grant of $1.2 million to the State Parks and Recreation Foundation of Arkansas for trail building, and other bike-related grants to cities. The Walton Arts Center Council won an award of $5.4 million, The Children’s Museum of Northwest Arkansas was granted more than $1.3 million for operations and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art received support of more than $3 million. The KIPP Foundation to support charter schools received $6.2 million; Teach for America, a charter school initiative of the foundation since 1993, received $1.9 million in 2019 to place 200 teachers in the Delta. The foundation also made a grant of $1.1 million to the Watershed Conservation Resource Center to reduce sediment in the Beaver Lake watershed and $1.5 million to the Thaden School in Bentonville.

The Windgate Foundation, with assets of $698 million, made grants totaling $62.6 million in 2019, just shy of Walton’s Home Region total. They included 10 grants totaling just shy of $8 million to the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education in Fort Smith. Arkansas State’s $4.7 million went to construction of a 3D Arts Center; UA Fort Smith’s $1.7 million was for arts programing and scholarship endowment.

The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation (distinct from the family foundation), with net assets of $649.8 million, reported no grants on its 2019 990 tax form.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, with assets of $146.8 million, distributed grants totaling 2.1 million and approved grants of $3.6 million, including $1.2 million to its educational initiative ForwARD Arkansas.

The Murphy Foundation in El Dorado, with assets of $18.7 million, granted $2.5 million in grants in 2019, including $1.7 million to El Dorado Festivals and Events boards.

Other major gifts in 2020:

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced it raised $41.5 million during the fiscal year from 5,484 donors. Gifts included $6.5 million from an anonymous donor to the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging; $1.5 million from William R. “Bill” Howard to establish a regional campus in El Dorado; and $1.2 million from the Alice L. Walton Foundation to support the Comprehensive School Nutrition Enrichment Program on the Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville. 

The new Fryar Family Charitable Foundation, created by Ed and Michelle Fryar of Rogers, gave $10 million to the UA to create a center focusinjg on risk management in agriculture, finance and energy.

Laurie and James Bibler of Russellville pledged $6 million in an estate gift to the Arkansas Tech Foundation for scholarships.

UA alum Sam Alley and his wife, Janet, contributed $2 million to create the Sam and Janet Alley Master of Science in Construction Management Program endowment at the UA.

Ken and Linda Sue Shollmier pledged $1 million to the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation at the UA.

In December, Michael Carter, Dr. Sarah Carter and their daughter, Elizabeth, pledged $500,000 to UAMS’ College of Nursing to create the Dr. Elois R. Field Endowed Scholarship for Ph.D. students.