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Will Bayer turn off Monsanto’s funding flow to St. Louis nonprofits?

Missouri Bontanical Garden
With support from Monsanto, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s $19 million, 78,000 sq. ft. research center opened in 1998. It houses the Garden’s Science and Conservation Division, one of the world’s most active and important scientific research operations.";s:3:

Bayer’s $60 billion-plus acquisition of Monsanto has many non-profit organizations in St. Louis wondering what the future holds in terms of funding from one of the city’s oldest and most generous benefactors.

Monsanto has donated nearly $10 million each year since 2000 to a wide variety of organizations in the region. The company estimates it has invested at least half a billion dollars in the St. Louis community since it was founded in 1901.

The executive who presides over the Monsanto Fund and directs donations from the Monsanto Company said that investing in the St. Louis community was a topic of discussion in the earliest meetings with his Bayer counterparts.

“In the initial meeting we had with the Bayer folks – their commitment was loud and clear that St. Louis is the hub for the crop science division so this is the HQ,” Al Mitchell recalled. “And as long as we are here, their plan is to continue to invest here.”

Monsanto Fund President Al Mitchell
Credit Monsanto
Monsanto Fund President Al Mitchell.

Mitchell has advised local nonprofits to remain calm. He is confident that the new Bayer administration will continue to support the community. “I think they have been really impressed when they have talked to civic leaders about Monsanto’s role in the community.”

The good news is that charitable giving is not foreign to the Bayer company. In fact, Bayer has two foundations: one based in Germany and one in the U.S.

“German philanthropy is one of the biggest pockets of charitable giving in Europe,” said Natalie Ross, vice president for external relations at the Council on Foundations based in Washington, D.C.

Ross noted that the Bayer and Monsanto foundations fund similar projects in their home countries and around the world from nutrition and science education to disaster relief. Corporate support for projects that mirror a company’s goals and values is a well-established trend. Ross said Bayer also has a history of supporting causes in the cities where they have offices and research facilities.

"If they [Bayer] want to keep the Monsanto Foundation and align it with the core business, I think you could continue to see a focus in areas like food, nutrition and community development globally,” she said. “The biggest question will be the commitment to St. Louis as a place.”

Positive Signs

For some local arts groups, the specter of a foreign corporate giant buying a St. Louis company with deep roots in the community may seem like a case of déjà vu. It was 10 years ago that InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch. 

“You lived through Inbev, so you have the experience,” Ross said. “Because Bayer, as a global company, is committed to philanthropy, I would be cautiously optimistic,” she said. “It’s a bit of a wait-and-see to see how it will impact St. Louis.”

Bayer does have a track record of ongoing giving after it acquires a company. In 2006, when it acquired Schering, a smaller rival in the pharmaceutical business, the Ernst Schering Foundation continued to exist with an endowment that funds arts and science-based projects.

According to Ross, Bayer and Monsanto share a similar philosophy known in the philanthropy world as “the three pillars” that can have a big impact on the communities where their employees live and work. The pillars include: employer matches for employee donations; grant making from the company to its own foundation for specific causes; and support for employee volunteer programs.

Monsanto’s Mitchell is optimistic about the future of the combined companies’ philanthropy.

“I think economically it’s going to be good for the region. The name may change, but the impact is going to be even larger than when we were a single company.”

Follow the Money

The Monsanto Fund, established in 1964, has been a philanthropic leader in St. Louis and supports projects in 47 countries on six continents. Funding focuses on three specific areas that represent the company’s core values:

  • Food & Nutrition: 55 percent
  • STEM Education: 25 percent
  • Community Development: 20 percent
Monsanto funds Gateway Greening gardens
Credit Melody Walker | St. Louis Public Radio
Gateway Elementary School students check on the progress of plants they grew with Gateway Greening School Program Manager Lucy Herleth last month. Gateway Greening supports over 60 youth-oriented gardens throughout St. Louis and St. Louis County with funding from the Monsanto Fund.

Monsanto Company supported these St. Louis organizations in 2017:

  • United Way (company matched employee donations totaling $4 million)
  • Gateway Greening
  • MySci curriculum with Washington University in St. Louis
  • STEM Education
  • Rural Arts and Education 
  • Dance St. Louis
  • Jazz St. Louis
  • Opera Theatre St. Louis
  • St. Louis Symphony
  • Shakespeare Festival
  • Science Fair

Bayer USA Foundation, established in 1953, focuses on:

  • Education (STEM)
  • Workforce Development
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Crop Science

(Sources: Monsanto Fund and Bayer USA Foundation)

Follow Melody on Twitter: @melodybird