News & Politics

A Leader in Giving: “How Much Are the Marriotts Giving?”

When DC’s hotel-association president, Emily Durso, wanted to open a public charter school to train local students in hotel management, she asked for money from a top executive of a national hotel chain.

“What’s Bill Marriott doing?” the executive said. “Come talk to me after you talk to Bill.”

Durso soon had a $1-million commitment from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, which is endowed with funds from the estate of Bill’s father, the founder of Marriott. Other individuals and hotel companies added another $2 million, and the charter school, now named Hospitality High, opened in DC in 1999.

“I think people felt that if the Marriott Foundation was willing to give us $1 million—when we had no building and no teachers—this was going to get done,” Durso says.

The foundation, which had nearly $490,000 in assets and gave out $17 million in 2005, also supports the Capital Area Food Bank, the Boys & Girls Club, Food & Friends, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project, Gallaudet University, the Kennedy Center, Suburban Hospital, Easter Seals, and more.

Bill and his brother, Richard, okay every grant—with input from Bill’s two elder children, Debbie and Stephen. The foundation, which gets up to 500 proposals a year, makes many gifts to education programs. “We like to give to those organizations from whom we can recruit,” Richard says.

Among its recent gifts: $1.5 million to Montgomery College’s Marriott Hospitality Center, which offers hospitality-management scholarships on the Rockville campus; and $2 million to the DC College Access Program—Debbie is on the board—which provides scholarships for District students.

Some contributions stem from private interests. The foundation has given a $2-million endowment to the American Heart Association. Donna became involved with the group after Debbie’s lifesaving heart surgery as a child.

The foundation recently gave money to Columbia University Medical Center to establish the Marriott Mitochondrial Disease Research Fund, with the hopes of finding help for Stephen and others with the disorder MERRF.

The foundation currently donates $2 million a year to the Marriott Foundation for People With Disabilities, which the family established in 1989. Housed in Marriott International headquarters and chaired by Richard, it runs a program that helps place young people with physical and mental disabilities in the workforce.