At $2.5 million, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize is the world’s largest annual humanitarian award presented to a nonprofit organization.
Inaugurated in 1996, as a tribute to Conrad N. Hilton’s lifetime of international humanitarian efforts, the annual award is presented to a nonprofit organization judged to have made exemplary and extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering. Following initial background and legal review, the Hilton Humanitarian Prize staff conducts an extensive evaluation of the candidates, which is then submitted to an independent, international jury that makes the final selection.
History of the Prize
The Prize is awarded not to an individual, but to a nonprofit organization—to recognize its extraordinary contributions and to highlight the need for greater humanitarian aid in the world.
A prize to honor the philanthropic dimension of Conrad Hilton’s life was suggested by Hilton Foundation Director James Galbraith. The Board saw an opportunity to mount an important and uplifting initiative. It proceeded down a thoughtful and professional exploratory pathway; it established a Prize Exploratory Committee under the chairmanship of Jim Galbraith, with Dyanne Hayes serving as staff support. The committee scanned the awards field, found that the original concept niche (giving funds to an organization, not an individual) was indeed unique, and formulated a plan of action.
When established, the $1 million Prize was the largest humanitarian award and one of the largest monetary prizes in any category—equal to the Nobel and Templeton Prizes. As the years passed, other new awards were established, some exceeding $1 million. In recent years, prizes have become a popular philanthropic tool to advance innovative and effective methods to address social needs.
In 2005 and 2015, the Board increased the award to $1.5 million and then again to $2 million to recognize the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the Prize. The current $2.5 million level, increased in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Prize, maintains it as the world’s largest humanitarian award presented to a nonprofit organization.
The world community of humanitarian organizations is involved in the Prize each year. A worldwide call for nominations has become something of a census of these organizations.
Seven jurors, serving one or more four-year terms, select the recipient. Five international jurors are chosen from among persons prominent in the humanitarian field. To help preserve the vision of the Prize program, the remaining two jurors are a Hilton family member and a Hilton Foundation Board member.
I find the jury duty for this award to be a seriously enlightening experience. The process of selecting the prize winner for the Hilton Humanitarian award is remarkably thorough. I am always impressed—and often astonished—by the way a balanced assessment eventually emerges from extensive and interactive discussions with great colleagues on the competing achievements of potential prize winners.
Former Hilton Humanitarian Prize Juror Amartya Sen