Palmer Moe, who served as the managing director of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation since it issued its first charitable grants in 1997, retiring on May 31 after 17 years and more than $210 million in grants. Last year, the foundation awarded 143 grants totaling $15.4 million to 126 area non-profits.
The Kronkosky Foundation serves Bandera, Bexar, Comal and Kendall counties, awarding grants in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, and in support of parks, zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, programs preventing animal abuse, and in response to Texas natural disasters.
Albert Kronkosky Jr., a Boerne native, married Bessie Mae Dever in 1936 (see top image). The couple had no children, but quietly amassed a fortune from investments in Gebhardt Chili Powder Company, San Antonio Drug Company and an early investment in Merck.
The low-key couple, generally unknown in and around San Antonio, decided to create a charitable foundation that would focus on the four-county area and specific causes designated by the Kronkoskys. They set up a trust now managed by Bank of America with a three-person Distribution Committee that decides on grants.
Two years after Albert’s death in 1995, the Foundation received its first distribution from the estate of $295 million. When Bessie Mae died in 2010, another $75 million was added to its trust.
The mission of the Kronkosky Foundation is “to produce profound good that is tangible and measurable in Bandera, Bexar, Comal, and Kendall counties in Texas by implementing the Kronkoskys’ charitable purposes.”
Rivard Report: Palmer Moe, not many in San Antonio and the four-county area could tell us much about the Kronkoskys today, but their charitable foundation has certainly met its missions of doing “profound good” over the last 17 years. How important have these grants been to the greater San Antonio metro area?
Palmer Moe: The Kronkoskys’ remarkable gift has benefitted our communities in many ways. Several important nonprofit organizations would likely not be in existence had it not been for Foundation support. Many organizations operate at a higher capacity level in serving clients and patrons with our grants. Foundation grants have often been leverage for matching grants by others helping to complete many capital projects over the years.
RR: You’ve had the responsibility and, really, the honor of serving as the sole leader of the foundation since its inception. What’s it like to come into work every morning over 17 years and preside over $210 million in charitable grants? Do you give out your cell phone number? Do people besiege you in restaurants and other public venues?
PM: We established a process for grant requests that established a level playing field for all grantees. A letter of inquiry is the initial step. The nonprofit community recognized this and they operated within the process. Our staff was rarely approached about Foundation matters outside the process.
RR: Despite all the Kronkosky grants, didn’t your work require you to say no more than you said yes in terms of non-profit applications for funds?
PM: The Foundation website communicates charitable purpose and types of grants that do not meet its requirements. All grant requests are given due consideration. We conduct careful due diligence on most grant requests and have stringent accountability reporting after grant funds are spent by our grantees. We generally only allow one active grant at a time for any single grantee. So we tell organizations to apply to Foundation for their top priority that fits its charitable purposes. The effect of our diligence and guidance is that the Foundation has not received all that many requests that have been declined.
RR: Looking back at all the grants you’ve made, and many of the organizations that you’ve supported over and over again, where do you feel the Kronkosky Foundation has made the greatest impact?
PM: OurPrecious Minds, New Connections (PMNC) initiative has had a huge impact on families in our area. In this Initiative, we fund 21 organizations that provide parenting education to parents and caregivers of children under four years of age. These programs focus on the importance of the early years of the life of children when their brains are forming. In these years a child’s attitudes and emotions are developed, which provide the foundation for their character, self-worth and ability to relate to others. PMNC has reached the parents and caregivers of more than 100,000 children since it started in 2001.
Equally important to the communities we serve, by requiring meaningful evaluation from our grantees on the results of their programs, we caused the nonprofit community to focus on processes that required an evaluation plan, methodologies to gather data, assignment of individual responsibilities and reporting to their Boards of Directors. Evaluation helps grantees improve their focus and maximize the benefits of their services to their clients and patrons. We now publish summaries of evaluation reports on the Kronkosky website.
RR: The Kronkoskys had very specific geographic boundaries placed on their giving, and they set out a specific number of program areas they wanted to support. Did you and your team find yourself restricted by those boundaries, or did you find ways to stay within the spirit of the guidelines while benefitting as many non-profit organizations as possible?
PM: We are strictly guided by the intent of the Kronkoskys as set forth in their Trust Agreement. Even though the Foundation is very large in relation to the four counties served, there are clearly more needs than the Foundation has funds. So working within the four counties has not been a hindrance. Fortunately for our communities, several other meaningful foundations have been established in the last several years with a focus on our area.
RR: The Kronkoskys have donated $370 million to the Foundation, and over the years the Foundation has weathered stock market downturns, legal challenges, etc. What are the foundation’s assets today, and how does it rank it in term of area private charitable foundations?
PM: After grants totaling $210 million and our operating expenses, the Foundation had $375 million as of May 31, 2014. As far as I know we are one of the top two or three Foundations in San Antonio. My guess is that we are the largest funder of grants within our four counties.
RR: The Foundation was designed to operate in perpetuity by spending five percent of its assets annually. Is that model sustainable as you pass the reins to the next leader?
PM: Research has shown that a five percent annual expenditure of an endowment will likely ensure perpetuity based on historic investment returns; however, whether the movement of stock market in the future will reflect historical results is an unknown. The five percent level of expenditures is a firm provision of the Trust Agreement, so the Trust is required to be operated within that level of expenditures.
RR: Do you want to share any personal observations about the little-known Kronkoskys and their vision of philanthropy, and the individuals in San Antonio who helped the family construct the foundation?
PM: I did not know the Kronkoskys before I was appointed executive director, but was fortunate to have spent some time with Mrs. Kronkosky in the early years of the Foundation. She was a generous person and loved children and animals. The Tiny Tot Nature Spot at the San Antonio Zoo is a perfect project that modeled her interests. I believe the structure of the Trust is an ideal format for a Foundation and credit Allan Paterson, the Kronkoskys’ attorney for his assistance in setting up the Foundation.
RR: You’ve been the face of the Kronkosky Foundation since the beginning. Who is taking your place? Will the Foundation’s choices of recipient organizations change under new leadership?
PM: A search is underway for a successor, so stay tuned. The charitable purposes of the Foundation will always govern the choices of grantees. Assuming the grantees continue to achieve their goals with their clients, I expect most will continue to be supported by the Foundation.
RR: Even before you took the helm of the Kronkosky Foundation, you had a very successful career with Arthur Andersen and as President of Valero that grew to become a major corporation on the Fortune 500 list. Did you ever think when you would be a foundation executive?
PM: I have been very fortunate in my life to have had the opportunities I have been blessed with in my working career. I had served on many nonprofit boards over the years, but not in my wildest dreams did I ever contemplate being involved with a Foundation. It has been a pleasure to work with an excellent staff and to have worked with so many dedicated and committed nonprofit managers and boards that ably serve our communities.
RR: What’s next in the life of Palmer Moe without a day job?
PM: You may not be aware that in April I completed 13 years on the Board of Rackspace, so I have stepped away from two major roles. With three sons and six granddaughters, I expect more quality time with them. I will continue on the Board of James Avery Craftsman and have a West Texas mining project with some partners on which to focus more time. Judy and I will be spending time with her family in Okoboji, Iowa and mine in Montana, two of our favorite places to escape the Texas summer heat. I see more fly fishing and golf in my future.
RR: Congratulations, Palmer. I’ve been fortunate to watch your work at the Kronkosky Foundation since the beginning and the city and region would not be the same without the Foundation or without you.
Note: To review a summary of the Kronkosky Foundation grants by category, click here.
The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation website www.kronkosky.org has information on grant guidelines, awarded grants, evaluation reports, research briefs, annual report and audited financial statements.
*Featured/top image: A painting of Albert and Bessie Mae Kronkosky Jr. Image courtesy of the Kronkosky Foundation.