Herb Kohl wanted to see impact of philanthropy during his lifetime. How did he do?

Less than a year after selling the Milwaukee Bucks, former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl told the Milwaukee Business Journal he planned to donate the bulk of the proceeds to charity — much of it during his lifetime.

He already had announced a $100 million donation in April 2014 toward a new downtown arena now known as Fiserv Forum from his $550 million Milwaukee Bucks sale windfall. During the March 2015 interview, Kohl said an unspecified amount of the remaining proceeds would go to nonprofits, especially those related to education in the city of Milwaukee.

Within about a year of that interview until his recent death at age 88, Kohl contributed in the range of $11 million to $12 million per year primarily to Wisconsin charities through his philanthropic arms Herbert H. Kohl Charities and the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, according to the organizations’ income tax filings.

Herb Kohl Charities ranked 10th among Wisconsin foundations based on grants paid in 2021 at $11.9 million, according to figures compiled by Marquette University’s Raynor Library annual directory of Wisconsin foundations.

JoAnne Anton, director of charitable giving for Herb Kohl Philanthropies in Milwaukee, didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request for updated financial figures or further comments. The Herb Kohl Foundation announced Wednesday afternoon the news of his passing earlier that day.

Kohl, through Anton, was very cautious in his decisions on giving money to nonprofits with an eye on how the contributions could provide strategic value to the organizations, said Dan Bader, president and CEO of Bader Philanthropies Inc. in Milwaukee.

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Despite Kohl’s high profile as a U.S. Senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner, the Milwaukee native’s focus remained on the community rather than self-aggrandizement, Bader said.

“Herb was an extraordinary guy,” Bader said Thursday. “He was so committed to helping the community and helping people. It was not about his ego — it was about helping others.”

Kohl over the past decade pivoted his dedication to public service from the U.S. Senate to philanthropy, said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

“He led with his values and set an example for all of us who aim to serve with integrity and humility,” Gilligan said Thursday via email. “Milwaukee and Wisconsin will miss him dearly, as will I, but through his tremendous generosity, Sen. Kohl’s legacy is enduring and will inspire and impact the city and state for generations to come.”

During the 2015 interview, Kohl, who at the time was 80, said he was in good health and wanted to see the results of his philanthropy during his lifetime. He spoke of his desire to make an impact on improving Milwaukee kids’ education.

“Overwhelmingly our resources will be spent here (Wisconsin),” he said. “And when I’m gone, it will be willed here in this city and across our state.”

Kohl also said that after his passing, he would want the balance of his charitable funds “to be spent out over 10 years” rather than lingering for another 50 to 100 years.

After Kohl sold the Bucks, Herbert H. Kohl Charities received a cash infusion of $80 million, according to the foundation’s Form 990 filing for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015.

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That year, Kohl Charities disbursed grants totaling $2 million. The following year, the figure increased to $4.7 million.

Since the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, the foundation’s giving has reached the double-digit millions annually starting at $10.8 million in fiscal 2017. In the most recent filing for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, the foundation disbursed $12.03 million.

Over $3.2 million annually of those donations in recent years have gone to the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, which in turn, awards grants to college students, teachers and schools.

Herb Kohl Charities’ million-dollar gifts in the most recent fiscal year were $1 million to the Lafollette School of Public Affairs at Kohl’s alma mater UW-Madison and $1 million to the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

In the health care field, the Kohl foundation gave $200,000 to the Medical College of Wisconsin and $250,000 to the Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Kohl Charities supported the Milwaukee Jewish Federation with a gift of $500,000.

In the performing arts, the foundation gave $125,000 to the United Performing Arts Fund and $500,000 to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

In the K-12 education space, the Kohl foundation contributed $100,000 or more to Milwaukee College Prep, Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation, the Milwaukee Academy of Science and the Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy.

The foundation also provided tens of thousands of dollars to Boys & Girls Clubs in metro Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin.

As of June 30, 2022, Herb Kohl Charities listed total assets with a book value of $19.3 million.

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