The foundation was created by Dorothy Bullitt, whose family's initial wealth came from cutting down and milling one of the region's most abundant resources -- old-growth timber.
Born in 1892, she was the daughter of C.D. Stimson, who invested in real estate and joined with his brother and father to build Stimson Lumber Company, one of the oldest wood products companies in the nation.
Dorothy married attorney A. Scott Bullitt in 1918, and when her husband died in 1932, she embarked on her own business career. She managed real estate and acquired radio stations. Then, as television came of age, she founded King Broadcasting, with its flagship station, Seattle's KING-TV.
In 1952, Dorothy created the foundation, which by 1977 had funding of $1.3 million and -- influenced by two of her children Charles Stimson Bullitt and Harriet Bullitt -- emerged as an early regional pioneer of environmental giving.
"It's what we were interested in as a family," Bullitt said in a 1977 interview in The Seattle Times, which described it then as a "radical among local foundations" and noted grants that preserved a canyon and funded a group involved in environmental lawsuits.
In 1991, two years after Dorothy Bullitt died, KING Broadcasting was sold. Much of the proceeds went to the foundation, which saw its endowment swell to more than $85 million. In 1992, the foundation hired Hayes, who grew up in Southwest Washington, to help lead a new era of activist grant-giving.
He said he initially planned to stay less than a decade. But today, at age 74, he still directs the foundation's work.
"This region is part of my soul," Hayes said. "The job is deeply rewarding."
For years, the foundation board knew its ability to fund grants would come to an end. Strong investment returns continued to push that date back. Meanwhile, the board wrestled with what would remain of the foundation once the grants end, according to Rod Brown, founder of Cascadia Law and the Bullitt board chair.
Brown said the board members rallied around a plan that keeps ownership of its headquarters, which pushed the envelope of green design when it first opened in 2013 and has since attracted some 30,000 visitors from world.