Ted Turner launched the Turner Foundation in 1991, an extremely successful year for him professionally and personally. His twenty-four-hour cable news channel, CNN, became the preferred source for information about the Persian Gulf War (1990-91); his baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, reached the World Series for the first time since 1958; Time magazine named him "Man of the Year"; and he married actress and social activist Jane Fonda. From the beginning, the Turner Foundation has been a family affair. Its board of trustees originally consisted of Turner, Fonda, and Turner's five children—Laura, Teddy, Rhett, Beau, and Jennie. Fonda later left the board after the couple divorced in 2001.
In addition to funding the foundation, Turner himself is directly involved in deciding which organizations receive support; grantees tend to reflect Turner's various environmental interests. From 1993 to 2002 the Turner Foundation gave more than $1.3 million to the Sierra Club. It also gave more than $3.4 million to the National Wildlife Federation and approximately $900,000 to the National Audubon Society.
The Turner Foundation has also made numerous contributions to groups that engage in direct-action campaigns to prevent further damage to the environment and bring attention to environmental issues. Between 1996 and 2001, the foundation gave $1.4 million to Greenpeace, and, starting in the mid-1990s, began providing support to the Ruckus Society. Besides contributing to national and international organizations, the foundation supports state and local programs, often favoring areas where Turner lives or owns land, including Georgia, Florida, and several western states.
By 2003 the Turner Foundation had awarded more than $222 million to environmental organizations. That same year, however, the foundation experienced a setback that would severely restrict its future efforts. Funded personally by Turner, the foundation suffered a financial crisis after his worth dropped from almost $11 billion to less than $2 billion by June 2003—due to the plummeting stock price of AOL/Time Warner, of which he was vice chair. Compounding the financial crisis was Turner's decision to honor his other philanthropic commitments, including a $1 billion pledge to the United Nations.
The foundation responded with drastic action. While honoring previously awarded grants, the foundation made no new grants for 2003. It reduced its staff from fourteen to six. It also changed its procedure for awarding grants and decided to consider awards only for those organizations whom the foundation invited to submit proposals. The foundation's actions had a major impact on numerous environmental groups, some of which depended on the Turner Foundation for large portions of their budgets.
The foundation is affiliated with several other philanthropic groups started by Turner. In addition to the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund, both created as a result of Turner's $1 billion gift to the United Nations, the Turner Foundation maintains a relationship with the Captain Planet Foundation, which helps children become involved in environmental causes, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which seeks to reduce the global threat of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Christopher Allen Huff, University of Georgia
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