News and analysis
February 06, 2012

No. 1: Margaret A. Cargill

Margaret A. Cargill

Amount donated in 2011: Approximately $6-billion

Beneficiaries: Anne Ray Charitable Trust and Margaret A. Cargill Foundation

Donor’s background: Ms. Cargill was an heir to the Cargill Corporation fortune. The business was established by her grandfather, William Wallace Cargill, in 1865 and has grown to become one of the largest private companies, with interests in agricultural commodities, food production, and financial and industrial products and services.

Ms. Cargill, who was 85 when she died in 2006, left all of her shares of Cargill stock to be split between the Anne Ray Charitable Trust and the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, in Eden Prairie, Minn. The amount the two nonprofits are set to receive from the bequest totals roughly $6-billion, but the way the payout is structured is complex.

Because Cargill remains a privately held company, officials at the foundation and the trust could not at first liquidate the private Cargill stock. But that changed last year when the conglomerate sold its 64-percent stake in a publicly traded business called the Mosaic Company. Once the company sold its stake in Mosaic, officials at the nonprofits were able to exchange the private Cargill stock for public Mosaic stock. Under this arrangement, the foundations ended up with about 114.5 million shares of Mosaic stock, which will eventually provide at least $6-billion to the trust and foundation.

To receive some of the bequest money right away, foundation officials last year sold 49.5 million of the Mosaic shares for a total of about $2.8-billion. The nonprofits still own about 65 million Mosaic shares but are not allowed to sell them until May 2013. When the sale of those shares is completed, the philanthropies Ms. Cargill established could become two of the wealthiest grant makers in the United States.

Ms. Cargill established the Anne Ray Charitable Trust in 1997 with about $100-million, to support the American Red Cross, the American Swedish Institute, Berea College, Nature Conservancy, the Public Broadcasting Service, the School for Advanced Research, and the YMCA of the USA.

The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, established with this bequest, will support a wider array of causes, such as animal welfare; arts and culture; care for the elderly, children, and their families; the environment; and other causes.

Those who knew Ms. Cargill describe her as a quiet donor who loathed public recognition for her largess.

“Margaret, during her lifetime, made almost all of her gifts anonymously,” said Sallie L. Gaines, a spokeswoman for the foundations. “She left very clear directions to our trustees: 'Don’t even think of cranking up the PR machine.’ She didn’t think it was remarkable to be wealthy.”

—Maria Di Mento

View more profiles of donors who gave the most in 2011