Merrimon Cuninggim Papers, 1939-1997

Mss 029
8.6 c.f. (8 cartons and 3 document boxes)
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Working in higher education and philanthropy, Merrimon Cuninggim gained national recognition in both fields. His early career was as a professor at various colleges and in 1951 he became Dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He remained there until 1960 when he accepted the position of Executive Director/President of the Danforth Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, where he remained until 1972. From 1973 to 1975 he worked as an advisor/consultant to the Ford Foundation and from 1976 to 1979 served as President of Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. From 1979 until his death in 1995 Cuninggim served as a special consultant to both colleges and foundations on management problems. In 1981 he was one of the 16 founders of the Center for Effective Philanthropy which was formed to advise foundations and other charitable institutions on effective management.

The papers consist of correspondence, reports, meeting minutes, and notes from Cuninggim's professional life.


This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.


Cite as: Merrimon Cuninggim Papers, 1939-1997, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.


Presented by Whitty Cuninggim, October 5, 1997 A1997/98-001, A2005/06-024.

Processed by Barbara J. Mondary, November 1998 and Debra Brookhart and Brenda Burk, March 2006.


Augustus Merrimon Cuninggim was born in 1911 to Jesse Lee & Maud Merrimon Cuninggim in Wesley Hall, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, where his father was a professor in the Biblical Studies Department. Cuninggim received his B.A. from Vanderbilt in 1931. He received his M.A. from Duke University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, attended Oxford University in 1933 where he received a B.A., M.A., and Diploma in Theology. He became an intercollegiate tennis champion in Britain, held national ranking in the United States, and reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. In 1936 he returned to the United States where he became Director of Religious Activities at Duke University. In 1939 Cuninggim married Annie Whitty Daniel and began studies at Yale University, where he earned a B.D. and Ph.D. in Religion and Education. His academic honors included Phi Beta Kappa, of which his father had also been a member, and a Kent Fellowship in the Society for Values in Higher Education. Merrimon and Whitty had three children, Lee, Penelope, and Terry.

Cuninggim's career consisted of two primary fields of work: higher education and philanthropy. In the early 1940s Cuninggim was a professor of religion, first at Emory and Henry College in Virginia and then at Denison University in Ohio. An ordained Methodist minister, he was a chaplain in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, serving aboard the battleship Tennessee. From 1946 to 1951 he was a professor of religion at Pomona, the Associated Colleges of Claremont, California, where he was also the chaplain of The College Church. In 1951 he became Dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. Under his leadership Perkins became the first graduate school in the South to desegregate, two years before the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, 1954. This was the professional accomplishment of which Cuninggim said he was most proud.

In 1960 Cuninggim began what became the second accomplishment of which he was most proud. When Cuninggim became the Executive Director/President of the Danforth Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, the institution had a growing national outlook that matched his own view of philanthropy. In 1961Cuninggim said that he wanted to expand and develop the genuine concern which the Danforth Foundation had in regard to the national character of their educational grants. Throughout his tenure at Danforth, he consistently held this position and under his guidance, both the national reputation and influence of the foundation grew substantially as did its resources. By the time Cuninggim resigned in 1972 the Danforth Foundation had reached the rank of eighteenth in resources among the nation's 25,000 foundations.

From 1973 to 1975 Cuninggim served as an advisor on program management to the Ford Foundation. McGeorge Bundy, then president of the foundation, said in his recommendation to hire Cuninggim: "I have met most of the senior philanthropic professionals now at work in the country. I have no hesitation whatever in saying that outside our own staff the man most respected for intelligence, integrity and humane wisdom is Merrimon Cuninggim."

In 1976 Cuninggim became the President of Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, one of the oldest institutions for the education of women in the United States. He served in this capacity until 1979.

From 1979 until his death in 1995 Cuninggim served as a special consultant to both colleges and foundations, largely on management problems, counting among his clients Duke Endowment, Lilly Endowment, National Endowment for the Humanities, Association of Governing Boards, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation.

In 1981 he and 15 other professional people, all of whom had extensive experience in foundation work, formed the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to advise foundations and other charitable institutions on effective management. Working with grantors only, the CEP offered expert evaluation and improvement suggestions in reports that focused on efficient and effective management, organization, program development, and grantee relations. The CEP published occasional papers by its members on various aspects of foundation management and held seminars/colloquiums for foundation trustees, officers, and staff, frequently in cooperation with other agencies such as the Council on Foundations.

Cuninggim served on various boards of directors including St. Louis Community Foundation, Association of Governing Boards (a trade association of trustees of colleges and universities), and the Society for Values in Higher Education. He sat on the board of trustees of Duke University, Vanderbilt University and the Board of Visitors of Wake Forest. At Vanderbilt, he served as consultant to the Margaret Cuninggim Women's Center, so named for his sister who served as Dean of Women and Dean of Student Services from 1966 to 1972.

During his career, he authored eight books: The College Seeks Religion (1948), Freedom's Holy Light (1955), Christianity & Communism (with others, 1958), The Protestant Stake in Higher Education (1961), Private Money and Public Service: The Role of the Foundation in American Society (1972), Church-Related Higher Education (with others, 1979), Letters to a Foundation Trustee: What We Need to Know About Foundations and Their Management (1991), Uneasy Partners: the College & the Church (1994). He was awarded seven honorary doctoral degrees.

Merrimon Cuninggim died in 1995.


The collection consists of the papers of Merrimon Cuninggim from the period of 1939-1996. Because of the complex and inter-relational nature of material in the collection and the multidimensional relationships of the individuals involved, the records are listed in alphabetical order, rather than in series. It should be noted that materials may be found throughout the collection which reflect interest and interaction with one or more of the major topics files. Papers from Cuninggim's professional life form the bulk of the collection and include five major areas of interest: Center for Effective Philanthropy, Danforth Foundation, Ford Foundation, Lilly Endowment, and Southern Methodist University-Perkins School of Theology. The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) was established in 1981 by Cuninggim and 15 other professionals with extensive experience in philanthropic and foundation work. Early support grants came from the Carnegie Corporation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Cuninggim was the first chairman of the group, serving from 1981-1983. He then held the office of president of CEP from 1983 to 1987. Offering its services for little or no charge, the CEP worked with more than a hundred foundations and philanthropic agencies. By 1990 the CEP ceased operations, recognizing that many leading American universities now had training and research programs that provided guidance in philanthropy and nonprofit management. In 1991 the CEP's assets of $35,000 were given to Duke University to establish the Cuninggim Endowed Lectureship. By 1993 it was apparent that Duke was unable to raise the endowment principal to the level needed to maintain the lectureship, and the money was returned.

The CEP files, 1975-1994, consist mostly of correspondence between Cuninggim and individuals connected to the CEP either as associates or as consulting clients.

The Danforth Foundation was begun in 1927 by William H. Danforth, founder of Ralston Purina Co. and his wife, Adda, as a personal Ahip-pocket@ charity, giving scholarships and grants to those students and projects that met with personal favor. By the time Cuninggim came to Danforth Foundation in 1960, it no longer had formal ties to Ralston Purina, although it held a substantial amount of its stock as assets. From its establishment, the foundation focused its efforts on the "support of education for the public good."

In 1972 with the McGraw-Hill publication of his book Private Money and Public Services, Cuninggim warned against private philanthropies being too closely aligned with the original donor or one particular institution, stating Aa foundation is obligated, because of its special tax-exempt status, to serve the broadcast public interest. It should not be a pet project of board members.@ This clearly stated the major areas of contention that culminated in Cuninggim's resignation from the Danforth Foundation in October 1972. They were (1) the composition of the board of directors, (2) making larger grants to fewer institutions, not as support for programs but as operational funds, and (3) focusing more on regional, rather than national interests.

The materials relating to the Danforth Foundation contain Board of Trustees meeting minutes, 1956-1972 (complete), Executive Committee meeting minutes, 1959-1961 and 1968-1972 (incomplete), and the Pake Committee files. The Pake Committee, so named for George E. Pake who was its chair and a member of the Danforth Foundation's board of directors, was formed in February of 1972 by William H. Danforth in response to Cuninggim's concerns regarding the foundation's future direction. Its charge was to Aconsider the implications@ of the grants awarded to Saint Louis University, Washington University, and Webster College, to study the size of gifts and whether to make them from the annual operating budget or from capital. The remainder of the Danforth Foundation files consists of general correspondence, newsletters and materials relating to Cuninggim's resignation.


Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 1973-199311-5
American Oxonian, 1988-198916
Austin College  
 General Information, 198817
 Photographs, 19808P004
Bass, Dorothy, 1989-199218
Battelle Memorial Institute, 197519
Birmingham Southern College, 1975110
Boston University, 1974-1976111
Braisted, Paul J., 1972-1977112
Brougher, Dale, 1990-1991113
Brown, Kenneth I., 1942-1961114
Burgess, David, 1974115
Campbell, Dennis M., 1992-1993116
Carnegie Corporation, ca. 1964117
Center for Effective Philanthropy  
 Ames, Edward A., 1984-1987118
 Annual Meetings, 1982-1994119
 Associates Listing, 1987120
 Beinecke (Richard H.) Occasional Paper, 1984121
 Bergman, Charles C., 1981-1986122
 Brookings Institution, 1981-1990123-24
 Brown, Bertram S., ca. 1980s125
 Buchanan, J. Robert, 1985126
 Butler, Lawrence, 1987127
 Chronicle of Higher Education, 1987-1988128
 Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1988-1993129
 Clark (Willis W. and Ethel M.) Foundation, 1984-1987130
 Cloffelter, Charles, 1986131
 Consulting, 1983-1987132
 Correspondence, 1983-1993133-35
 Council of Michigan Foundations, 1986136
 Council on Foundations, 1987-1988137
 Cummings (Nathan) Foundation, 1985-1987            138
 Cuninggim Lectureship, 1989-1991139
 Ebert, Robert H., 1987140
 Effective Philanthropy, ca. 1980s-1994141
 Falk (Maurice) Medical Fund, 1989142
Center for Effective Philanthropy (cont.)  
 Filer, John, 1982143
 Fisher Foundation, 1987144
 Foundation Center, 1983-1987145
 Foundation News, 1985-1986146
 Fremont-Smith, Marion, 1984-1994147
 Freund, Gerald, 1985-199321
 Gannett Foundation, 1985-198622
 George Foundation, 198623
 Graylyn Colloquium, 198724
 Griffin, John, 1981-199525
 Hallen, Philip, 1987-199326
 Hanley Family Foundation, 1986-198727
 Hazen Foundation, 198228
 Hilton (Conrad N.) Foundation, 1985-198629
 History and General Information, 1986-1989210
 Howard and Bush Foundation, 1986211
 Howe, Harold, 1975-1992212
 Johnson Foundation, 1986-1987213
 Klein, Martin, 1986-1988214
 Marting, Leeda, 1986-1995215
 McLean, Sheila Arvin, 1986-1987216
 Memos, 1981-1987217
 Milbank Memorial Fund, 1986218
 Moody Foundation, 1986219
 Nominations for Associates, CEP, 1984-1989220
 Non-Profit Times Correspondence, 1987221
 Photographs, 19938P006-010
 Price, Don, 1983-1991222
 Revson (Charles H.) Foundation, 1986223
 Rice, Lois Dickson (Mrs. Alfred Fitt), 1986224
 Rockefeller Brothers Fund, 1989225
 Rockefeller Foundation, 1983226
 Sage (Russell) Foundation, 1986227
 Sherrill, Henry W., 1983-1984228
 Silberman (Lois and Samuel) Fund, Inc., 1984229
 Vanderbilt (Helen) Fund, 1986230
 Von Bulow (Sunny) Coma and Head Trauma Foundation, 1988231
 Toyota Foundation, 1984232
 U.S.-China Education Foundation, 1985-1986233
Center for Effective Philanthropy (cont.)  
 University of Akron, 1987234
 Wadsworth, Homer  
  General Information, 1986-1994235
  Photographs, 19918P005
 Ward, F. Champion, 1986-1992236
 Wingspread Colloquium, 1986237
Cheswick Center, 1991238
Cheit Group, 1974-1976239
Church Related Higher Education, 1977240
Cleveland Foundation, 1975-1976241-42
Colwell, M.A., ca. 1981243
Commission on Colleges, 1977-1978244
Committee on Institutional Cooperation, 1976245
Commonwealth Fund, 1979-1980246
Cook, John, 1974-1978247
 A-C, 1939-1995249-52
 C-S, 1939-199531-23
 S-Z, 1939-199541-3
Council on Foundations, 1973-199144-5
Council on Foundations Retreat-Buck Trust Discussion, 198646
Cuninggim, Merrimon  
 Employment, 1972-197347
 Notes and Research, 1970-198148
 Oral History Interview, 198149
 Photographs, 19918P005
 Research File, n.d.410-14
 Speeches, 1944-1987415-16
 Teaching, 1938-1951417
 Writings, 1954-1986  
  Foundations, 1973-1979418
  Freedom's Holy Light, 1954-1956419
  General, 1954-1986420
  Letters to a Foundation Trustee,, 1986, 1991421
  Perkins Led the Way, 1993-1994422
  Private Money and Public Service: The Role of Foundations in American Society, 1972-1973423
  Uneasy Partners, 1994-1995424-25
Danforth Foundation  
 Board of Trustees  
 Correspondence, 1961-196258
 Cuninggim Employment, 1957-195959
 Danforth, Donald, 1960-1964510
 Executive Committee  
  Minutes, 1959-1972511
  Notes, 1960-1970512
 General Information, 1966-1988513
 International Education, 1973514
 Metropolitan Fellowships (Percy Green), 1970515-16
  Intercom, 1967-1972517-19
  News and Notes, 1965-1973 (incomplete)520
 Pake Committee  
  American Youth Foundation, 1972521
  Berea College, 1972522
  Correspondence, 1972523-25
  Harris Teachers College, 1972526
  Lindenwood Colleges, 1972527
  Notes, 1972528
  St. Louis University, 1972529
  Washington University, 1972530
  Webster College, 1972531
  Correspondence, 1972-1973532
  Notes, 197261
  Press Release/Media Response, 197262
 Singapore Trip, n.d.63
De Rance Foundation, 1985-199064-5
Dirks, J. Edward, 1967-197766
Duffy, Joe, 1974-197967
Duke Endowment, 1973-199568-9
Duke University, 1973-1995610-12
Emory and Henry College, 1941-1989613
Filer Commission, 1973-1975614
Ford Foundation  
 Bell, David, 1974615
 Board Meetings, 1974-1975616
 Bundy, McGeorge, 1972-1975617
 Carnegie Corporation, 1973618
 Correspondence, 1974-1975619
 de Janosi, Peter, 1973620
 Harke, Senator Vance, 1973-1995621
 Jaffee, Sanford, 1973622
 Japanese Philanthropy Project, 1974623
 Kellogg Foundation, 1973624
 Kelly, W. Eamon, 1973625
 Kresge Foundation, 1973626
 Lowry, W. McNeil, 1975627
 Meade, Ed, 1973628
 Meeting Notes, 1973-1975629-30
 Memos, 1973-1957631-32
 Officers Meetings, 1973-1974633
 Oppenheimer-Nicolau, Siobhan, 1973634
  "Affirmative Action," 1975635
  "All Our Ways and Means of Work," 1974636
  "An Independent View of Dependent Organizations of the Ford Foundation," 1975637
  "The Foundation's People and Their Work," 1975638
  "Grant Judging in the Ford Foundation," 1974639
  "Grantmaking: A Study of the Process for Reaching Decisions on Grants," 1973640
  "Grants to Individuals," 1974641
  "Relations with Other Foundations," 1974642
  Relationship of the Ford Foundation with Its Grantees," 1974643
 Rockefeller Foundation, 1973644
 Sheldon, Richard, 1973645
 Sloan Foundation, 1973646
 Southeast Asia Fellows Program, 197471
 Trottenberg, Arthur, 197472
 Watergate, 197373
Foundation Center, 1992-199374
Foundation Project, 1988-199375
Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, 1979-198376
Haugh, Joseph C., 1989-199577
Gerdine, Leigh, 1973-197778
Greenleaf (Robert K.) Center, 1992-199679
Hanks, Nancy, 1970-1979710
Hanley Family Foundation, 1987-1993711
Hardin, Paul, 1973-1976712
Hardy, T. Walter, Jr.,  1973-1974713
Independent Sector, 1980-1987714
Jones (W. Alton) Foundation, 1981715-16
Keeton, Morris T., 1992-1993717
Kern, Paul B., 1941-1942718
Lilly Endowment  
 Bonifield, William C., 1992-1993719
 Campbell, Dennis, 1982-1986720
  "Dreams of Distinction," 1987721
  "Past and Future of American Philanthropy," 1993722
  "Religion and Higher Education," 1995723
 Duke University, 1981-1983724
 Emory University, 1982-1983725
 Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, 1984726
 Harvard University, 1981727
 Knoerle, Jeanne, 1991-1995728
 Lynn, Robert Wood, 1981-1994729
 Religion Programs, 1991-1992730
 Report: "Visiting Committees of University Divinity Schools," 1982731
 Salem College Grant for Uneasy Partners, 1992-1995732
 Southern Methodist University, 1986-1988733
 University of Chicago, 1982-1983734
 Vanderbilt University, 1980-1981735
 Yale University, 1982-1983736
Magill, Robert N., 1977737
Magill, Samuel Hays, 1974-1979738
Maguire, John David, 1974-1979739
Maryville College, 1976740
Methodist Church Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 1982-1991741
Neilson, Waldemar, 1970-1987742
National Commission on United Methodist Higher Education, 1975743
National Council on Religion in Higher Education, 1958-1960744
National Endowment for the Humanities, 1977-1986745
National Methodist Foundation, 1969-1976  
North Carolina Community Colleges, 1986-198784
Old Salem, Inc., 1983-198685
Oxford University, 1937-199286
Pacific Lutheran University, 199287
People for the American Way in North Carolina, 1987-198888
Philanthropy in Baltimore, 1991-199289
Photographs P001-P010810
 Austin College Commencement, 19808P004
 Center for Effective Philanthropy Meeting, 19938P006-010
 Merrimon Cuninggim, Homer Wadsworth, 19918P005
 Religion Class, 19488P001
 Vanderbilt University Board of Trust, 1968, 19748P002-003
Rankin, Robert, 1962-1991811
Research Triangle Institute, 1972-1986812
St. Louis Union Trust Company, 1975-1976817
Salem Academy and College, 1976-1994818-19
San Francisco Foundation Buck Trust, 1984-1986820-22
Scaritt College, 1983-1987823
Scholars Press, 1982-1993824
School of Theology at Claremont, 1979-1990825-27
Schwehn, Mark R., 1993828
Shedd, Clarence P.,  1944-1946829
Silber, John, 1974-1976830
Society for Religion in Higher Education, 1974-1975831
Society for Values in Higher Education, 1975-1995832-34
Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology  
 Advisory Board, 1983-1984 835
 Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 1987-1988836
 Board of Trustees, 1987-1993                                                  91
 Bridwell Library, 1986-199092
 Correspondence, 1951-198893
 Junior College Conference, 195495
 Kirby, James, 1985-199596
 Pye, A. Kenneth, 1987-199497
Spelman College, 198898
Spencer Foundation, 197599
Twentieth Century Fund, 1979910
University of North Carolina Asheville, 1986911
University of Texas Austin, 1975912
Vanderbilt University  
 Photographs, 1968, 19748P002-003
Vanderbilt University Margaret Cuninggim Women's Center, 1989-1995914
Wake Forest University, 1988101
Warren Wilson College, 1986-1988102
Whitaker Foundation, 1976103
Young, Joan K., 1992-1994104
Updated Jan 20, 2016 by Editor Name Missing