W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Established in 1930 by breakfast cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is one of the country's largest private foundations, with grants totaling over $300 million in 2016. Its international program interests include: health, food systems and rural development; youth and education; and philanthropy and volunteerism. Kellogg donated more than $66 million to the foundation from his earnings as founder of the Kellogg Company in Michigan. His wealth was based on the accidental discovery of the process to flake grain which led to the idea of breakfast cereal.

Written by Jon Roberts with some content from an earlier edition by Erica Curry 



A philanthropic foundation is defined by the Council on Foundations as "an entity that supports charitable activities by making grants to unrelated organizations or institutions or to individuals for scientific, educational, cultural, religious, or other charitable purposes. While foundations are often primarily engaged in grantmaking activities, some may engage in their own direct charitable activities or programs"(Council of Foundations).  The two types of philanthropic foundations include public and private. 

W.K. Kellogg is one of the largest private foundations in the world. Private foundations receive their funds from corporate profits or wealthy individuals. These foundations, also referred to as independent, corporate, or operating foundations, typically have a broader scope than a public foundation, with programs sometimes reaching national, and often international communities.


Historic Roots

When the estate tax law of 1936 took effect, wealthy donors were further motivated to establish private trusts for the purpose of practicing benevolence in life and in perpetuity, continuing the gift after their death. A new chapter in philanthropic leadership was born by a handful of very wealthy men who established several of the foundations at this time such as, Ford, Rockefeller, and W.K Kellogg. All of these continue to influence modern philanthropy.

It was in June of 1930, that Will Keith Kellogg established the Will Keith Kellogg Child Welfare Foundation, initially dedicated to the needs of children. Renamed the W.K. Kellogg Foundation a few months later, the foundation expanded its focus to include health, education, and rural development. Kellogg remained passionate about the education and welfare of children. He said, "Use the money as you please so long as it promotes the health, happiness and well-being of children" (WKKF).

Through the last twenty-one years of his life (1930-1951), Kellogg endowed his foundation with over $66 million dollars in private investments, including Kellogg Company stock. During his life's journey, he endured financial woes, and family division and tragedy, but he remained determined to the end, building an empire that far exceeded his imagination. He exercised great humility regarding his philanthropy, stating once that he was not a philanthropist because he helped children, because he selfishly enjoyed it.



Will Keith Kellogg was one of the first to give a large portion of his wealth while living. He was known at the end of his life for his great generosity and has had a long lasting impact through his Foundation. Today many business leaders are taking up this charge, as seen by the Bill and Melinda Gates giving pledge which calls for the world’s wealthiest to give 50% or more of their wealth while living or in their will.

Today, the mission of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is to "support children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society” (WKKF). The foundation has a board of trustees which oversees the strategic direction and performance of the foundation. The foundation remains one of the largest grant makers in the nation, with grants totaling over $398 million in 2016.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Programming interests extend beyond the United States to include primarily Mexico, Haiti, and special interest projects internationally. Program investments typically fall within six areas, which include education and learning; food, health and well-being; family economic security; racial equity and healing; community engagement; and leadership. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation remains one of the largest endowments resting at 13th in the world.

One of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's main projects and interests today is Truth, Racial Healing, & Transformation (TRHT). "TRHT is a comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism” (Heal our Community). In 2016 they spent the year in a design phase with 176 leaders and a reach of 289 million people. The result of this year was a framework, related recommendations, and a guidebook to use of future TRHT partners.

In 2017, the Kellogg Foundation committed approximately $24 million in 14 different communities across the United States to implement the framework. Each community received a grant through a coordinating organization for implementing their TRHT and a growth fund to sustain the work for the long-term. The growth fund is also a place where additional funding is actively being raised and matched by other funders. The investments in each TRHT place range from approximately $1.5 to $4 million and implementation can be from two to five years (Heal our Communities).


Key Related Ideas

  • Thriving Children - Giving children a healthy start and quality learning experiences for all children. The best start possible includes from birth to age 8. Research shows that investments in children’s earliest years help prepare them for success in school, work, and life. This is one of three key funding areas of WKKF.
  • Working Families - “Children are more likely to do well in school and life when their families are economically secure. This means that family members can find, apply for and obtain stable, high-quality jobs that pay living wages. In turn, families can save money and plan for the future, which adds up to greater opportunities for children” (WKKF) This is the second key funding area.
  • Equitable Communities - Advancing racial healing and racial equity, developing community leaders and authentically engaging people in solving their own local challenges as fundamental to our mission and ensuring all children have opportunities to thrive. This is the third key funding area.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Will Keith Kellogg (W.K. Kellogg) - Born in 1860, Kellogg was an industrialist in the food industry. As a food manufacturer he along with his brother Harvey created corn flakes which led to his founding of the Kellogg Company. During his later years in 1934 he founded the Kellogg foundation in which over his life he gave $66 million to make a lasting impact on children, families and communities. He also founded the Kellogg Arabian Ranch, now a research facility on the campus of the California State Polytechnic University.
  • La June Montgomery Tabron - Born in Detroit, Michigan to a large family, Tabron was the ninth child of 10 and attended public school. She holds a B.S from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate school of Management at Northwestern University and is a certified public accountant and management accountant. She first worked as an auditor at Plante & Moran in the mid-1980’s before being hired by the Kellogg Foundation in 1987 as a financial controller. She was soon promoted to assistant vice president for finance and assistant treasurer, then made vice president and later executive vice president of operations and treasurer. On Jan 1, 2014 she became the 9th president and CEO of the foundation. She is the first woman and African American to head the Kellogg Foundation (History Makers). She serves as a Director on the Detroit Workforce Development Board and the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. She serves as a board member for many community organizations, including Battle Creek Community Health Partners and Bronson Methodist Hospital.
  • Henry Ford - Born in 1863 in Dearborn Michigan, he left home at age 16 and became a machinist in Detroit for three years before returning to work the family farm. In 1896 he built a Quadricycle, a gasoline powered horseless carriage later called the automobile. After it was completed in 1896, he began work on improving the new automobile. In 1908 in an effort to make an efficient and affordable car the Model T was invented. Philanthropically he is known for both Henry Ford Hospital and his interest in the American Histories, and creation of Greenfield Village one of the country’s greatest museums of history. His son, Edsel later created the Ford Foundation in 1936.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Health Project - One of the W.K. Kellogg Foundations' earliest initiatives was the Michigan Community Health Project, which provided thousands of Michigan residents access to essential medical services. Serving as a national model in the area of health and medicine, the collaborative project (circa 1931-1948) was the catalyst for a long-term relationship between the Kellogg Foundation, rural development, and public health.
  • Michigan Council of Foundations - A community of philanthropists committed to improving outcomes for primarily Michigan, MCF invests in the state’s charitable organizations and collaborate on critical issues effecting Michigan. Using this platform they increase the impact of Michigan philanthropy.
  • Ford Foundation - Founded in 1936, its mission is to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.  Its current endowment is the 6th largest in the world at 11.7 Billion.


Reflection Question - How does the Kellogg Foundation's third value of funding equitable communities speak towards W.K. Kellogg's charge to the foundation, to “help the health, happiness and well being of children”?



  • Council on Foundations. Foundation Basics. https://www.cof.org/content/foundation-basics 
  • Heal our Communities. http://healourcommunities.org/
  • The History Makers. La June Montgomery Tabron. http://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/la-june-montgomery-tabron 
  • Kelloggs. Corporate Governance. http://investor.kelloggs.com/corporate-governance#statement
  • WKKF.  Who We Are: Overview. https://www.wkkf.org/who-we-are/overview


This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.