Although the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) became a national philanthropy only 34 years ago, the institution's history and the personalities that have shaped it are important to an understanding of its current philosophy and principles. People often say that a philanthropy can change quickly—especially with the arrival of a new leader. While this has much truth in it, the past does in fact shape thinking and practice at RWJF, just as it does in most organizations attempting to play a serious role in American life.
In Volume VIII of the Anthology, Joel Gardner, a writer and historian who has conducted oral histories and other historical research on behalf of the Foundation since 1991, and Andrew Harrison, the Foundation's archivist, tell the story of the establishment and early years of the Foundation—years in which the Foundation was shaped by the founding chairman of the board, Gustav Lienhard, its first president, David Rogers, and a board that had many personal ties to the founder, Robert Wood Johnson. This chapter by Gardner complements his earlier work discussed above and takes the Foundation through 2002, when Steven Schroeder retired and Risa Lavizzo-Mourey assumed the role of president and chief executive officer.
While many of the basic approaches to grantmaking that are still evident today—the national program structure, a focus on communications and evaluation, scholarship and fellowship programs, and the testing of new ideas through large demonstration programs—began during the Foundation's first three years, in subsequent years, the fruits of these approaches to grantmaking appeared and new approaches were developed to meet changing times and priorities. In this chapter, Gardner weaves the personalities who shaped the Foundation, the impact of their leadership on the Foundation's strategies and programs, and the national environment that influenced the Foundation's grantmaking into a concise history of RWJF.