Brief History

The Rosenberg Foundation was established in 1935 by a group of relatives and business associates who were designated as trustees in the will of Max L. Rosenberg, a San Francisco businessman and philanthropist who died in 1931. Mr. Rosenberg was the president and major shareholder of Rosenberg Brothers & Co., the firm he and his brothers Abraham and Adolph formed in 1893 to pack and ship dried fruit from California. The company prospered and became the largest of its kind in the world, with packinghouses and mills throughout the agricultural areas of California and Oregon, and sales offices in 65 foreign countries.

In his will, Max Rosenberg left the bulk of his estate to establish a foundation with broad charitable purposes and wide latitude in how the foundation might be operated. As the Foundation later explained in its 1937-1946 report, Ten Years of Community Service:

“No pattern was laid down in advance for the type of grants which the Foundation should make. The greatest influences on the direction of its interest have, therefore, been an early interest in the agricultural areas of the state, the character and diversity of the population of California, the impact of national events within the state. ...”

In late 1936, the new Foundation opened an office in San Francisco, hired its first staff, and began making grants, becoming the first Foundation with staff West of the Mississippi. In 1938, Rosenberg Foundation published the first report of its activities and began to diversify the composition of its board of directors. By the end of World War II, the Foundation had started the process that led to the sale of the company and the diversification of the Foundation's investments.

Although the directors of the Foundation had wide discretion in the types of programs they might support, they quickly recognized that they would have to focus their grantmaking on a limited number of fields to be effective. The Foundation's early grants were concentrated in the fields of public health, inter-group relations, education, and community planning. In each of these fields, the Foundation had a particular interest in the rural areas of California and in the children of California. The end of World War II provided the directors an opportunity to review the Foundation's work during its first decade, and to plan its program in the context of the changing circumstances of the postwar period.

From the experience of the first decade and wide consultation with leading Californians, the directors defined the program focus, grantmaking strategy, and geographical scope of the Foundation in 1946. They concluded that the Foundation should emphasize the health, education, and recreation of California's children and communities, and that the Foundation should make grants exclusively for program innovation and demonstration projects. The directors also concluded that the Foundation should make grants throughout the state of California. The 1946 policies guided the Foundation for nearly 25 years. An external evaluation in the period 1955-1957 sharpened the Foundation's focus on children and youth. The explosion of creativity and the concern for civil rights in the 1960's provided increased opportunities for grantmaking, including, particularly, those related to social movements involving youth, farm workers, minorities, and women.

The Tax Reform Act of 1969 changed the regulatory environment in which foundations operate, and the growing volume of proposals forced the Foundation to review and narrow its program. After a year of internal discussion, the directors of the Foundation established new program priorities in 1973. These priorities continued the strategic approach based on innovation, but narrowed the program focus to early childhood development and older youth involvement. The 1973 policies were modified by the creation of a rural program in 1976, and an immigration program in 1980, as well as a growing focus on public policy outcomes in each of the Foundation's programs.

In 1984 and 1985, the directors of the Foundation carried out a yearlong review of the Foundation's programs and adopted new program priorities concentrating on the changing population of California, and the economic conditions of low-income and minority families. These two program categories enabled the Foundation to devote significant resources to the legalization of immigrants after the 1986 immigration law, and to the support of projects designed to preserve the affordability of housing in California. In 1993, the Foundation added child support reform as a third program category. The child support reform program was phased out in 2002 after the enactment of the comprehensive child support legislation and policy change in California.

In 1997, Rosenberg Foundation received the Outstanding Foundation Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals. In 2003, Rosenberg Foundation was one of three foundations that received the Paul Ylvisaker Award for Public Policy Engagement by the Council on Foundations.

The Foundation's current program priorities are: justice for farm workers, immigrant rights and integration and justice and public safety. It also makes select grants in the areas of accountable development, civil rights and civic participation, and effective philanthropy and nonprofit advocacy. Visit Our Grantmaking section of this website for descriptions of the Foundation's current programs and areas of interest.