Philanthropy Rooted in Five Generations
The William H. Donner Foundation was established in 1962 and traces its roots to the International Cancer Research Foundation, which was established by William Henry Donner (1864-1953) following the 1929 death of his son, Joseph, from lung cancer. Donner supported pioneering medical research, including that of Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence at the Donner Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley. The work of that laboratory, applying physics, chemistry, and mathematics to medicine, marked the beginning of atomic medicine.
Following Donner’s death, and a period of reorganization, Donner’s grandchildren assumed leadership of the William H. Donner Foundation. Headquartered in New York, the foundation has granted widely over its sixty years. Originally concentrating on such areas as Canadian Studies in the United States, the interrelationship of food policy, nutrition and preventive health care, and developing American Indian leadership and institutions, the foundation then developed a focus on policy research.
Today, the third, fourth, and fifth generations of William Donner’s family are active participants in the foundation, whose grants support a wide range of charitable work. In 2022, the Members and Staff selected a new logo that features an oak leaf with five branches, symbolizing the multi-generational Donner family and its strong commitment to philanthropy.
William H. Donner in the 1940s
William H. Donner as a young man
Donner Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, following construction in 1942 (Donald Cooksey)
Named in his honor, the steamship William H. Donner transported cargo on the Great Lakes from 1914 to 1970.
William H. Donner
William Henry Donner was born in 1864, in Columbus, Indiana. His keen intelligence, talent for business, and appetite for risk were apparent from an early age. He introduced transformative technologies to a series of companies, culminating in his final industrial venture, the Donner Steel Company of Buffalo, which he operated successfully until its sale in 1929.
From 1929 until his death in 1953, Donner devoted his time and considerable energy to philanthropic work. Donner’s legacy includes two foundations that bear his name: the U.S.-based William H. Donner Foundation and the Donner Canadian Foundation. The Donner family continues his legacy through active engagement in both foundations.