Next Steps for The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations: A Letter From Dr. Michael J. Murray

April 1, 2019

Dear Grantees, Partners, and Colleagues,

In 1888, four years after graduating from college, Arthur Vining Davis became the first employee of the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, a company that would later become the largest aluminum producer in the world. A mere fifteen years later, aluminum from the Pittsburgh Reduction Company was used to create the lightweight engine that would power the Wright Brothers plane during its inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk. Arthur Vining Davis’s hard work, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit allowed the ideas of others, literally, to fly.

Between 1952-1962, Mr. Davis placed a substantial portion of his hard earned wealth into endowments that would support in perpetuity his broad philanthropic goals. Since that time the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (AVDF) have supported thousands of organizations in all fifty states, distributing approximately one-third of a billion dollars. Those dollars have supported secular and religious educational institutions, public media productions, the birth of the hospice movement, inter-faith partnerships, and numerous other charitable endeavors aimed at strengthening our American democracy. Once again, the fruits of Mr. Davis’s labors allowed the great ideas of others to fly. 

It is an honor to join the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations this month as their sixth president. While the specific challenges confronting our nation today are quite different than those we confronted in the 1950s and '60s, the Foundations remain committed to key principles that are as important to fostering a healthy democracy today as they were then:

  • An educated society strengthens democracy through principled,thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.
  • Diversity and pluralism contribute to a strong, vibrant, and sustainable society.
  • Knowledge and educational opportunity should be accessible to all. 

In 2018 the AVDF Board affirmed five crucially important areas that will be the focus of our funding support over the next few years: Private Higher Education; Interfaith Leadership and Religious Literacy; Public Educational Media; Environmental Engagement, Stewardship, and Solutions; and Palliative Care. In each of these areas we aim to support the ideas and activities of innovative leaders who are willing to take risks and push forward frontiers. 

Through the work of our grantees we intend to provide catalytic funding for transformative initiatives that advance the health and flourishing of our American democracy and its citizens. We believe that,

  • Together we can strengthen America’s private institutions of higher learning in ways that promote leadership, diversity, and humility.
  • Together we will strengthen an appreciation for religious pluralism and foster inter-faith collaborations that promote the common good.
  • Together we will create learning opportunities for all by supporting excellent public media programming concerning the “big ideas” that shape our culture and our future.
  • Together we will advance humane, respectful end of life care, and
  • Together we will seek effective ways to steward our environment in ways that are ethical and sustainable. 
Achieving these high goals will require dedication and effort on the part of our team at AVDF. But more importantly it will require the transformative efforts of innovative grantees, and the creation and strengthening of partnerships among funders with converging aims. It is our goal to find these innovative change agents and to precipitate catalytic funding partnerships. 

Philanthropy operates at its best when it listens to those who are positioned to understand the landscape of opportunity and invests in those who are equipped to precipitate lasting change. In the coming months we look forward to hearing from those of you who share our aims and ambitions and to providing resources to allow your ideas to fly. 


Michael J. Murray, Ph.D. 

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