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Waldemar Nielsen Papers

Identifier: MSS090

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of the papers of Waldemar A. Nielsen from 1930-2004. The bulk of the collection dates from 1942 to 1998 and is organized into five series: World War II–Marshall Plan, Ford Foundation, African-American Institute–Iran, Consulting, and Publications.

The World War II–Marshall Plan series contains reports, correspondence, publications, and research materials used by Nielsen during his time working for the government during and after World War II. Of note are Nielsen’s writings about public opinion polls and the bombing of Japan.

The Ford Foundation Series consists of three subseries: Correspondence, Reports, and the Reece Commission. Each subseries is arranged chronologically. Correspondence contains Nielsen’s letters and memos while he worked for the Ford Foundation. Included in this subseries are several folders of Nielsen’s daily memos from 1952 through 1961. Reports consists of office reports, president’s reports, and research reports that Nielsen used or authored during his tenure at the Ford Foundation. The Reece Commission subseries contains materials related to the Reece Commission’s investigation into the Ford Foundation in 1953 and 1954. This includes internal memos and notes by Nielsen and Ford Foundation President H. Rowan Gaither, Jr. as well as government documents and reports pertaining to the investigation.

The African-American Institute–Iran series contains Nielsen’s correspondence, reports, and research materials from his tenure as the president of the African-American Institute as well as from his time working for the Empress of Iran. Of note are Nielsen’s 1966 statement to the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in which he discusses South Africa’s policy of apartheid and Nielsen’s report on philanthropy to the Empress of Iran.

The Consulting series contains Nielsen’s correspondence, research files, and reports from his consulting agency, Waldemar A. Nielsen, Inc. Included in this series are subseries on his work with the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (AIHS), the Buck Trust and Marin County Committee, and the Eugene Marion Kauffman Foundation. Of particular interest are the files related to Nielsen’s involvement in the dispute and subsequent hearings over the intentions of the will of Beryl H. Buck.

The Publications series is divided into seven subseries based on Nielsen’s articles, speeches, and individual published works. The Speeches subseries contains transcripts, drafts, research, notes, and correspondence from speeches Nielsen gave throughout his career. Articles includes research, correspondence, notes, and drafts of articles Nielsen wrote in a professional capacity as well as stories he had published in publications like The New York Times Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. Subseries The Great Powers and Africa, The Big Foundations, The Endangered Sector, The Golden Donors, and Inside American Philanthropy all contain correspondence, notes, research materials, and drafts from the books Nielsen published over the course of his lifetime. In earlier documents in The Golden Donors subseries, Nielsen refers to the planned book as The Big Foundations II, before changing the title to The Golden Donors. In keeping with Nielsen’s own labeling of his folders, individual folders of earlier materials relating to The Golden Donors are labeled as The Big Foundations II.


  • 1930 - 2004


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Biographical Note

Waldemar August Nielsen was an author widely recognized for his expertise in the functioning of charitable foundations. Nielsen was born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on March 27, 1917. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1939 with a degree in economics and business administration and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar. Unable to take his place at Oxford due to the outbreak of World War II, he completed an M.A. in political science at the University of Missouri in 1940. During the war, Nielsen served as a radar operator in Japan before taking a series of government positions for the duration of the conflict. After World War II Nielsen was the special assistant to the Secretary of Commerce for the Marshall Plan before becoming first the deputy director and then director of the State Department’s European information program at the Marshall Plan headquarters in Paris.

In 1953, Nielsen left government service to work at the Ford Foundation as the deputy director of the Behavioral Sciences Division before becoming the assistant to the President, and then the associate director of the International Affairs program. Nielsen worked for the Ford Foundation during the Reece Committee’s investigation into the Foundation.

Nielsen left the Ford Foundation in 1961 when he was elected president of the African-American Institute. He became an advocate for Africa and wrote several pieces on the issues facing Africa at the end of the colonial era, including his 1969 book The Great Powers and Africa. After leaving the African-American Institute, he became the philanthropic advisor to the Empress of Iran from 1970-1974. In 1974, he established Waldemar A. Nielsen, Inc. as a consulting agency on corporate social policy and individual and foundation philanthropy. Nielsen consulted for numerous philanthropists and foundations, including J. D. Rockefeller III, J. Paul Getty, and Ewing M. Kauffman.

Throughout his career, Nielsen wrote multiple articles and short stories, as well as several books on philanthropy. His best-known works are The Big Foundations (1972) and The Golden Donors (1985), in which he examined US foundations with assets exceeding $100 million. Nielsen was critical of how the biggest foundations in the US handled themselves, examining how they used their money and how effective they were and often finding them lacking. While his assessments stung, they were influential in bringing about changes to the foundations. In 2000, Nielsen was honored with the Waldemar A. Nielsen Chair in Philanthropy at Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership.

Mr. Nielsen married Marcia Kaplen in 1943. They had one daughter, Signe Nielsen, and one granddaughter.


14.4 Cubic Feet (13 cartons, 1 oversized box, 7 audio cassettes, and 21 3.5" disks)


Waldemar A. Nielsen (1917-2005) was widely recognized for his expertise in and analysis of charitable foundations. Nielsen worked in government and the nonprofit sector before establishing a consulting agency, Waldemar A. Nielsen, Incorporated, which focused on corporate social policy. Nielsen is best known for his writing on the biggest foundations within the American philanthropic world. Through publications like The Big Foundations (1972) and The Golden Donors (1985), Nielsen examined the foundations’ methods and their effectiveness.

The Waldemar A. Nielsen Papers consists of Nielsen’s research, notes, and drafts for the books and articles published over the course of his career. The collection also contains correspondence, reports, and publications from Nielsen’s time working for the government, the Ford Foundation, the African-American Institute, and from his years as a consultant.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Waldemar A. Nielsen, March 21, 1997 and 2004. A1997/98-018, A2004/05-001.

Related Materials

Waldemar A. Nielsen Papers, 1946-1997, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.


Saxon, Wolfgang. "Waldemar Nielsen, Expert on Philanthropy, Dies at 88." New York Times, Nov. 4, 2005.


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Waldemar Nielsen Papers, 1930-2004
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Repository Details

Part of the Philanthropic Studies Archives Repository

IUPUI University Library
755 W. Michigan St.
Room 0133
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