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Steve Hilton Takes His Grandfather’s Philanthropy to a New Level

If you ask Steve Hilton about the Hilton Foundation, his grandfather is on the tip of his tongue. “There’s a natural law, a divine law, that obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed, and the destitute,” Conrad Hilton wrote in his last will and testament in which he bequeathed nearly his entire hotel fortune to his foundation.

Those are words that have united a family around a profound spirit of giving. For Steve, who has been with the foundation since 1983, serving as president since 1998 and CEO since 2005, his grandfather’s vision has become the mission statement for his work.

But even as he honors his grandfather’s vision, Steve is also raising the bar, aiming for bigger grants and a more strategic approach to grantmaking. While preserving a small portion of the Foundation’s giving for the personal interests of board members, Steve has pushed for more funds to be dedicated to getting results.

Perhaps the best example of this is the foundation’s long-term support of the Perkins School for the Blind, which has enabled huge progress in blind multi-handicapped training and been hugely satisfying for Steve. With the Perkins School partnership as a hallmark, Steve’s thirty years at the Foundation have “opened [his] mind and heart in ways [he] never, ever could imagined,” for which he feels “incredibly blessed”.

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I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this foundation and to be able to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands -- millions of people around this world and [to be] making a difference.

I grew up on [with] very privileged life that I was fortunate to just happen to be born into and coming into the foundation world and seeing, for example, a refugee camp in Kenya that has a half a million refugees, seeing blind, multi-handicapped children, talking to people that were homeless but now have a nice apartment and are living stable. All of these things open my mind and my heart in ways that I never, ever could have imagined and I think have made me a much better person, a whole person and so I feel very fortunate that I’ve been exposed to that.

Now it’s 85% of all the money we give away is strategic and then 15% is kind of historical, relationships, board members, family -- those type of things. For us, as a family foundation, I think that has been a nice way to balance being more impactful and strategic while, at the same time, recognizing that it’s a family with its own special interest and they like to be part of that giving as well.