Before her death in 2006, Margaret A. Cargill could sometimes slip through a gala crowd virtually unnoticed.
The granddaughter of agribusiness titan W.W. Cargill had given away as much as $200 million to charity during her lifetime, yet she was determinedly press-shy.
The low-profile munificence continues. With the settling of her estate last year, about $6 billion, mainly in Cargill Inc. stock, has gone to two of her three philanthropies, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, formed at her death, and her Anne Ray Charitable Trust.
The sum placed her at No. 1 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2011 ranking of charitable donations, published this month, and made her groups, gathered under the umbrella of the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, among the most asset-rich in the U.S.
“She wanted to make a difference quietly,” Sallie Gaines, communications director for Cargill Philanthropies, said by phone. “She recognized that she had inherited a lot of money but never worked at the company. She didn’t think she had done anything remarkable.”
Based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Cargill’s charities will focus on about seven areas, including environmental causes, disaster relief, animal welfare and arts education. Among the recipients will be organizations that support American Indian art and culture in Alaska, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Born in Minnesota in 1920, Cargill spent part of her childhood in British Columbia.
Some of the money will be used to establish art-instruction training programs for teachers in Wisconsin and Alaska.
Cargill, who studied art education at the University of Minnesota, became fond of Mexican folk art and American Indian art when she moved to San Diego as a young woman. In later years, she lived in a modest home in La Jolla, California, with her terrier, Kari.
“Many teachers go into education to teach the arts, but they aren’t trained in the arts,” Gaines said. “So the question becomes: What kind of support can you give to encourage people to become teachers of the arts and what support do they need?”
The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation will hire program directors to determine guidelines for grant recipients, increasing staff members to about 70 in the next three years from 44 currently, Gaines said.
“Lots of fundraisers now see a new source of money and will try to find a way to get some of it,” Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said by phone. “Especially in this economy in which it has been so difficult for some groups to keep their operations running.”
Cargill also gave away money quietly through the Akaloa Resource Foundation, which made gifts to organizations in southern California such as San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, Community Television of Southern California and San Diego’s Mingei International Museum, which specializes in multicultural art.
Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., an international producer of food, agricultural and industrial products, also gave $61.1 million to charities through its Cargill Foundation.
Medical research, the performing arts and music programs won’t be on the list of future grantees, Gaines said. “She wanted to look for causes that weren’t on the top of people’s list.”