John Von Kannon has been a key player in The Heritage Foundation’s phenomenal growth in size, expertise and influence for more than 30 years.
For most of that time, Von Kannon headed the Development Department, responsible for raising the money and attracting the supporters necessary to advance Heritage’s vision of building an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish.
Under his stewardship as vice president and treasurer, Heritage’s budget climbed from $4 million to more than $82 million. Growing by hundreds of thousands of members, Heritage strengthened its position as the most broadly supported think tank in the world – by far.
In 2009, Von Kannon formally turned over the overall fundraising operation to John Fogarty, his successor as vice president for development. In addition to bringing in major gifts, he now concentrates on strategic planning, messaging to members, mentoring members of the development team, and public speaking.
Von Kannon says “matchmaker” was a better description of his longtime job than “fundraiser,” because he focused on connecting concerned Americans with Heritage’s ideas and values. That process includes developing lasting relationships with supporters, turning what otherwise might be viewed as a mere list of contributors into an ever-growing community of good friends.
Von Kannon joined the policy research institute in 1980 as an assistant to Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner for fundraising activities. He was named treasurer a year later, then promoted to vice president for development and treasurer several years after that.
In 1988, he left to become vice president of Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law foundation in Sacramento, Calif. The next year he led Russell & Von Kannon as president of that marketing and consulting firm in suburban Chicago. He rejoined Heritage in 1991.
In his pre-Heritage years, Von Kannon was publisher of The American Spectator, the conservative opinion journal published at that time in Bloomington, Ind.
In fact, Von Kannon got his start in fundraising at The Spectator. During its transition from college paper to opinion magazine, Editor-in-Chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. decided Von Kannon would be good at attracting investors. “He said, ‘Hey, you're a likable guy, you go raise the money,’ ” Von Kannon recalls.
He later became a contributing editor for The Spectator and for years was listed on the masthead as “Kapellmeister” under his nickname: “Baron Von Kannon.”
Politics and Von Kannon go way back. In 1964 – at age 15 – he campaigned for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. A graduate of Indiana University, he was an active member of Young Americans for Freedom and served on its national Board of Directors.
Outside Heritage, Von Kannon now serves as a trustee of FREE, the Foundation for Research on the Economics of the Environment in Bozeman, Mont. He is a trustee of four grant-making institutions. He regularly works with a wide range of conservative organizations across the country to advise them on ways to improve their fundraising programs and is a regular speaker at Heritage’s Annual Resource Bank Meeting.
Von Kannon and his wife, Cindy, reside in Washington, D.C. They have two teenage children, Rachel and Jack.