Giving Back, Marin-Style

The phrase “Marin-Style” usually brings to mind eco-friendly practices and a special consideration to health and well-being. The Marin Community Foundation’s mission to fund nonprofit groups such as Marin Organic and preserve open space surely qualifies it as such. It may surprise many to know, however, that the source of MCF’s wealth does not exactly fit our current perception of the county.

How did it start? Upon her death in 1975, Marin resident Beryl H. Buck left about $7 million of her and her husband Leonard’s fortune to fund nonprofit charities and education programs.  She specified her desire that this money only go to Marin-based groups. Therefore, when the San Francisco Foundation wished to direct the funds outside of Marin County, the Marin Community Foundation took over the Buck Trust in 1987.  The legal settlement that resulted from this transfer created the Buck Institute for Age Research (featured in our July 2015 issue), the Buck Institute for Education, and the Marin Institute. While these institutes are Marin-based, their research also benefits national and global endeavors.

Where did the Buck Trust come from? Here’s where the irony comes in.  Before they died, the Bucks invested in Belridge Oil stock. After Mrs. Buck’s death, Shell Oil Company bought Belridge, sending the Bucks’ $7 million investment through the roof. In ten years, it grew to $14 million. Today, it is worth a whopping $850 million. Because of Marin Community Foundation’s humanitarian and philanthropic efforts, most Marinities will probably cringe to know that oil money still lurks behind some of the most well-intentioned organizations.  That is not to say that the Bucks were not generous, charitable people, or that the MCF mission is tainted in any way. If anything, the issues towards which MCF has directed its funds, such as lack of health care and education programs for children, set an incomparable example for how investment money should be spent: towards helping create a healthier, more educated community and world.

Is MCF more than the Buck Trust? Of course. Many individuals, families, businesses, and community groups help support the work of MCF. Today, about $35.74 million of MCF grants come from the Buck Trust, while $28.02 million come from family and community funds. In total, MCF assets currently amount $1.6 billion. Some of the most recent grants have gone to the local scholarship program 10,000 Degrees, the Marin Community Clinics and Canal Alliance. Some other organizations you might recognize who have benefited from these funds include Ritter Center, Marin County Office of Education, Homeward Bound, SF Marin Food Bank, Doctors Without Borders, Legal Aid of Marin and the California Film Institute.

This story was originally published in the February issue of 2006.