In 1964, the Carolyn Foundation was founded by the estate of Carolyn McKnight Christian with $4.5 million in assets. Carolyn had no children so the children of her sister, Harriett McKnight Crosby were named as her heirs. They chose to start a foundation rather than inherit the funds.
Since Carolyn did not provide any donor intent her nieces and nephews built the foundation on a long-standing family tradition of active community involvement and service.
Since the foundation was formed over 50 million dollars in grants have been made to improve the lives of children, communities and the environment through the personal involvement of successive generations of the family of Carolyn McKnight Christian.
The belief that, to be an effective grant-maker you should have first-hand experience with the issues that confront our communities continues to this day. Young family members are encouraged to get involved in their own communities by working on important community issues prior to volunteering with Carolyn Foundation. With that experience family members are encouraged to become active volunteers on a Carolyn Foundation Grant Review Committee. At any time there are easily 25+ family members volunteering with the foundation building on the long-standing family values of service, sharing and integrity.
Since 1964 successive generations of the family have worked together for the betterment of the community. Carolyn’s nephews, Sumner McKnight Crosby Sr., and Thomas M. Crosby Sr., were the first Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively. The first grant of $80,000 was made anonymously in 1967 to the United Fund in memory of Carolyn. Since then the foundation’s grantmaking efforts were directed to the communities where the family resided in Minnesota and Connecticut.
Foundation leadership and processes have evolved from one generation of the family to the next. In 1976, leadership transitioned to the third generation, Carolyn’s 24 great-nieces and great-nephews. Members of this group led the foundation for 23 years. During this period, broad family engagement became a priority. A six member distribution committee of family volunteers was created to review and recommend arts and social service grant requests. Environmental grantmaking was added as a funding priority reflecting family members’ interests, many of whom no longer lived in Minneapolis and New Haven.
Family involvement continued to expand as the family grew. The first of the 68 – 4th generation family members were elected to the board of trustees in the 1990s with the first 4th generation board chair elected in 1999. Making a difference not just making grants was a high priority. Community guidelines were sharpened to focus on the need of economically disadvantaged children and youth and community vitality in Minneapolis and New Haven. Proactive grantmaking projects were successfully implemented providing new models for grantmaking and engaging family members in the work of the foundation. A six member environmental grant review committee was created to give more attention to this work. Now members of the The 5th generation are represented on grant review committees and the board of trustees. Carolyn’s legacy continues through the work of her extended family. She would be so proud.