He graduated from Yale University, and did post graduate work at Northwestern University. He led the Foundation through its evolution from a grantmaking to an operating foundation devoted generally to the field of communications. In 1978, President Carter appointed Charles as chairman of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science and as chairman of the first White House Conference on Library and Information Services, held in November 1979.  In 1980, he was re-appointed for an additional 5-year-term, during which time he was elected chairman emeritus by unanimous vote of NCLIS commissioners. From the fall of 1997 to December 1998, Charles was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters, (Gore Commission). In 2004, Benton and his wife, Marjorie Craig Benton, received the Distinguished Grantmaker Award from the Council on Foundations, for lifetime achievement.