In March, Timothy “Bo” Kemper became the first executive director of the Robertson Foundation for Government (RFG), a new philanthropy dedicated to cultivating talented public servants for the federal government. RFG was founded this past spring by the family of the late Charles and Marie Robertson, using proceeds from a $50 million settlement with Princeton University. (Please see “Tiger’s Intent,” Philanthropy, Winter 2009.)
One of RFG’s top priorities is protecting the charitable intent of Charles and Marie Robertson, as originally stated for their gift to Princeton: “to strengthen the Government of the United States and increase its ability and determination to defend and extend freedom throughout the world by improving the facilities for the training and education of men and women for government service” (especially in foreign affairs).
“When we negotiate with our partner universities, we’re very explicit what the mission of the foundation is, what the intent of the donation is, and what the requirements of the institution and the fellows are,” Kemper says. “Each fellow will have to read part of the Robertson mission statement and sign off on it. We’re doing everything we can to eliminate any misunderstanding.”
Another lesson from the Princeton litigation: “The Robertson Foundation is not awarding any money right now for endowments,” Kemper adds. Instead, RFG is creating graduate fellowship programs at partner colleges. The first five are the University of Maryland, the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, the Fletcher School at Tufts University, the George Bush School at Texas A&M University, and the University of Southern California. Kemper hopes to have 16 fellows starting in the fall of 2010. After completing their degrees (and two years in the fellowship), fellows are required to serve three years in the federal government and be proficient in a foreign language.
“The whole idea of developing this cohort of Robertson Fellows from different universities is that once they get into federal service, they can help each other get jobs, move up, and develop an esprit de corps,” Kemper explains. The rationale, he says, is greater than ever: “There’s going to be a significant exodus of federal employees over the next ten years.” Thus, RFG will expand continue expanding its fellowship programs, and its work will grow to include mid-career training as well as public policy.
RFG is a family foundation chaired by William Robertson, Charles and Marie’s son. The family is “very active” in RFG, Kemper explains. “Bill Robertson is very, very involved in day-to-day operations,” he adds. “It’s a tremendous testimony to the Robertson family that they’ve taken this settlement and rolled it into a new foundation in an effort to make America a better, safer place for everyone. It’s a tremendously patriotic mission, and tremendously important to the family.”
Kemper is no stranger to start-up foundations. He was involved in launching a Chicago-based family foundation, where he served as president, and the Children’s Scholarship Fund, where he was executive director. Prior to joining RFG, Kemper was vice president for institutional advancement at Marian University. He has held positions in business, finance, philanthropy, and higher education, and he received his MBA from Northwestern University and his B.S. in psychology from Arizona State University. He is a board member of several educational and civic organizations.
As project manager for the late Steve Fossett’s expeditions, Kemper holds nine absolute world records and six world’s firsts in ballooning and nine absolute world speed sailing records. He is a fellow of the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical Society.