Nielsen, Waldemar 1917–2005

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Nielsen, Waldemar 1917–2005

(Waldemar August Nielsen)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born March 27, 1917, in Greensburg, PA; died November 2, 2005, in New York, NY. Government official, consultant, business owner, and author. A former official for the Ford Foundation and owner of a consulting firm, Nielsen was best known for his writings criticizing the way foundations are run in the United States. He was a business and economics graduate of the University of Missouri, where he earned a B.A. and B.S. in 1939 and an M.A. the next year. After serving as a radar officer in the Pacific theater during World War II, and earning a Bronze Star, Nielsen worked in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce as an economic researcher. He rose to the post of deputy director for the Office of Information in Paris in 1948, and was director from 1951 to 1952. Next, Nielsen was hired by the Ford Foundation, where he worked until 1961, becoming the organization's associate director of international affairs. Leaving the foundation, he was made president of the African-American Institute in New York City during the 1960s. This experience made Nielsen critical of the negative influence of Western powers in Africa. He expressed these ideas in books such as African Battleline: American Policy Choices in Southern Africa (1965) and The Great Powers and Africa (1972). Looking back to his days in the philanthropic foundations field, Nielsen published his controversial books The Big Foundations (1972) and The Golden Donors: A New Anatomy of the Great Foundations (1985). These works flustered wealthy foundations in America, which Nielsen painted as institutions where the rich could find tax shelters while the organizations themselves did little to help the needy. His criticisms were credited by many with helping to reform these institutions. Nielsen went on to write other books about philanthropy, including the cowritten Donor Intent (1993) and his Inside American Philanthropy: The Dramas of Donorship (1996). After serving as philanthropic adviser to the Empress of Iran from 1970 to 1974, Nielsen founded his own consulting firm, Waldemar A. Nielsen, Inc., in New York City. He ran the organization, which offered advice on corporate social policy, until his retirement in 2001. Among Nielsen's honors, he was named a commander in Greece's Royal Order of the Phoenix, a chevalier of the French Ordre de la Valeur Cameroanaise, and commander of the Ordre National du Senegal. Awarded an LL.D. from the University of Lagos in 1970, he was also honored in 2000, when Georgetown University endowed a chair of philanthropy in his name.



New York Times, November 4, 2005, p. C14.


Chronicle of Philanthropy Online, (November 8, 2005).

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Nielsen, Waldemar 1917–2005

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