By 2017, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation had already donated more than $80 million to fix a problem the rest of the world was just becoming aware of: a large fraction of all scientific research today is badly flawed, impossible to reproduce, and inaccurate. When it comes to improving the quality of science, says science watchdog John Ioannidis, “the Arnold Foundation has been the Medici.”
One beneficiary has been the Reproducibility Project, launched by a University of Virginia professor to test how many of the studies published in top psychology journals could be repeated with the same experimental result by other scientists. Only about four out of ten, it turned out. With Arnold funding, this has led to new efforts to improve the quality and integrity of research by helping, and pressing, scientists to post their raw data for public study and otherwise be more open about their procedures and assumptions.
Similar critiques and reform projects supported by the foundation helped expose the arbitrary and incomplete nature of many of today’s scientific pronouncements on nutrition, and flaws in much of the research that produces pharmaceutical drugs. This single-handed work by the Arnolds helped convince a majority of scientists themselves that current research is plagued with biases and “reproducibility” flaws. A 2016 investigation by the journal Nature found that more than 70 percent of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments.
The Arnold Foundation has made long-term commitments to continue airing this problem, and funding potential solutions built on better and more open research methods, for decades to come.
Even state-operated colleges now depend on private gifts. Indeed, public institutions like the University of Virginia and University of California, Berkeley now receive more money in a given year from individual donors than they do from the states that run them. And 2017 saw the arrival of the largest private contribution ever made to public higher-ed in the state of California. Bill Frost, who earned a degree in biochemistry from Cal Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo then founded the company Chemlogics, offered $110 million to his alma mater to strengthen its hands-on teaching of math and science. Cal Poly is a 21,000-student campus known for its “learn by doing” instructional method.
Longwood Gardens was the prize creation of donor Pierre du Pont. It offers visitors 1,000 acres of formal landscaping, forest, and greenhouses. But its centerpiece is a grand fountain garden that du Pont created after studying classic European examples for years.
Opened in 1931, Longwood’s liquid displays, stonework, and integrated plantings were in serious need of repair when the institution’s directors decided that the right way to honor du Pont’s love of water parks would be to upgrade theirs to today’s state of the art. So rather than simply redoing the 85-year-old existing layout they launched a $90 million renovation that increased the number of fountain jets from 380 to 1,719 (with some reaching a height of 175 feet), added propane flames to certain water columns, and choreographed the displays, via computer, to pieces of music—so that every show varies according to what is being heard.
Grand fountains have been a centerpiece of landscape design for centuries, but perhaps nowhere else in the world have they taken as spectacular a form as at this well-endowed park outside Philadelphia.
Perhaps the largest private urban redevelopment in the U.S. is taking place today in New York City, where about 40 blocks of previously unavailable Manhattan real estate are being turned into homes, offices, retail, and entertainment facilities—by decking over and building on top of the Hudson Yards parking and maintenance area for rail cars. This new neighborhood will include an arts facility, known as The Shed, created via a $500 million fundraising campaign. The building has been designed to flexibly accommodate everything from theater plays for 500 people, to museum shows, to outdoor concerts with audiences in the tens of thousands. The largest gift, among the many donors, was $75 million from Michael Bloomberg.
The Chicago-area Duchossois family had previously donated $37 million to the medical school of the University of Chicago. But in 2017 they made an especially interesting gift of $100 million, aimed not just at treating disease, but at understanding how the body fends off invaders and keeps itself well. Specifically, they funded work to deepen understanding of human “microbiomes”—the large collection of healthy bacteria and other microorganisms that exist inside all of our bodies, which we have recently learned are crucial to balancing our nutrition and body weight, immunizing us against environmental threats, and influencing how effectively we metabolize the drugs we take to cure problems.
Chicago sciences dean Conrad Gilliam called the Duchossois family’s decision to focus on the microbiome “prescient.” He noted it now “appears that the microbiome affects nearly every organ and possibly every disease. So…we liked the family’s idea that rather than try to go after each disease, let’s focus on how the microbiome can be manipulated to maintain a person’s health.”
Another innovative twist to the family’s gift is that they have connected it to business spinoffs to make it self-sustaining. Their new program will link with the university’s center for entrepreneurship to bring scientific discoveries to the health-care market in partnership with businesses. All money made in this way will be reinvested into the institute’s work. The $100 million of philanthropy will last ten years, by which time revenue from the commercial spinoffs is intended to support future investigations.
While the computer revolution has turned Silicon Valley into a boomtown, it has also made that region into one of the most expensive places in the country to live, squeezing many local families. And the local foundations built on tech fortunes give only about 7 percent of their funds to charities in their own San Jose/Palo Alto/Santa Clara/San Mateo area. But real-estate developer John Sobrato, who became rich creating campuses for Apple, Yahoo, and other firms, is giving away money with a strong focus on helping local residents left behind by the tech expansion.
Expanding schools and teaching programs that help the area’s Spanish-speaking children has been one major emphasis. The Sobrato family founded a Cristo Rey Catholic high school, supported numerous other schools, and developed a new way of teaching English to non-native speakers that has now spread to 39,000 students.
The Sobratos have also built up office complexes in San Jose, Redwood City, and Milpitas where about 70 charities are provided with free headquarters space. This allows them to avoid the notoriously high rents in the region. It also gives them a proximity to learn from each other and collaborate on projects.
The family has made multi-million-dollar gifts to the local children’s hospital and the Valley Medical Center, and to the National Hispanic University and the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco. In 2017 they announced their largest gift ever: $100 million to Santa Clara University to allow it to unify and strengthen its science and math training for students. That ranked as the second-largest gift ever to a Catholic college. It brought the family’s total charitable contributions to about $380 million over the last 20 years. And six months later the Sobrato gift was bolstered by an additional $30 million from the Leavey Foundation (big supporters of Catholic causes, education, and medicine) for Santa Clara University’s expansion into science and math.
Recognizing that there is a "world beyond the academy" where college students can and should learn important lessons that might be hard to internalize on campus, donor Andrew Davis gave $25 million to Colby College in Maine to create DavisConnects. The staff assigned to this new program will work with students starting in their first year to plan out a series of work experiences, internships, independent research, and travel abroad that can "complement their core academic program." In addition to providing the staff and campus building where this out-of-classroom learning can be mapped out, Davis's gift also provides all necessary funds for living stipends and travel costs so that students of modest incomes can partake of unpaid research or internships or study abroad just as higher-income students are able to.
Reporting in the Kennebec Journal, centralmaine.com/2017/04/19/colby-receives-25-million-from-davis-family-foundation-to-guarantee-every-student-an-experience-abroad/
When physician Gregory Rodchenkov, runner Yuliya Stepanov, and sports-training official Vitaly Stepanov told reporters about the massive program they had participated in to give Russian athletes an advantage in international competitions by feeding them steroid cocktails and other illegal performance aids, they made themselves unemployable. They also took their lives in their hands. The Russian government vilified them and accused them of treason, in a time when numerous dissenters and whistleblowers against the Russian government have mysteriously died.
To better support individuals from around the world who report illegal doping and other violations of fair play in international sports competitions, a new nonprofit was incorporated in the U.S. in 2017 with support from donors. The charity Fair Sport aims to raise around $4 million every year in voluntary contributions, plus pro bono legal hours donated by a range of law firms, so it can offer direct support to whistleblowers. Fair Sport will not conduct any investigations—instead referring those who come forward to national and international sports regulators—but it will lend legal assistance to those who hand over evidence, provide housing and immigration to informants who must go into hiding (as Rodchenkov and the Stepanovs did in the U.S.), and offer therapy, criminal defense, and practical help in starting a new life.
The new field of “data science” trains people in how to sift, clean, organize, and make practical use of the huge new mounds of information now being produced by computer networks. It involves not just analysis but also new techniques like machine learning and advanced visualization that help find the patterns in giant data dumps, and then turn them into understandings that can drive actions that will be useful to society. For instance: a data scientist might analyze the millions of requests for rides made by Uber users to discover the most efficient places to stage drivers, or build future roads, or establish mass transit pickups, or site new residences. An epidemiologist might use data science to find commonalities in patients experiencing a rare disease. The economic value of new insights and discoveries made through data science can be very large.
Like many new intellectual fields, data science is just starting to develop consistent understandings and ways of working, and its practitioners are fitfully separating themselves from related areas of knowledge like statistics, information technology, mathematics, and graphic arts. University programs are doing most of this exploration at the frontiers of today’s data explosion, and San Diego donor Taner Halicioglu is making the University of California, San Diego one of the leaders in this area.
A UCSD graduate himself, Halicioglu was the first full-time hire of Facebook when he joined the firm as a software engineer, and subsequently became wealthy as the firm mushroomed. After leaving Facebook and becoming a lecturer back at his alma mater, he made a $2 million gift to the UCSD computer department in 2015. Then in 2017 he announced a $75 million gift specifically focused on building up a data-science institute at the university that can become a leader in the field.
Dale Fowler graduated from Chapman University, located in Orange County, in 1958 with a degree in economics, then became a successful real-estate developer in southern California. In 2017 he and his wife Sarah Ann pledged $45 million to establish a new engineering school at Chapman. Campus officials announced that they hoped to start granting advanced technical degrees in 2019 or 2020.
Back in 2013, the Fowlers had given $55 million to Chapman to bolster its law school. Philanthropy also brought another big expansion to campus in 2016, when a new 1,044-seat performance hall opened, funded entirely by private donations. Donors Paul and Marybelle Musco footed $39 million of the $82 million cost.
At the University of Washington in Seattle (the city that is home to Microsoft, Amazon, and many other technology companies), computer science is the most sought-after major among the more than 30,000 undergraduates. In a country with a serious shortage of trained computer-science professionals, that’s an encouraging trend. Problem is, U.W. has to turn away most of those potential majors for lack of facilities. Only about a third of the students who apply get into the computer department.
Microsoft co-founder and major philanthropist Paul Allen has been helping with that problem for many years. He gave the lead $14 million gift that created the main building where U.W.’s computer training has been based since 2003. Then in 2017 he donated $40 million (with Microsoft kicking in an additional $10 million in Allen’s honor) to endow the department and turn it into a full-fledged school within the university. A major new building is under construction (mostly funded through philanthropy), and important enhancements of the student body and faculty are unfolding.
Allen is not a Washington graduate. Like many other technology titans he dropped out of (a different) college. He and Bill Gates did, however, get hooked on computers by sneaking into the U.W. computer lab while they were high-school students. He has since paid for those seminal trespasses with more than $100 million of total gifts to the University of Washington.
After Sanford Diller put together one of the most successful companies developing apartments in northern California, he and his wife Helen Diller became energetic philanthropists. They were long-time supporters of the medical faculties at the University of California, San Francisco (whose facilities include the hospital where she was born). From 2003 until Helen’s death in 2015 the couple made gifts totaling more than $150 million to build up the university’s cancer center on a new campus. Then in 2017 their foundation offered a $500 million grant to support UCSF’s medical education and research. That tied for the second largest gift ever to a university, exceeded only by Gordon Moore’s $600 million donation to the California Institute of Technology in 2001. Campus officials said they particularly appreciated the relatively unrestricted nature of the offering, which will allow them to apportion funds efficiently to emerging priorities.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and now the second richest man on earth, is just getting started on philanthropy. Most of his giving comes through the foundation run by his parents, which he has endowed with Amazon stock. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has been their favorite recipient thus far, through gifts totaling about $65 million. Immunotherapy, bone-marrow transplantation, and study of cancers sparked by exposure to germs have been particular focuses of the Bezos cancer gifts.
Training accidents, sports injuries, and battlefield blasts put military servicemembers at risk for concussions and brain injuries. Most of these heal with standard medical treatment and time, but some are persistent and disruptive. Getting treatment for these can be difficult and frustrating.
When Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus found that out, he went to work. He was on a 2007 visit to Shepherd Hospital, a top destination for neurological care, when he met a young brain-injured servicemember who had recently regained his ability to walk after military doctors wrote him off as paralyzed for life. In talking to the young man and then learning about the relatively high prevalence of concussions and brain injuries in the military today, he decided to launch a private clinic to provide attention to difficult cases. With his $2 million grant to Shepherd Hospital, the SHARE Program was born, offering specialized care that is time-consuming and expensive, but doesn't cost a dime for those injured in service.
After registering successes, Marcus offered to work closely and collaboratively with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, but was quickly frustrated by the bureaucracy and territorial posturing of the government agencies. So he pushed the SHARE program forward on its own, intensively treating around 40 patients per year. But Marcus knew the potential and the need were far greater.
In 2014, he hired a young Army officer to help him expand his philanthropy for veterans, and particularly to launch a wider effort in concussion treatment. They recruited a leading expert who had founded the Fisher-family-funded National Intrepid Center of Excellence and considered what private-sector care for brain-injured veterans might look like. They zeroed in on diagnosing underlying causes of different symptoms, recruiting doctors from a wide range of specialties, developing detailed treatment plans that involve family members, and ensuring that veterans transition home with ongoing care.
With this plan and a $38 million grant from Bernie Marcus, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus became the first site for the Marcus Institute for Brain Health. Marcus will next develop other sites around the country to build a network of care. By early 2017, he had already committed over $70 million to veterans' causes, making him one of the most generous donors to this population.
Rafat and Zoreen Ansari are not extraordinarily wealthy, but they are both physicians earning good salaries, and have lived modestly during full careers in a suburb of South Bend, Indiana. And they are grateful for the opportunities they have enjoyed in America after leaving Pakistan. “We came as immigrants, and this country has given us so much,” said Mrs. Ansari.
After mulling ways they could share their good fortune in lasting ways, the Muslim donors announced they would give $15 million to the Catholic university nearby, Notre Dame, to create an institute where the religious traditions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths can be studied, with an eye toward their interactions and their influence on behavior, changes in culture, and world events. Notre Dame president John Jenkins says the institute will focus on the human effects of the religions, rather than viewing them through a political or social lens.
Mr. Ansari told the New York Times that this money would have gone to their children, but after explaining they wanted to leave a positive legacy to their adopted nation and to all people, their daughters and son were supportive. “It’s better to do something good with this. It’s better to give it,” said daughter Sarah Ansari.
Located halfway between Tampa and Orlando, Lakeland, Florida, is a city with a population of 100,000, but is headed toward a million in its fast-growing metro region within a generation. One local family, the Barnetts—who built up the Publix Super Market chain—recognized that their hometown lacked the parkland needed for an urban area of that size. So they invested energy and money into sparking a major new recreation area for the region. The Barnetts and local allies announced acquisition of 160 acres, and creation of a plan for building a $50-60 million urban escape there, without any money from government. The property is about half attractive woods and lakefront, and half industrial land that will need to be reclaimed. Nature trails, playgrounds, gardens, bike paths, and other amenities will be constructed, and a private nonprofit will provide popular programming for the public, all within walking distance of downtown. The philanthropic sponsors are aiming for an opening around 2020.
When he was five years old and seriously ill, Robert Kern received charitable medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic—under a program for helping the children of religious workers like his father, a Baptist pastor. The child recovered, grew to be an engineer and inventor, and built his company making portable generators into a billion-dollar enterprise. Then he paid back the Mayo Clinic’s kindness. More generally, he began to apply his engineering instincts to upgrade medical education and care.
Robert and Patricia Kern donated $20 million to Mayo in 2011 to establish the Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. It uses scientific assessments to improve the effectiveness, safety, and value of patient treatments, and then shares proven models with other doctors and hospitals around the country. The Kerns followed up with an additional grant of $67 million in 2013. This brought their total giving to the Mayo Clinic to $100 million (they have also supported neuroscience there).
Then in 2017 the Kerns made their latest gift aimed at re-engineering medical care for improved outcomes. They donated $38 million to the Medical College of Wisconsin to establish an institute that will coordinate a group of top medical schools as they explore new approaches for improving doctor training. For instance, the Medical College of Wisconsin (to which the Kerns had previously given $10 million) recently established new satellite campuses to school physicians who want to practice in rural areas and smaller cities that currently lack doctors, or go into specialties like primary care and psychiatry where there are occupational shortages. These refinements will benefit lots of Americans—including needy five-year-olds.
George Lucas made billions of dollars exploring the public appetite for popular morality tales—stories of good and evil, youth versus age, the joy of friendship, the pleasures of ordinary life, and the power of religious faith. Lucas understood that good art doesn’t have to hold itself apart from, and above, the everyday masses of people. In fact, some of the very greatest art is great precisely because it strikes universal chords via broadly accessible images and language.
So when he wasn’t creating his own works like the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and American Graffiti films, Lucas was collecting potent popular art such as the paintings and drawings of Norman Rockwell, N. C. Wyeth, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish, and Alberto Vargas. He also accumulated thousands of pieces of film memorabilia; posters; magazine illustrations; landmark animations, cartoons, and comics; and other artifacts of mass storytelling.
Lucas is unabashed in his defense of art that meets and speaks to the public. "You know, so many artists have a tendency to paint without emotion, without any connection to the audience,” he once told CBS News. “Both Steve [Spielberg] and I are diehard emotionalists. We love to connect with the audience. Rockwell loved to connect with the audience."
To crystallize and share his attachment to storytelling artistry, Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson announced a gift totaling more than a billion dollars to create a Museum of Narrative Art. The donation will include all costs of a spectacular 275,000-square-foot building (the latest plans look a bit like a hovering space vessel), a cash endowment of a least $400 million to operate the museum, and more than 10,000 pieces of art that Lucas has collected over decades, including his important Rockwell stash. After abortive wrangles with regulators in San Francisco and Chicago, it was decided that the museum will be built in Los Angeles, at a site near 100 public schools, the University of Southern California, the Coliseum, and three other major museums, to encourage public access. The founding president will be Don Bacigalupi, who helped Alice Walton launch her similarly ambitious (and similarly non-snobby) grand museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. (See 2011 Crystal Bridges entry in this same section.)
In 2015, a $400 million construction project was launched by the Green family to create a highly visible, philanthropically created Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Located three blocks from the National Mall and U.S. Capitol, the building will house the Green Collection of Biblical Artifacts (see 2011 entry), attractions like specialized films and a reconstruction of first-century Nazareth, a 500-seat performing-arts theater, and a large scholarly wing with a reference library, artifact research labs, and academic conference center. A flight simulator will allow guests to soar over Washington, then swoop down and read the Biblical inscriptions that adorn so many of its landmarks. Textured bronze panels at the street entrance, custom stained-glass work, and a 200-foot LED-panel ceiling will display artistic interpretations of Biblical themes.
“The Bible has had a huge impact on our world today—from culture and politics, to social and moral justice, to literature, art and music, and more,” explains philanthropist Steve Green, chairman of the Museum of the Bible, and president of Hobby Lobby, which his family founded and owns privately. “Our family has a passion for the Bible and we are excited to be part of a museum dedicated to sharing its impact, history, and narrative with the world.” The museum opened in 2017.
The newspapers in Philadelphia, as in every city, have struggled mightily over the last decade to find a viable business formula in the era of Internet news. To save them from collapse, Philadelphian and prominent national philanthropist Gerry Lenfest some years ago purchased the Philadelphia Inquirer (America’s third-oldest newspaper) and the Philadelphia Daily News, plus the companion website Philly.com.
In 2016, Lenfest donated all three properties, along with a $20 million endowment, to a nonprofit entity. The notion is that the publications will continue to operate as for-profit businesses, adapting as necessary to balance their bottom lines, but that there will be no pressure on them to make money, and special projects can be funded with earnings from the endowment. So far, endowment grants have been applied to improving the use of technology by the papers. The one other major newspaper in the U.S. that operates as a for-profit under a nonprofit umbrella is the Tampa Bay Times, owned by the Poynter Institute.
In 2017, the nonprofit that owns the Philadelphia publications announced it had supplemented Lenfest’s original $20 million endowment with an additional $27 million raised from other donors. Lenfest then announced that if $40 million more in gifts could be raised, he would match that amount. That would leave the nonprofit trust with an endowment exceeding $100 million.
Given that declining circulation knocked the value of the Philadelphia newspapers down from $515 million in 2006 to under $50 million in less than a decade, it’s clear that even with these funds they’ll have to make many adjustments to their operations. But the executive director of their nonprofit trust says the philanthropic support will subsidize “a test lab for local news innovation.”
In 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced that they will gradually give away 99 percent of their Facebook stock to “improve the world.” Their first moves were to set up an organization to invest in the improvement and reform of schools. Then in the fall of 2016 they drove down some stakes on a second priority: basic science research. They announced they would invest $3 billion over the next 10 years, with a particular emphasis on preventing, curing, or managing diseases.
An early $600 million was allocated to creating a “biohub” that will induce scientists from three local universities—Stanford, U. Cal Berkeley, and UCSF—to collaborate more in their separate, comparatively massive, biomedical research. Almost immediately, grants were made available to science faculty from the three universities for investigations likely to be considered too risky for government funding.
This same year, another computer pioneer, Paul Allen, pledged $100 million to create a new organization called the Frontiers Group that will similarly support bioscience deemed too new or too untested to attract grant money from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. It will be managed as a third entity under the Allen Institute umbrella that earlier launched powerful research efforts in cell science (see nearby 2014 entry) and brain science (see 2003 entry on list of achievements in Medicine).
No donor had ever given a social-work school a gift as large as $60 million. The previous high was the $50 million that Constance and Martin Silver donated to New York University’s social-work school back in 2007. But what made 2016’s record-setting benefaction to the University of Southern California School of Social Work doubly surprising was that it came from someone who is a prominent social worker herself. “Wealthy social worker” is not a phrase that gets typed often in newsrooms. Yet in addition to her work within her main profession, Suzanne Dworak-Peck was able to accumulate a fortune through real-estate investments in southern California, and a consultancy that advised film and media producers on how to portray social problems in entertainment.
The USC social-work department to which she directed her gift is the largest such school in the world. It has an enrollment of 3,500 students, and produces one out of every 20 graduate-level social workers in the U.S. Among other things, it is known for its research in aging, its correlated nursing program, and an unusual specialty in military social work. (One professor in that last USC niche was Anthony Hassan, now director of the innovative mental-health network for veterans funded by philanthropist Steven Cohen—see 2016 entry on our list of Medicine achievements.)
Phil Knight has made some of the largest university donations in history. In 2016 he landed a whopping $500 million on his alma mater—the University of Oregon (which gave him a degree in business, and whose track coach he co-founded the Nike sportswear company with). The university plans to raise an equivalent amount from other philanthropists and use the sum to create a new center aimed at speeding translation of science discoveries into useable products. At the Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, 30 new researchers will be hired to lead investigations, and 550 students will work and experiment in three new buildings, with an initial emphasis on biomedical subjects. Businesses sparked by the center are expected to eventually employ 750 entrepreneurs and staff in a cluster around the incubator.
Not many donors have a fossil park named for them. Jean and Ric Edelman earned theirs with a $25 million gift that allowed Rowan University in New Jersey to purchase the best repository east of the Mississippi of Cretaceous Era animal remains, including dinosaur fossils. Rowan professor and prominent geologist Kenneth Lacovara is leading research at the site, which will also be used for popular science education of children and adult visitors, through construction of a museum, lab, visitor center, and paleontology-themed playground. The Edelmans started their philanthropic support of their alma mater with a million-dollar gift to fund the university’s planetarium and associated science-education programs. Their wealth derives from a financial-advisory company they jointly founded and expanded into the largest such independent firm in the country.
The Walton Family Foundation spent more than a billion dollars to help create, test out, and improve charter schools during their first 20 years. In 2016 the foundation announced it would spend another billion and a quarter over its next five years to expand charters of all sorts—now that they have proven to be among the most effective schools in operation, with particular success at getting good outcomes from disadvantaged children who were languishing in conventional schools.
Walton has long followed a strategy of concentrating its support in states with fair and open charter laws, and backing institutions and social entrepreneurs it has worked with in the past and found to be effective. Its future investments will focus on creating new schools, strengthening the programs that train teachers and principals for charters, helping families get accurate information on the performance of local schools, improving enrollment platforms, and making sure that funding and transportation access for charters are fair.
Fully $250 million of the Walton donations will be focused on one of the biggest problems holding back charter expansion: the difficulty of acquiring and expanding buildings (which many states will not pay for, even though charters are public schools). Walton will support low-interest loans that will help charter operators build enough new space to seat an extra 250,000 children. The nonprofit Civic Builders will manage this building-acquisition effort, and the money will be steered particularly to charters that have strong demonstrated academic results or promise.
Success Academy Charter Schools turned ten years old in 2016. And they celebrated the date with $10 million of donations from a variety of New York City philanthropists, plus a $25 million capstone gift from hedge-fund pioneer Julian Robertson. The $35 million total will be used to expand the school network from its current 34 campuses to a total of 100 over the next several years. And Robertson’s gift in particular will be used to ramp up the Success Academy Education Institute, an online portal where the school shares its innovative curriculum and potent teacher-training methods with any other schools who want to make use of them. Robertson was one of the major backers who funded creation of the Institute some years ago, as a means of sharing the techniques of New York state’s most successful schools.
Though it accepts almost entirely low-income and minority students by random public lottery, Success has outperformed schools in even New York’s most affluent communities—ranking in the top 1 percent statewide in math, and the top 3 percent in reading. Despite Success’s rapid growth, close to ten times as many children want to attend as can be enrolled through the annual lottery. In the latest year, a heartbreaking 17,000 families put themselves on a waiting list for open seats. Thus the importance of the major expansion funded by Robertson and other donors, including New York financier John Paulson, who offered $8.5 million back in 2015.
Two major donations—a $20 million anonymous gift, and a $10 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation—raised ambitions at a Washington, D.C.-area law school that has a tradition of cross-training lawyers in economic analysis, property rights, limited government, and individual liberty. At George Mason University in suburban Virginia, the gifts will establish new scholarships for students and new positions for legal faculty. And the law school will be named for recently deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most influential judicial minds of his generation.
In one of the largest education gifts ever from an African-American philanthropist, tech investor Robert F. Smith offered Cornell University $50 million in 2016. That sum will support the university’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and aim to expand the enrollment of black and female students in engineering generally at Cornell. It will also create a fellowship program to support engineering undergrads who want to continue on from Ithaca to graduate training at the university’s Cornell Tech campus (see 2011 entry in this section) in New York City.
In 2016 there were 233 public schools in Washington, D.C. Late that year, a local foundation announced that it wanted to fund the creation of 25 “new or radically designed” schools across the city in the five years to come. It encouraged grant applicants to “fundamentally rethink” schools and design new academies that fellow educators would want to copy and expand enough to “radically transform education” in the nation’s capital. CityBridge Education, a foundation created by Katherine and David Bradley, will put $10-15 million into the effort. The first batch of winners got grants of up to $500,000 to found or remake a successful school. Those selected included six district-run public schools, nine charter schools, and one city center for youth services.
“People often remember the first teacher to have a profound impact on their lives. For me, that teacher was the Boston Museum of Science,” states philanthropist Michael Bloomberg. “I went every Saturday….Those mornings were the highlight of my weeks....I learned to ask questions, to recognize just how much there is to learn about the world.”
In his autobiography, Bloomberg describes taking a bus and train to attend classes and lectures at the museum, starting when he was ten and continuing through high school. “I sat spellbound as an instructor brought snakes, porcupines and owls for us to hold; demonstrated the basic laws of physics with hands-on experiments; and quizzed us on every museum exhibit.” The museum “changed my life…in ways that traditional school didn’t do,” says Bloomberg—who went on to study engineering at Johns Hopkins University and then founded a company for computerizing financial data that eventually gave him a net worth in the neighborhood of $40 billion.
In 2016, Bloomberg made his fourth, and largest, gift to the museum that had been so important to his boyhood. He donated $50 million to increase the institution’s endowment by nearly 40 percent. The earnings will be used specifically to support education programs, at which the museum excels. The Boston Museum of Science has hosted 11 million school children and 122,000 teachers in the last decade, and produces an engineering curriculum for elementary students that is one of the most used in the country.
Joseph O’Neill is a Notre Dame graduate who went on to serve his alma mater on many boards. His sister Helen and brother-in-law Charles Schwab honored that service in 2017 with a $25 million gift to the university that provided lead funding for the new six-story building housing Notre Dame’s department of music. The new structure includes a recital hall, many soundproof practice rooms, a music library, and organs and other special facilities to support Notre Dame’s program in Sacred Music.
Jack Benaroya was a child of Lebanese immigrants who became one of the real-estate developers who built Seattle and the Pacific Northwest into an economic power. He and his wife Becky became active philanthropists starting in the 1990s. In 1993 they made the largest gift ever to a Seattle nonprofit to help the local symphony build a concert hall. The couple also supported medical research, education, and Jewish causes until Jack’s death in 2012. In 2016, Becky announced that she was leaving the family art collection, along with $14 million to construct a special gallery and endow curation and care, to the Tacoma Art Museum. The collection is focused on art glass (which is taught regionally at the Pilchuck Glass School founded by Dale Chihuly, where the Benaroyas had long served as trustees and donors) and will bring total holdings of art glass at the TAM to nearly 1,000 pieces, making it one of the national centers for that craft.
A decade and a half after the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center, the site had rebounded remarkably. Dramatic new office towers had occupants, a much-improved transportation hub was operating, an affecting museum was in place, and the streetscape of the neighborhood was more efficient and attractive than ever before. Only one piece was still missing: a proposed performing-arts center. A major theater had been included in the 2003 master plan for bringing the dead neighborhood back to life, but that got delayed amidst the many other demands of the massive project.
Then in 2016, businessman Ronald Perelman ponied up $75 million to jumpstart the project. Soon plans were in place for a technologically advanced structure that could seat an audience of 1,200—or be easily subdivided into three smaller theaters. Music, dance, drama, and an annual film festival will animate the space throughout the year. Perelman, who is known as a hands-on, high-energy donor, was reported at the time of his donation to be taking a particular interest in making sure the theater has advanced media capabilities so its performances can be shared around the world via Internet streaming.
The latest in the ever-expanding empire of federal museums on the Washington, D.C., mall—the National Museum of African American History and Culture—opened in 2016. And the majority of the funds that went into creating this latest Smithsonian branch came from private donors. Of the $500 million building cost, $265 million came from charitable contributors. Large givers included the Lilly Endowment, Oprah Winfrey, investor Robert F. Smith, Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein, Colin Powell, the Rhimes family, and the Gates, Ford, Rockefeller, and Mellon foundations. Among the individuals who gave $1 million or more, three quarters were African Americans.
Museum director Lonnie Bunch believed “it was important to show average people owned this project,” so to complement these large gifts the museum carried out a broad grassroots fundraising campaign. Months before the museum even opened, more than 100,000 people had already pledged $25 a year to become members. This is the largest member base of the Smithsonian museums.
Individuals also donated many of the artifacts that are featured in the collection. Shirley Burke offered her enslaved great-grandfather’s violin. T. B. Boyd gave the printing press his grandfather used to support himself after slavery. Robert Hicks provided a white shirt he wore when he became the first black supervisor at a factory in his town. David Rubenstein loaned two documents signed by Abraham Lincoln: a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and a copy of the 13th Amendment ending slavery.
The Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo, New York, is one of America’s superb art museums, with a particular strength in 7,000 modern works. But it has been desperately short of space in which to exhibit its deep collection. Until a prominent bond trader solved that problem in very short order with an innovative matching-grant donation. Jeffrey Gundlach used a $43 million donation to inspire $41 million of other private gifts. And he made this happen at breakneck speed.
The museum announced in June that it had selected the architect for a major building expansion, and intended in September to gradually roll out a multi-year capital campaign to raise the necessary money. Instead, Gundlach made his $43 million offer right away and pushed the institution to wrap up the fundraising “by Labor Day, because these things lose momentum.” He asked that museum leaders raise a match to his money, beginning with a blitz of the board members—who quickly kicked in $21 million. Within an astonishing 12 weeks of starting from nothing, Albright-Knox had raised $103 million—“probably the fastest capital campaign in U.S. history,” in the words of gallery director Janne Sirén. (At that point the museum expanded its fundraising goal from the original $80 to $125 million, which will allow its endowment to be doubled at the same time the new campus is created.)
“When I was young, I was dragged there,” explained Gundlach, who grew up in Buffalo and now lives in Los Angeles, so “I’ve always had a belief in and fondness for the Albright-Knox.” In addition to loyalty, his decision to give to his hometown was based on a desire for effect. “I tend to do things not with teaspoons, but to try to make a difference.” If he had donated $43 million to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gundlach suggested, “you wouldn’t be able to find it with a microscope.” Instead, this donor allowed a grand expansion of a great museum to be fully funded before its managers even expected to start their fundraising.
Steve Cohen had made billions of dollars as a hedge-fund manager when his son, Robert, decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. There was no draft or financial necessity for him to join, but he felt a calling to serve the nation in a time of war. After deploying to Afghanistan, Robert reported to his father that some of his friends and colleagues struggled with mental-health adjustments when they returned home.
The elder Cohen got involved. First, he co-chaired the Robin Hood Foundation's $13 million fundraising for veterans in New York City. Then he put up $7 million to underwrite a free mental-health clinic in the city for vets and their families, and separately funded $17 million in PTSD research (see nearby 2013 entry). He had hoped to find an existing nonprofit he could fund to provide mental-health care across the country, but none quite fit the bill. So he launched his own.
In 2016, Cohen committed $325 million to help veterans, members of the National Guard and Reserves, and their families address mental-health needs. It was the single largest commitment of philanthropic support to Americans with military service. The lion’s share went to establishing the Cohen Veterans Network—a collection of roughly two dozen mental-health clinics around the country specially staffed and resourced to care for 25,000 patients annually. At least $30 million will be directed to Cohen Veterans Bioscience, a research organization dedicated to accelerating the development of diagnostics and treatments for traumatic stress and brain injuries.
Within a year, Cohen's network had opened its first four locations. The clinics offer same-day enrollment and first appointments within a week—radically faster service than what’s offered by the V.A. They also provide services like transportation and childcare to make sure that patients face minimal barriers to treatment. And unlike the V.A., the Cohen clinics provide care to family members, and all veterans regardless of discharge status.
The clinics quickly found that most of the mental-health challenges that current and former servicemembers seek help for are not battle-related at all, but the same issues that affect the rest of us—like depression, guilt, family strife, anxiety. In addition to providing high-quality evidence-based treatment to patients, the Cohen clinics train new practitioners, and gather data that can be used to improve practices across all sites. And all of this comes at no cost to the veteran.
From his Facebook proceeds, Sean Parker donated $250 million in 2016 to found an unusual cancer institute. It will focus tightly on using the body’s own immune system to fight tumors. Until very recently, notes Parker, immunology was “the red-headed stepchild of the oncology world. There was a dedicated band of scientists who were convinced that the immune system played an important role in cancer, but they were essentially refugees from the cancer establishment.” Now they’ll have a chance to pursue their theories.
Even more than the huge pile of money Parker put up, or the bleeding-edge science he is supporting, it is likely to be the business-like philanthropic method he applied that separates his efforts from others. Parker insisted that all scientists receiving his money must coordinate their work in order to avoid duplication, and speed practical progress from research lab to treatment clinics. Neither bureaucracy nor prima donna personalities will be allowed to encumber transfer of information among the 40 labs in six institutions (ranging from UCLA to Penn to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center). The cooperative network Parker set up will propose research agendas, collect and share data on results, establish the necessary clinical trials, and handle all licensing of useful technologies and ideas so companies can bring them to market quickly. The network is also establishing direct partnerships with 30 private companies with valuable expertise, and with several patient-advocacy groups.
In explaining his effort to chop down intellectual barriers, Parker says that philanthropy is not “giving away money so much as trying to solve a set of not-easily-addressable problems.” He told the Financial Times that if you “form a scientific advisory board composed of the luminaries in the field—who are all at that point the establishment—and then you let those people determine how your resources are going to be allocated, you’re going to end up doing essentially more of the same thing that everyone else is doing.” Smart philanthropy often looks instead for roads not taken and new tacks by fresh thinkers. There are topics and approaches, summarizes Parker, that are “either too far ahead, or they’re unpopular for some reason, or the establishment isn’t yet interested, where private philanthropists can step in and have a huge impact.”
Parker says the slow “incrementalism” that has “taken hold of” academic science in many places is a symptom of the tendency of government agencies to fund only sure things. Most government research grants “aren’t really that interesting” because they are channeled to “the things that are already so obvious, experiments where the outcome is already so predictable.” The many top researchers who have decided to participate in Parker’s venture apparently agree. They say its flexible mechanisms and funding will allow them to pursue riskier, harder, longer-term, more radical ideas than government grants would allow.
The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy is but one of many recent mold-breaking creations by philanthropists frustrated with the conventional and risk-averse research that flows from much public funding. Paul Allen’s three innovative research institutes (see 2003 entry in this section, plus separate 2014 and 2016 entries), Bill Bowes’s special faculty funds (2016 item nearby), the genome center created by Russell Carson and James Simons (also nearby under 2016), Bill Gates’s innovative malaria vaccine consortium (2011 entry), Larry Ellison’s attempt to promote discipline-mixing in medicine (1997 entry), and the self-contained Janelia Farm campus set up by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (see 1953 Medical entry) are similar efforts to avoid stifling effects that are often connected to conventional government-funded medical research. Other donors like Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg (2016 entry on Prosperity list), and Sergey Brin are likewise promoting fresh ways of organizing research, and depending as much on their management insights as on their money to create medical-science breakthroughs.
In one of his last gifts, biotech investor and philanthropist Bill Bowes made a 2016 gift to the University of California, San Francisco to establish special support for medical research that is unconventional or outside of standard health-science boundaries. The program offers biomedical investigators $250,000 per year for five years so they can test new ideas, including ones with a high probability of failure, without endangering their lab support. Young and pioneering faculty will particularly benefit. The gift brought Bowes’s total giving to the university to $100 million. His previous donations also tended to encourage experimentation. Bowes “has a history of funding cutting-edge research…at a time when federal funding tends to reward more established scientific approaches,” commented the San Francisco Examiner shortly before his death in 2016.
Retired oil executive James Mulva and his wife Miriam took aim in 2016 at “widespread and difficult diseases that impact so many people and families.” They donated $50 million to create a neurology clinic at the University of Texas medical school in Austin, and $25 million for prostate and melanoma treatment at another UT facility, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The Mulvas had previously donated $75 million to engineering and business programs and ROTC training at UT-Austin.
Thanks to donor support, the Cleveland Clinic’s institute for eye and vision problems went from a hole in the ground to one of the top programs in the country in only about 15 years. That kind of meteoric rise is unusual in the medical world. But success can also cause problems. Board member Jeffrey Cole (who ran one of the world’s largest companies selling eyeglasses) discovered that the vision clinic had reached the capacity of its building, and thus could no longer accept more patients, or expand into additional areas of research. So he provided $31 million to fund a new building that will provide needed space. As the plans for the building began in 2017, the eye institute had a staff of 100 physicians and researchers who carried out more than a quarter-million patient visits and 13,000 annual surgeries.
In 2011, financiers Russell Carson and James Simons jointly launched the New York Genome Center. This new consortium encourages hospitals, research groups, universities, and medical schools in the region to work together to advance biological research and improve treatment of patients via genomic medicine. Founding members include Weill Cornell University, Columbia University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and others. Both men served on the group’s board to guide it during its early years. And five years later they put up big gifts to build a nest egg for the nonprofit. They announced that if the center raised $100 million over the next three years, Simons would put up $80 million and Carson $20 million to double the pot. The consortium now oversees an extensive research agenda, including investigations of specific diseases like glioblastoma and rheumatoid arthritis, plus work at a dozen separate specialized labs scattered around the New York metro area.
The troubled city of Flint, Michigan, shifted in 2014 to a new public-water source that ended up exposing between 6,000 and 12,000 children to unhealthy levels of lead. After this was discovered, dysfunctional governments proved unable to move quickly to protect the youngsters from harm. Ten charitable organizations rapidly stepped into this void—pledging a combined $125 million for water testing, health care, and various kinds of short- and medium-term relief for households.
“There are needs out there that just can’t wait for the state to appropriate the money and wait for the bureaucratic channeling of funds,” stated Eric Lupher of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. “If you live in the city of Flint you don’t want to wait for the money to show up. You want to take your kids to the doctor now.”
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which is based in Flint, provided $50 million to the recovery effort for immediate use in the first year. Other philanthropies among those pitching in included the FlintNOW, Kellogg, Kresge, and Skillman foundations.
Led by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, about a half dozen living donors and another half dozen foundations have joined forces in a cooperative calling itself Blue Meridian Partners that will deliver major, long-term support to a limited number of proven charities serving children. The group intends to collectively donate at least a billion dollars over the next decade. With this large, reliable, long-term funding stream directed to organizations that have proven their ability to improve life courses, hundreds of thousands of youngsters may enjoy a better future.
As of 2017, eight supporters had pledged to spend at least $50 million each in this coordinated way: living donors Stanley Druckenmiller (who will chair the board), Steve Ballmer, Sergey Brin, Arthur Samberg, George Kaiser, and David Tepper, plus the Duke Endowment and Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. An interesting governance structure gives each of these “general partners” a vote on the dispersal of funds. The effort also has four “limited partners” who committed at least $10 million to the joint effort: the Hewlett, JPB, Packard, and Schusterman Family foundations. These contributors will not vote, but by riding on the effort’s coattails will benefit from its research, grantee assistance, technical assessment, and other services.
Six charities had been selected to receive the pooled funding as of 2017. Each will receive both money and assistance with planning and management. This will allow them to dramatically expand their successful programs.
The Nurse-Family Partnership (which brings nurses into the homes of low-income mothers as they bear their first child, almost always out of wedlock) will receive $33 million to expand its services, which have been demonstrated to improve both the development of children and the economic self-sufficiency of mothers.
The signature adoption-assistance program of the Dave Thomas Foundation, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, was promised $35 million over four years. That will fund the first phase of a 12-year plan to move many hard-to-place foster children (those with disabilities, siblings, advanced age, etc.) into families.
Youth Villages (which operates 11 group homes for teens and young adults with behavioral, emotional, and criminal problems) got a commitment from Blue Meridian Partners for $36 million over four years.
Year Up, an organization that shepherds poor youngsters into jobs and community colleges, will receive $40 million in expansion funding over four years. Two medical charities that will receive smaller grants complete the initial investments of the partnership.
Howard Marcus was a dentist who left his native Germany when Hitler came to power. He and his wife Lottie lost to the Nazis most of their family members who remained behind. While Mrs. Marcus was working as a secretary on Wall Street, she became friends with a very young investor named Warren Buffett. They put much of their savings in his hands, never sold a share, lived thriftily their whole life, and ended up with hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2005 they shared their blessings by donating $200 million to Israel’s youngest and fastest-growing university, Ben-Gurion.
Howard lived to 104, and Lottie died a year later at 99. In 2016 their estate announced a posthumous gift to Ben-Gurion University of an additional $400 million—believed to be the largest single philanthropic grant to any Israeli institution. Ten percent of the gift will be directed to one of the university’s specialties and a special interest of the Marcuses: research on water use in desert areas. The rest will more than double the college endowment.
Fieldstead and Company, the philanthropy operated by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, has a special interest in the intersection between religion and art, and often funds exhibitions, creation, research, and journalism on this topic. In 2016 the group made a two-year grant to the Religion Newswriters Foundation to encourage in-depth coverage of the ways that faith spurs artistic production. The money will fund new directories listing experts on religion and the arts, for free use by all journalists. And it will underwrite production of 30 news stories, with photo or video illustration, on “the ways art, both historic and contemporary, is inspired by sacred texts, the faith of artists, ritual practice, private devotion.” These stories, on a topic described by the Religion Newswriters Foundation as “underreported in the mainstream media,” will be distributed nationally through the Religion News Service, which was founded in 1934 and is located at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. This donation followed on two 2015 gifts to the journalism school at USC also aimed at improving religion reporting: a $1 million gift from the Lilly Endowment, and a smaller grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
Hillel is a charity that provides services and instruction in Judaism to college students. With chapters on 550 campuses in the U.S. and Canada, and 56 more abroad, it is the largest such group in existence. As such, it is the largest employer of rabbis, faith instructors, and other religious professionals, many of whom go on to lead synagogues and other Jewish charities after their work at Hillel.
In 2016, Hillel received its largest gift ever: $38 million from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and his wife Billi. The grant launched a new effort to find, train, and retain excellent leaders for the group’s outreach to students. This followed on another large donation, of $16 million, made the year previous by the Jim Joseph Foundation, also aimed at deepening and expanding the group’s religious education for young Jews.
Robert Larner grew up in Vermont, one of seven children of a roofer. After winning a state debate championship, he attended the University of Vermont on a scholarship. Then he attended UVM’s medical school. After serving in World War II he built a medical practice in southern California. His practice was successful, but what made him wealthy was his knack for making commercial real-estate investments in the booming Los Angeles region.
He never forgot his Vermont roots, and indeed made UVM his main beneficiary when he became a generous philanthropist. In 2015-2016, Larner earmarked $95 million to the university that minted his career. This inspired Vermont to name its medical school for him. It was the first time a med school has ever been named for an alumnus.
West Texas and the U.S.-Mexico border have been a bit of desert when it comes to dentistry. The dental school closest to El Paso is more than 500 miles away, and in El Paso County the number of dentists per population is only half the state average. A majority of the local population do not visit a dentist at all in a typical year. Thanks to Woody and Gayle Hunt, that problem is about to improve. The family, which operates a cluster of businesses in the region centered around real estate, construction, and finance, donated $25 million to open the first new dental school in Texas in nearly 50 years.
In 2013, Indiana bioscience companies donated $25 million, matched by a state appropriation, and announced plans to establish a center in Indianapolis that would research metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart trouble, and their connection to nutrition. But it took an $80 million gift from the Lilly Endowment and a $20 million grant from the Eli Lilly company foundation to make the proposal real three years later. The center broke ground in 2016 on a freestanding facility that is expected to bolster the Indianapolis downtown in addition to improving medical understanding.
Ernest Tschannen noticed in 2000 that his eyesight was failing, so he visited an eye clinic at the University of California at Davis, and later underwent successful surgery. In gratitude, he donated $25 to the university. But in addition to being a soft-spoken engineer, Tschannen proved to have a gift for investing. He made millions of dollars buying real estate (though he continued to live in a modest apartment even after becoming wealthy). So he was later able to give UC Davis $1.5 million so it could hire an optic-nerve specialist. And then in 2016, the 91-year-old donated $37 million so the university could unite all of its eye programs—which treat 55,000 local patients annually—in one new facility.
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is the busiest in the country, with more than 100,000 locals walking or rolling down the 18-mile path on peak days. The fact that bikers and pedestrians have to share the existing trail is a serious problem at present, with frequent near-misses and collisions. At the end of 2016, Chicago financier Ken Griffin solved that difficulty with a $12 million pledge that will allow creation of separate trails for those on foot and those who are riding. “Our lakefront is unparalleled,” said Griffin in announcing the donation. “On a beautiful day, the Lakefront Trail should be a place where cyclists, runners, and walkers can enjoy their activities without having to navigate around one another.”
American Christians have actively donated to charitable work overseas for more than 200 years. And there is evidence that the level of foreign donations by U.S. Christians has risen briskly during the past decade.
American churches contributed about $13 billion to relief and development abroad, in the latest year. (This totals both direct mission work and giving to other aid groups.) That religious giving compares to $5 billion sent overseas by foundations, $8 billion from secular relief organizations, and $11 billion donated internationally by U.S. corporations. The $13 billion in religious overseas philanthropy also compares impressively to the $33 billion of official development aid handed out by the federal government that same year.
One indicator of the sharp rise in overseas giving by U.S. churchgoers is the Mission Handbook compiled by the Billy Graham Center. It cumulates the budgets of prominent Protestant groups that are providing international aid—like World Vision, Compassion International, Heifer International, and Opportunity International. Between the years of 1992 and 2008, those budgets more than doubled (in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars).
Tom Lewis got his graduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill. He lived nearly all his adult life—and made his fortune as a homebuilder—in Arizona. But in 2015 he donated $23 million to the University of Kentucky (its largest gift ever), so a new honors college could be created on campus. Asked why, Lewis invoked the kind of personal connection that drives much voluntary giving. His aim, he said, was to “honor the history of our family in Kentucky.” It turns out all 16 of his great-grandparents were Kentuckians. He spent his own childhood there as well, a seventh-generation resident of the state.
Lewis’s gift allowed the university to build a new hall where top students can reside, hire a dean and ten new staff members, and create special curricula that will challenge their most intellectually serious enrollees. By attracting more of the state’s very brightest students to remain in Kentucky for their education, Lewis said he hoped more of them would end up living in the state and “contribute to its growth and prosperity.”
Like other Americans, donors have worried about the direction of family trends since the 1960s, when mushrooming divorce, illegitimacy, father absence, and other problems began to expose children to new risks. It is widely understood that family breakdown is a major contributor to other social problems like rising poverty, criminal behavior, schooling lags, and health issues. But few charities have showed much success at re-knitting families together. And culture wars surrounding family issues scared many donors away from even trying.
Then in 2015 The Philanthropy Roundtable began convening major donors and encouraging them to contribute to a kitty of at least $30 million to be used to support fresh efforts at bolstering family integrity. This “Culture of Freedom” initiative particularly proposed to borrow new techniques from the business and technology worlds and adapt them into tools to be used by churches and and local nonprofits in low-income communities where family decay is dragging down incomes, child welfare, and adult happiness. Things like demographic micro-targeting of social services, social-media promotion of family-reinforcement programs, app-based support for healthy home habits, and so forth. The initiative chose three cities in which to test services: Jacksonville, Dayton, and Phoenix. An initial drop in divorces in Jacksonville and spike in family church attendance in Dayton gave donors and service providers hope, early in 2017, that some of these new techniques may hold national promise.
John Santikos owned 11 cinemas, some shopping centers, and open land in San Antonio and southern Texas. When he died, he left those assets, worth more than $605 million, to the San Antonio Area Foundation. This was the largest single charitable gift on record in that city, and the largest philanthropic donation nationwide in 2015. It will more than triple the community foundation’s assets. Annual proceeds from the Santikos gift will mostly be distributed to a wide variety of local charities, bolstering people in need, students, cultural institutions, and medical treatment. However, the immigrant from Greece—whose family suffered through the Greek civil war—also specified that two non-San Antonio nonprofits should each get 10 percent of the annual donations from his estate: Doctors Without Borders, and International Orthodox Christian Charities.
The foremost spending priority of the Lilly Endowment is development of its home region around Indianapolis. It has, for instance, awarded $172 million to the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership since the creation of that nonprofit in 1988. Indeed, Lilly has recently covered $5.3 million of the organization’s annual budget of $9.5 million. INHP funds are mostly used to help moderate-income buyers purchase residences in the city—where vacant homes and blight have been a problem. The Indianapolis Star found in 2015 that there were 6,800 abandoned houses in the urban area, stressing some neighborhoods.
The Housing Partnership has long wanted to have a fund it could use to buy up these houses when they become available, keep them from falling into disrepair, and then recycle them to new residents as they become qualified to buy. What’s really needed, says the nonprofit’s president, is “flexible, patient capital” that can be used to gradually transform neighborhoods.
In 2015, that wish came true. The Lilly Endowment made a special $27 million grant to INHP, above and beyond its annual support, for the charity to use as a property-acquisition fund in an anti-blight campaign.
Lisa Rose and 11 other women in north Texas began meeting weekly to discuss their faith and how they could apply it to help “women in crisis” in their area. This eventually evolved into a nonprofit that zeroed in on a wrenching problem: There were not enough spots in the region where women and children could find help when fleeing abusers. And those that existed only allowed residence for 30 days, which was not enough time for most women to line up alternate housing and jobs and get their life back on track (which is why the abused typically return to their abusers several times before leaving for good).
The donors and organizers behind Rose’s nonprofit developed a vision of “a supportive living community where women and their children in crisis can discover a new path for permanent change.” They decided to offer a wide range of recuperative services—initially food, clothing, housing, and medical care, then counseling, life-skills mentoring, childcare, and education, and finally help with job placement and life on their own. It would be a faith-based program infused with Christian love and guidance, and it would be entirely privately funded, without government money.
Rose’s husband, Matt, is chairman of the BNSF Railway and became involved in raising $28 million for the project. He eventually acquired 61 acres of land and helped the group build a freestanding community of 96 apartments, a general store, and a clothing boutique, between Dallas and Fort Worth. The Gatehouse opened in 2015. In addition to Lisa and Matt Rose, other major endowers of the program were Mark and April Anthony and the Walton Family Foundation. Large contributions were also provided by the Rees-Jones, Sid Richardson, Amon Carter, Mabee, and Washington foundations, and donors like the Perot, Rowling, Corman, and Albritton families.
The Eiteljorg Museum was founded in 1989 by Indianapolis philanthropist and businessman Harrison Eiteljorg, and has quickly grown into one of the country’s top repositories of high-quality Native American art and artifacts and Western paintings and sculpture. A 2002 gift by the family of George Gund added a new gallery stocked with 57 pieces of traditional Western art including paintings and bronzes by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.
In 2015, the museum received as a bequest from Bud Adams—former NFL team owner and one of the country’s highest profile businessmen of Native American heritage—a collection of more than 300 Indian cultural artifacts like beadwork, weavings, and pottery, plus almost 100 prominent paintings of the West by Remington, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, Charles Russell, N. C. Wyeth, and others. The gift solidified the museum’s position as one of the great collections of art from and about the early American West.
In September 2015, the Inner-city Scholarship Fund run by the Archdiocese of New York announced the largest-ever U.S. gift to Catholic schooling. Christine and Stephen Schwarzman gave a record $40 million to an endowment that will provide 2,900 New York City children per year with scholarships. The Schwarzmans started contributing money in 2001 to this cause. “We’ve met so many impressive young women and men who have benefited greatly from the values provided by a Catholic-school education,” stated Christine, who also serves as a trustee of the Inner-city Scholarship Fund. The fund combines contributions from New York business leaders and church donors, and provided tuition assistance to nearly 7,000 Catholic-school students in 2015, prior to the Schwarzman gift. The church has pledged to match the Schwarzman gift, and to raise an additional $45 million from other donors to increase the fund’s scholarship endowment by $125 million in total.
John and Tashia Morgridge were high-school sweethearts in Wauwatosa, then attended the University of Wisconsin. John later led Cisco Systems from startup with 34 employees into one of the country’s most successful tech companies. Back in 2007 they donated $175 million to provide scholarships that every year help about 1,000 low-income kids attend Wisconsin’s state colleges. In 2015 the Morgridges challenged fellow Wisconsin alums to help them bolster their already well-regarded university by increasing the number of endowed chairs for faculty. Their call led to 1,000 donations totaling $125 million, which the Morgridges promptly matched. The resulting $250 million will boost the number of endowed professorships from 142 to 300, aiding recruitment of top instructors and researchers, and boosting the quality of academics campus-wide.
At about the same time, Albert and Nancy Nicholas made a $50 million donation to Wisconsin that is expected to be matched by other donors. This $100 million will go to student scholarships—creating 400 new annual support packages.
President Obama’s 2015 decision to end sanctions on Iran in return for promises of increased nuclear accountability did not emerge on its own. It grew directly out of years of quiet activity by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. After the 9/11 attacks demonstrated that al-Qaeda had become the most urgent Islamic threat, the fund began to convene meetings to explore the possibility of some U.S.-Iran rapprochement. Its Iran Project, given $4.3 million, funded a group of former U.S. diplomats to develop a relationship with Mohammad Javad Zarif and other Iranian officials, and begin to get them engaged with influential Americans. Zarif is now Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the godfather of the Iran-Obama plan. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund also paid for most of a $4 million campaign launched in 2010 by the Ploughshares Fund, a San Francisco-based peace group, to build support among liberal think tanks and activists for pressure on behalf of an Iran deal.
On the same day in August that he and three other Johns Hopkins University researchers published in Science their breakthrough explanation of sources of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Jonathan Ling did a Q&A session on Reddit. He said he wanted to set the record straight on whether the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge actually accomplished anything. The fundraising craze sponsored by the ALS Association raised $115 million for disease research in just six weeks in 2014 when it went viral on the Internet. It continued to raise tens of millions more in repeat donations that followed, and the ALS Association tripled its annual budget for research.
Ling recounted “reading a lot of stories about people complaining that the Ice Bucket Challenge was a waste and that scientists weren’t using the money to do research, etc. I assure you that this is absolutely false.” The surge of research money from the ALS Association allowed his Johns Hopkins team to conduct high-risk, high-reward experiments that were crucial to their discovery, he reported.
Researchers hope this new understanding could translate into lifesaving therapies. And thanks to more than $200 million of Ice Bucket cash, the expensive clinical trials needed to test applications were already paid for in advance. This unusual arrangement will speed results.
Meanwhile, a different academic team centered at the University of Massachusetts Medical School made a separate breakthrough on ALS. By carrying out the largest-ever study of families of ALS patients, they discovered that a gene variation is one of the top causes of the disease. This important finding was “really made possible by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations” that funded the special investigation, according to principle scientist John Landers.
At any given time, about 30,000 people suffer from ALS—which kills most of its victims within a couple years of diagnosis. There is currently just one drug for treating the disease, and it quickly loses its effectiveness, extending a patient’s life only three to six months.
Oracle software chief Larry Ellison has long shown philanthropic interest in wildlife. Now he is taking an active role in sustaining threatened animals. He is making a major donation, estimated in the range of $55 million, to create a center near San Jose, California, that will rehabilitate about 8,500 injured creatures annually, and also operate an advanced breeding and rehabilitation facility focused on local species—particularly on unflashy reptiles, amphibians, and insects. It is hoped, for instance, that Ellison’s breeding program can have a role in rebuilding the population of Lange’s metalmark butterfly, down to an estimated 45 individuals at last count. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say they would welcome the help of a donor-organized effort that might someday allow the creature to be removed from the endangered species list.
William Scheide made a gusher of money in Western Pennsylvania’s early oil industry. After he retired he pursued a passionate interest in book collecting. At his death, his son continued to build the collection, as did his grandson. The family eye was good, and the library came to include copies of each of the first six printed editions of the Bible (starting with the 1455 Gutenberg); many early Shakespeare folios; autographed scores and musical sketchbooks by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Wagner; original letters and speeches from Lincoln, Grant, and others during the Civil War; a manuscript of the Magna Carta; even Emily Dickinson’s recipe for chocolate pudding (and you thought she was an ascetic!).
With the passing of the third generation of bookish Scheides, the library became the property of Princeton University, on whose campus the family even replicated the original Titusville room where the books were housed. Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber described the gift as “one of the greatest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world today.” The monetary value of the donation was placed at $300 million, the largest gift in Princeton’s history.
Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is a complex of multiple buildings, quite disparate, strewn across 14 acres: an original neoclassical structure, two Mies van der Rohe additions erected in the ’50s and ’70s, a 1986 sculpture garden, and a windowless tomb built in 2000. To link and unify all of this, the museum announced in 2015 that it would erect two connective buildings. These will accommodate the near doubling in two decades of objects owned by the museum, improve patron services, put parking underground, and rationalize the campus. The effort will cost $350 million, and an additional $100 million will be raised for an endowment to support the new facilities. Museum board chairman Rich Kinder and his wife, Nancy, donated $50 million to the effort, Kinder’s investment partner Fayez Sarofim put up $70 million, 11 other donors provided $10 million gifts, and there were 40 additional gifts of at least a million dollars—all of this before the fundraising campaign was even complete.
Deciding which arrestees to keep in jail while they await trial is one of the more difficult and arbitrary tasks facing judges. Under-incarcerate arrestees and they may disappear, endanger witnesses or victims, or commit additional crimes that harm the community. Over-hold arrestees and you may cause innocent parties or minor offenders to lose their jobs, have a hard time preparing their defense, or endure unnecessary stress while locked up awaiting trial.
In 2015, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation rolled out a new tool to make this judgment easier, fairer, and more efficient. The tool was developed by studying the actual results of 1.5 million cases across the country, and it allows judges to enter the charge, criminal history, and age of the arrestee, then get a scientific, real-life assessment of the wisdom of either holding him or letting him remain at home until trial. This avoids subjective unfairness, jailing’s potentially toxic effects on people’s lives, and unnecessary taxpayer expense for housing inmates.
During the past 20 years the average stay for a jail inmate has grown from 14 days to more than three weeks. Pilot tests of the new Arnold tool show that it will reduce jail populations by about 20 percent. The foundation has offered to provide the tool for free to any city, county, or state that would like to have it available. In 2015 it was introduced in 29 jurisdictions—including three large cities (Chicago, Charlotte, and Phoenix) and three entire states (Arizona, Kentucky, and New Jersey).
Both local jail and federal prison populations have peaked—jail numbers started declining in 2008, and prison levels topped out in 2013. But a number of philanthropies have expressed interest in further speeding deincarceration. The John and Catherine MacArthur Foundation announced in 2015 that it was dedicating $75 million to help local jurisdictions find ways to reduce jail populations. It granted $150,000 to 16 counties, three cities, and one state to help them develop ideas for reducing jailing, with follow-up grants of up to $2 million promised so half of them can put their plans into action. The foundation also funded academic research on alternatives to sending people to jail.
In hard meritocracies like engineering and computer science, either you can solve a problem or you can’t—there is no credit for having a glitzy credential or a fancy label on your stationery. Harvard and other top universities that are not used to being also-rans have found over the past decade that their engineering, computer science, and applied science schools have fallen behind leading institutions like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Cornell, and Stanford. In these fields where change is blindingly fast, improvement must be constant or one will be lapped by the rest of the field.
Back in 1996, Microsoft executives Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates gave Harvard $25 million for a new engineering building that they hoped would lift Harvard toward the upper tier in computing and engineering. But just from 2007 to 2014, undergraduate enrollment in engineering at Harvard tripled. By 2010, the facility provided by Ballmer and Gates was overcrowded and dated.
As the fastest-growing major at Harvard, computer science has particularly outstripped the university’s ability to keep up. So in 2014 Ballmer came back to his alma mater with a gift (rumored to be approximately $60 million) to increase the school’s computer-science faculty from 24 to 36 professors. This 50 percent expansion will allow a similar increase in student studies.
Just a few months later, in 2015, financier John Paulson emphatically put his own imprint on this effort to improve Harvard’s engineering programs. He provided $400 million—the university’s largest gift ever—to endow its school of engineering and applied sciences. This will allow the engineers to leap to an entirely new campus in Allston, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Harvard Yard, where they will occupy advanced new facilities next to the university’s innovation lab and business school. With engineers, entrepreneurs, and innovators placed together in an enterprise zone stocked with powerful tools, it is hoped that much useful scientific invention will follow.
With strong donor support, former CNN host Campbell Brown created a nonprofit news site in 2015 focused on reporting and analysis about public-school reform. “Less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin,” announced the Seventy Four, as the outlet calls itself in reference to the 74 million school-age children in the U.S. It promised to produce a stream of challenging fact-based journalism that would hold the education establishment accountable.
The publication launched with 13 employees, thanks to strong backing from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, Jonathan Sackler, and the Buck Foundation. Its website will not sell advertising, but instead rely entirely on philanthropic donations to fund operations. “Education is one of the most important issues facing this country—and it should be on the front page every day,” stated Marc Sternberg of Walton’s K-12 program, explaining his foundation’s support.
Ron and Maxine Linde are long-time supporters of the California Institute of Technology, having trained there before building their own successful industrial firm. In 2015 they presented Caltech with an unusual present—a $50 million endowment that the college can use completely flexibly to advance promising initiatives of any sort in their early stages. Their money is earmarked not to a specific field, but to a process—early incubation of new ideas.
As soon as the idea being sprouted becomes established, it will be expected to turn to other funding, and the Linde endowment money will be redirected to some fresh unproven concept. This introduces a little of the method of the venture capitalist to university operations, and it encourages experimentation rather than bureaucracy and empire-building. “Our philosophy is to allow for flexibility, because you can’t know the future,” said Ron Linde. “Science is about exploring the unknown.”
This brought the Linde’s total giving to Caltech to more than $80 million.
Experts say that most of the capacity to lead people is learned, not innate. And, typically, about 70 percent of what helps people become effective leaders is learned through experience rather than classrooms. This presents a challenge for educators.
Two veteran philanthropists have just taken up that challenge. John Doerr is a prominent venture capitalist in Silicon Valley whose philanthropy includes co-founding the NewSchools Venture Fund. His wife, Ann, is an electrical engineer and chair of the Khan Academy, a leading nonprofit in online education. Both are graduates of Rice University in Houston—where they have just established an institute that will help every student become a more effective leader.
Upon arrival as a freshman, each Rice student will be assessed for leadership skills, then given a custom plan combining classroom instruction, personal coaching, and hands-on experience in real-life roles that will hone his or her skills during each year on campus. The program will be directed by a former brigadier general in the U.S. Army who also taught leadership at West Point and the Yale School of Management, and it is funded by a $50 million gift from the Doerrs.
“Our nation and world need great teams and great leaders,” said John Doerr in announcing the pledge. In almost all work today, the skills needed to put good ideas into action are “paramount,” he insisted. Rice president David Leebron suggested that students would be attracted to this unconventional addition to the college-training process. “We expect students to say, ‘yes, that’s what I want from an education.’”
The Doerrs previously donated $15 million to build the leadership skills of engineers, a successful effort they are now expanding. Data will be collected on how Rice students change in leadership competence as a result of this unique collegewide program. The results will be used to identify the most effective practices, with an ultimate goal of expanding useful leader training to young people at other institutions as well.
Investors Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey are interested in the new medical specialty of regenerative medicine—which is developing ways to repair, replace, or regrow body tissues that are not functioning. Once a science-fiction dream, medical scientists are now discovering they can grow organs, skin, and other body parts to help victims of disease, accident, war, or genetic breakdown.
Between 2012 and 2014, the couple donated $25 million to establish an institute at Northwestern University that applies nanotechnology—the manipulation of matter at the molecular level—to regenerative medicine. One year later they added another $92 million to their gift to broaden their support for regenerative medicine. The gift allowed the university to break ground on a new biomedical research tower that will be completed in 2018. In addition to advancing fundamental understanding of how the body builds and repairs tissue, the Querrey/Simpson gift aims to speed development of drugs, fresh procedures, and clinical trials that will allow doctors at Northwestern to bring patients new solutions to cancer, burns, trauma, and degenerative diseases.
Cornell University is one of the strongest engineering schools in the country, but until 2015 did not offer an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering. This despite the growing importance of that field, the fact that 60 percent of engineering students express interest in biological applications of engineering, and the existence of other Cornell entities that need expertise at the intersection of biology and engineering—the renowned vet school, the medical school, and Cornell Tech in New York City.
The Meinig family, who had previously given $25 million to Cornell to support research in the life sciences, filled that gap in 2015 when they doubled down on their previous bet with a $50 million gift. This donation spun Cornell’s existing biomedical engineering department into an independent school of biomedical engineering. It allowed the launch of the undergraduate major in the fall of 2015. And it put into motion a wide array of new research and teaching in four areas: tissue engineering, biomechanics, biomaterials and drugs, and instruments and imaging.
On the east side of mid-Manhattan, close enough to each other to be the three bases in a game of stickball, stand a trio of formidable medical facilities: the New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell hospital campus, Rockefeller University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
On the very same day in 2015, the latter two of those neighbors announced that they had received major philanthropic infusions. Rockefeller University received $100 million from Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis to create a new medical laboratory that will host research by top academics. Since its founding by John Rockefeller in 1901, Rockefeller University has been our nation’s foremost biomedical research institution, but the labs being replaced with Kravis assistance date back to the 1950s. That’s an eon in scientific time, so the new setup is crucial to keeping the university strong.
Simultaneously, Memorial Sloan Kettering was promised $150 million by David Koch for an outpatient center that will treat cancer victims. This gift will produce a giant people’s clinic serving 1,300 patients daily, housed in a new 23-story skyscraper. Cancer is an age-related disease, and with New York City’s population over 65 rising fast toward an estimated 1.4 million by 2030, there will be many new patients needing radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and related help.
The third of those neighbors was simultaneously in the midst of its own $2 billion donation campaign. Pledges to NY Presbyterian/Weill Cornell began with a $100 million gift from David Koch. (As of 2016, Koch had donated $517 million to battling cancer—about half of his total giving.) Then Steven and Alexandra Cohen offered $75 million to create within the Koch center a new hospital for women and newborns. (Children’s hospitals are a favorite cause of the Cohens, who gave $50 million for one in Washington Heights in 2005, and $50 million for another in New Hyde Park in 2010.)
These contributions came just as an earlier medical angel in New York City passed from the scene. Between 1987 and his death in 2016, Herbert Irving, co-founder of the Sysco food-service company, donated more than $300 million to build up hospital care in the city.
John Boruchin was born in Poland, and lost most of his family to death camps during World War II. He immigrated to the United States, carved out a career building homes in California, and gradually accumulated a large fortune. At his death he left $100 million to endow a new center devoted to shaping public understanding of Israel in America. The Boruchin Israel Education Advocacy Center, which will be managed by the Jewish National Fund, will run student and faculty exchanges between the U.S. and Israel, organize campus seminars, sponsor young professionals on visits to the Jewish state, run a speaker’s bureau, and otherwise advocate for close ties between the U.S. and Israel.
John Boruchin was an admirer of Ze’ev Jabotinsky—a Russian Jewish journalist and organizer who warned in the decades before the Holocaust that Jews in many countries were “living on the edge of the volcano” and needed a safe sanctuary in their Middle-Eastern homeland, where he proposed creation of a democratic state of Israel. In 2015, amid attacks on Jews in Europe, and the rise of boycott-Israel movements on U.S. campuses, the chairman of the new policy organization created by Boruchin suggested that his gift “comes at a critical period in history, as Israel and world Jewry face serious challenges with rising anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. This center is needed now more than ever.”
“Throughout much of the country, this is a golden age for signature urban parks. From Boston to Houston, New York to San Francisco, Atlanta to Pittsburgh, St. Louis to Detroit, beautiful old destination parks are being renewed and some great new ones are being created.” That’s the conclusion of a 2015 report from the Trust for Public Land, which looks closely at the use of private, donor-powered conservancies to manage public parks. The report finds that since the first experiment in 1980—the Central Park Conservancy which has since raised more than $700 million to burnish that New York City treasure—roughly half of all major cities now rely on at least one nonprofit to manage and fund crucial parks. A majority of these have been created just since 2000.
Roberta Buffett Elliott, the sister of Warren Buffett who has profited from his meteoric investment returns, is an alumna of Northwestern University. By funding the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies there she has supported academic work on overseas poverty, migration, understanding of world religions, tropical medicine, and democratic governance in the developing world. In 2015 she made a $100 million gift to expand Northwestern’s center into a full-blown institute. It will hire professors focused on international subjects, fund new research, provide up to $20 million in scholarships to bring overseas students to Northwestern to earn degrees, and otherwise expand international study and exchange.
In 2015, Melinda Gates announced that the foundation she and her husband steer would double its investments against hunger in the developing world. “Malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of all under-five child deaths,” she noted, promising that the Gates Foundation would spend $776 million over the next six years to help change that. Malnutrition is now concentrated in a small number of countries where Gates will focus its efforts—India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso. Emphasis will be placed on improving the nutrition of women and girls as soon as they become pregnant, educating mothers on infant feeding, encouraging breastfeeding, increasing sanitation to reduce energy-sapping infections, fortifying purchased foods with nutrients known to be underconsumed, and focusing on keeping children fed from birth to age two, when neurological development and other crucial growth is most rapid.
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B. J. Cassin has taken the venture-capital model that made him wealthy and applied it to his Catholic-schooling philanthropy. He was a key funder in building Chicago’s acclaimed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School from a single site in 2000 to a network of 32 schools in 22 states today, with more on the way. These Catholic schools now serve 10,700 low-income students each year, with excellent educational results (90 percent of graduates go to college, compared to 61 percent of similar low-income students, and 86 percent of high income students), affordable tuition, an acclaimed program for placing every student in a work-study job at one of 2,525 partner businesses, and a sustainable economic model.
Now Cassin is seeking to amplify this success. He is part of a group of Catholics seeking new models for financing religious schools, whose enrollments as a proportion of the entire U.S. student body have declined by a third over the past half century. He and two colleagues have launched a philanthropic venture called the Drexel Fund that will invest in carefully selected academies, education entrepreneurs, and school networks with the intention of “transforming” and expanding faith-based schooling. The fund will raise $85 million from a variety of wealthy individuals and use it as venture capital to create tens of thousands of new seats in excellent, sustainable schools—most of them Catholic, but also including other religious orientations and some secular private schools.
“There are a lot of interesting new models in faith-based and especially Catholic schools, but we don’t have a platform to replicate the most successful ones,” Cassin says. “That’s where the idea of Drexel came from.” It seeks to do for religious schools what the NewSchools Venture Fund and the Charter School Growth Fund have done for charters: provide capital to scale up successful existing institutions and start promising new networks. Cassin gave $1 million in seed money and recruited several other donors, allowing the effort to launch in six states where tax credits or vouchers also help parents afford religious and private schools—Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
By 2024, Drexel’s funders aim to create 125 new schools, grow six to eight school networks, and cultivate 40 new school entrepreneurs. And if all goes according to plan, no more than 15 percent of a Drexel-supported network’s budget will come from philanthropy once it is fully functional.
With almost predictable regularity over recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has become embroiled in repeated scandals combining failed services with mushrooming backlogs. A root of the problem is an explosion in the number of former servicemembers who are now defined as disabled. Only 11 percent of all World War II veterans received disability payments. Among those who served in Vietnam, 16 percent got checks. But among the men and women who served after the 9/11 attacks, a whopping 45 percent have already applied for disability compensation after leaving the service, and that ratio will increase as this cohort ages.
Not only do close to a majority of former servicemembers now call themselves disabled, but under what has come to be known as the “disability-compensation escalator,” those on the rolls tend to ratchet up their official degree of disability every few years. Recipients can claim additional disabilities at any time, and it is very common for someone who goes on the books at “30 percent disabled” to later be re-rated at 40 percent, then 60 percent, etc.
The vastly increased recourse to disability checks, and the constant upward drift of benefits, combine to create terrible disincentives against work and independence. This hurts participants in many ways. Veterans who work not only have much higher income than those on the dole, they are also more likely to recover from their afflictions, and have better mental health, much bigger social networks, deeper self-esteem, and more stable family lives. So the disability “aid” increasingly pumped out by the federal government correlates with more joblessness, and less wealth, health, and happiness among veterans.
On top of these ill-effects for vets, the existing system is bad news for taxpayers. The cost of the veterans disability program more than tripled from 2000 to 2015, to an annual charge of $65 billion, and is still rising fast. The budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs is now ballooning more rapidly than any other major department of the federal government.
Despite all this, efforts to create a more humane and effective system for assisting wounded warriors have failed in Congress. There are simply too many interest groups with a stake in the status quo. To get around this public-policy gridlock, donors launched a bold effort in 2015 to find a better way of operating. Their privately funded experiment will turn disability benefits on their head—instead of trickling a lifelong stream of small monthly checks to vets that keep them in low-income dependency, the program will make heavy upfront investments in veterans with mild to moderate injuries so they can acquire the skills for their dream jobs, start businesses or trades, and otherwise upgrade their lives to the point where they can then support themselves in dignity. A wide variety of medical, technical, motivational, and economic incentives will be offered to each volunteer participant.
A wide variety of medical, technical, motivational, and economic incentives will be offered to each volunteer participant. In return they must commit themselves to stepping away from the disability dole and working toward self-reliance instead. In preliminary focus groups, 80-90 percent of disabled veterans leapt to take this deal.
The Independence Project was launched with a million-dollar grant from the Anschutz family of Colorado, then $4.1 million of funding from the John and Laura Arnold Foundation, another million-dollar grant from the Daniels Fund, $5 million from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, and support from the Milbank, Wilf, Morgridge, Weinberg, Snider, Kirby, Bradley, and Kovner foundations.
The program will allow a careful test of the “recovery and self-reliance” approach with groups of disabled vets. When results accumulate, the philanthropic backers will use the research findings for a public-education and policy-reform campaign aimed at remaking the major Veterans Affairs disability programs in this healthier and more fiscally sustainable form.
UPDATE: The Independence Project is currently enrolling qualified participants at https://independenceproject.org.
There are facilities across the U.S. and the globe that remember the World War II genocide against Jews. But great museums celebrating the rich history and contemporary vigor of Jewish life are rare. A group of American donors led by San Francisco businessman Tad Taube and the Koret Foundation set out to remedy that.
The group focused their efforts on the country that had the largest Jewish community in the world at the onset of the twentieth century—Poland. They donated $30 million ($20 million of it committed by Taube) to create a series of exhibits that include a replication of a seventh-century synagogue, dozens of films, and a trove of historical documents and artifacts. The government of Poland erected an $80 million building to house the exhibition, which opened in late 2014.
The museum aims to undo some of the erasures of Jewish existence carried out during the Nazi period—when Jewish cemeteries were bulldozed, synagogues destroyed, and books and official records burned. "I want to improve the Jews' image of themselves. And I want to see the world abandon its attempt to make Jews the victims," says Taube in explaining his gifts that celebrate the strength and endurance of Jewish community traditions.
In 2011, Howard Schultz (who turned a little Seattle coffee house called Starbucks into a business behemoth) visited West Point to talk to cadets. He came away struck by the competence, humility, and cooperative spirit of the future Army officers. He and his wife Sheri starting visiting military bases and medical centers, and learned that many soldiers were more concerned about the prospect of finding a job after the end of their military service than they were about deploying to war zones. Having built a company with 238,000 employees, work was a subject Schultz knew something about.
In 2014 he announced that he would donate $30 million to create a special job-training program for veterans. Through a mix of detailed career assessments, multi-week skill training, and job-search assistance, the new initiative plans to help 8,000 vets launch good careers every year, at a cost of between $1,600 per job placement for those who go through full training to $500 per placement for those placed directly into jobs. By the end of 2016, the program was up and running in nine regions of the U.S., offering four broad job tracks and 20 training pathways, with more expansion to come.
“When I was working with the Slovaks, I realized there are no books written, no roadmap, for a country to transition from an authoritarian government to a free society. Studying countries that have made the successful transition to democracy gives us an opportunity to help nations that are in the process. We’re talking about people having the opportunity to come out from under the thumb of authoritarian rule, and with that freedom to have a better life for themselves and their children, as well as freedom from fear of their government, their police, and even their neighbors.”
Those were the words of Ron Weiser on announcing his $25 million gift in 2014 to the University of Michigan’s Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, following an earlier $10 million founding gift. After founding a national real-estate investment firm, Weiser served as U.S. ambassador to Slovakia from 2001 to 2004. His academic center aims to “assure and extend freedom and democracy” by encouraging and supporting movement away from oppressive government in Eurasian countries.
Over a 20-year period, investor Richard Gilder donated more than $125 million to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He also devoted much time and brainpower—for instance in spearheading the museum’s expansion of its Hayden Planetarium into the more ambitious Rose Center for Earth and Space (described in a nearby 1999 entry). His most interesting gift, however, may have been the one that established the Richard Gilder Graduate School right within the museum—where scientists can now earn Ph.D.s in biology, and teachers can complete master’s degrees in science instruction. Building on this unusual pedagogical capacity within the museum, Gilder announced his latest and largest gift in 2014: $50 million to kick off a six-story addition that will particularly provide space for the museum’s growing education programs. The new wing will also accommodate additional research by staff, and help the museum cope with its jump in visitors—from 3 million annually during the 1990s to 5 million per year in 2015.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the most popular art museum in the western U.S., with more than one million visitors annually. Local leaders consider it important to their economy as well as to regional culture. In 2014, county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky described the arts as “an economic engine” for Los Angeles, elaborating that the sector “employs more people than the defense industry does, something we could not say 25 years ago.”
In 2014, Angeleno Jerry Perenchio—whose career in the entertainment business ranged from putting up the prizes for the first Ali-Frazier fight to building the Univision TV network—announced that upon his death he would be injecting some rocket fuel into L.A.’s economic engine. He pledged to donate 47 great works of European art to LACMA. Painstakingly collected over 50 years, these works by Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Picasso, and others are collectively valued at half a billion dollars, representing one of the largest art gifts ever made in the U.S.
The Turing Award is the highest prize in computer science. Since first being awarded in 1966 it has grown in importance along with its field. In 2007, it began to include a cash award of $250,000, thanks to corporate donations from Google and Intel. In 2014 Google sharply increased its support so the prize could be quadrupled to $1 million. That approximately matches the Nobel award, and puts Turing in the major league of scientific honors and incentives.
Human cells are complicated machines, and scientists have recently gathered lots of detail about their sub-elements. But “nobody studies how these entities function as complex systems, and how they interact to determine cellular behaviors. Instead, people focus on just a small, manageable part,” says biologist Rick Horwitz. This is mostly because of the way academic labs are structured (to support deep dives on narrow slices of a problem) and the way government research money is distributed (only to very tightly defined projects, not for exhaustive, boundary-breaking macro-examinations).
To understand the astonishing ways that cells transform themselves, signal each other, migrate, and take various kinds of “action,” however, microstudies of proteins and genes and chemicals are not enough. One must watch the whole sprawling “movie” of what the cell does over time, and identify patterns. That essentially is what former Microsoft co-founder and current multibillion-dollar philanthropist Paul Allen created a new cell-science institute to accomplish. He donated $100 million to start the work, and personally recruited Rick Horwitz from the University of Virginia to direct the effort.
The institute’s 70 researchers work as one interdisciplinary team rather than as independent investigators. They use induced pluripotent stem cells—a new creation that allows a common skin cell, for instance, to be converted into a stem cell after scientists use chemicals and other stimulations to turn off certain genetic switches. A stem cell is capable of growing into any other more specialized cell (bone, muscle, blood, etc.), depending on what the body needs. By taking long, complete sequences of microscope images of those stem cells transforming themselves into more specialized cells, the Allen Institute scientists believe they will gather tremendous amounts of big-picture information about cellular machinery.
The institute will advance the field by releasing to all interested researchers both the original “movies” and any conclusions the Allen investigators draw from them. This is a classic example of unconventional, highly speculative science that is almost never funded through traditional university and government channels, yet can be a forte of philanthropy.
In 2017 Paul Allen created another new center, at the University of Washington, to map the development of cells using a different fresh technology. Every creature starts as a single cell, yet ends up with (in the case of humans) trillions of cells doing very different things. How do subsequent generations of cells grow and specialize over time?
Allen’s Center for Cell Lineage Tracing will insert “recorders” into the cells of mice and zebrafish that will trace their lineage from ancestor cells, and show how they mutated to take on specific tasks. Using this information and lots of computing power, the Allen teams will map the development of organisms from one zygote to a working body made up of hundreds of billions of special-purpose cells. This work—which Paul Allen funded with an initial $10 million gift, expandable to $30 million over eight years if it is successful—could produce valuable insights into human development, cancer, cellular repair, and other fields.
The so-called Research Triangle in North Carolina is one of the nation’s centers for biological research, and pharmaceutical innovation in particular. And Fred Eshelman is one of the whirlwinds at the center of North Carolina pharma, having founded and built to huge success there two different drug-research firms. A graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy, Eshelman started donating to his alma mater in 2003 and gave a total of $38 million over a decade.
In 2014 Eshelman noted that “in the past ten years the school has generated more than 130 patents and created 15 spinoff companies. Their success demonstrates the power and the future of drug discovery in academia, and it’s a future that I am eager and proud to support.” With that, he announced a new mega-gift: $100 million to create within the pharmacy school a center explicitly focused on creating valuable drug products that will “fuel innovation, create jobs, and spur economic development in the state.”
In addition to bulking up his region’s economic productivity, the Eshelman donations helped build the UNC School of Pharmacy into one of the largest and highest rated educational facilities of its sort, with about 750 students enrolled in one of its degree programs at any given time.
Allergies are both a common nuisance—with an estimated 60 million sufferers in the U.S.—and sometimes a mortal threat. The manifestations of allergic reaction include asthma, drug allergies, bee sting reactions, eczema, and food allergies. For unknown reasons, our rate of allergic problems is rising.
Sean Parker, who became wealthy at Facebook and is now an active philanthropist, understands this plague, having himself been hospitalized 14 times in the last four years for allergic trauma. Hoping to contribute to better understanding and cures for allergies, he offered $24 million in 2014 to establish a center for allergy research at Stanford University. Clinical trials began in 2015.
Nearly 5,000 residents were killed when an epidemic of the dread disease Ebola swept west African countries in 2014. Philanthropists were among the quickest to understand the importance of nipping the epidemic before it spread.
Paul Allen, a major donor since retiring after co-founding Microsoft, had been watching Ebola for years. Back in 2009 he funded a project at Kansas State University to adapt an Ebola vaccine for use with wild apes. Perhaps a third of African gorillas and chimpanzees have been killed by the Ebola virus since the 1990s, and these infections give the virus easier pathways to humans. So it is perhaps not surprising that Allen led philanthropic responses to the 2014 outbreak of the disease, saying “I am committed to doing my part in tackling this crisis…to prevent it from becoming a global epidemic.”
Allen offered $100 million of his own money to a mix of immediate and longer-term efforts to tamp down the virus. He helped convince other donors to contribute as well, including $50 million from the Gates Foundation, $25 million from Mark Zuckerberg, and other large and speedy gifts. The emergency operations director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control later attributed the successful control of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa “to the huge contribution made by Paul Allen.” The almost instant speed with which Allen’s foundation delivered the money made it possible to dispatch 500 emergency health responders and all of their equipment to Liberia and two other countries where the disease was ravaging thousands.
In Tel Aviv and Venice
Beit Hatfutsot, the museum of Jewish history and culture located at Tel Aviv University, first opened in 1978. It needed an overhaul to bring its story up to date, so in 2014 two American donors pledged $5 million each to create a new wing and freshen the exhibits. The gifts came from Alfred Moses and from Milton and Tamar Maltz. The Maltzs are serial progenitors of museums, having been involved in creating the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the International Spy Museum in D.C. This joint $10 million donation will allow creation of a new Great Hall of Synagogues and a new core exhibition to open in 2017.
At about the same time, a group of U.S. philanthropists led by designer Diane von Furstenberg and real-estate investor Joseph Sitt announced they were donating $12 million to restore the Jewish Museum in Venice and the five remarkable small synagogues in the surrounding Jewish neighborhood. The project was planned so it would be complete in 2016—the 500th anniversary of the declaration by the Republic of Venice that the city’s Jews must live in the one-block enclosed area that remains home to much of the Venetian Jewish community, as well as the museum and synagogues.
Robert Miller, co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, is a long-time supporter of the arts in Hong Kong. In 2014 he and his wife, Chantal, made the largest gift ever for that purpose when they donated $12.9 million to support artists in the port city. Their gift to the Asia Society Hong Kong Center will be used to commission new works, underwrite performances, and maintain galleries. The Millers previously donated $3 million to restore an important Hong Kong theater.
U.S. philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson made two large gifts in 2014 to bolster the sciences in Israel. They offered $25 million to the school of health sciences at Ariel University to allow it to open a full program in medical science. And they donated $16.4 million to SpaceIL for its project which aims to land the first Israeli craft on the moon.
SpaceIL, which is also supported by the Schusterman Family Foundation and other U.S. donors, is participating in the latest competition sponsored by the X Prize Foundation: the Google Lunar prize. This offers a $20 million award to the first team that lands a privately funded operating robot on the moon, an effort to speed affordable access to the moon by encouraging private entrepreneurs and donors to get involved.
Other major U.S. donors to Israel include Bernie Marcus, Haim Saban, John Paulson, Charles Bronfman, Morton Mandel, Michael Steinhardt, and the Weinberg Foundation. Overall, it is estimated that about $2.7 billion is now donated annually to various causes in Israel by diaspora Jews, with the largest portion of that coming from the U.S.
Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of the Blackstone investment company, has focused his giving on learning. In the U.S. he is a long-time supporter of Catholic schools in New York City, and gave a $100 million donation to rejuvenate the New York Public Library. In 2014 he announced a major overseas foray into education philanthropy: the Schwarzman Scholars, a program modeled on the Rhodes scholarship, with an even bigger endowment.
Every year, the program will unite 200 top young college graduates from leading countries around the world. They will study together at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the alma mater for many of China’s elites. The large role that China will inevitably play in future global developments demands deeper personal ties and more mutual understanding among the next generation of Chinese and Western leaders, argues Schwarzman.
To supplement his $100 million gift, Schwarzman raised another $200 million in private matching funds toward the project. The first students enroll in 2016.
Charles Spink was a St. Louis institution. He was publisher of the locally based Sporting News, a national weekly considered the “bible” of baseball reporting, and his wife Edie was mayor for 20 years of the inner suburb of Ladue where they lived. The couple had a passion for collecting Asian art, which they focused on in considerable measure because it was an area where their city’s art museum was weak. Charles and Edie consulted with the St. Louis Art Museum throughout the time they collected, and loaned many pieces to the gallery as they purchased them. When Edie died, the 215 pieces she and her husband had accumulated—ceramics, jade, metalwork, works in lacquer, wood, and glass, with one jade piece being 5,000 years old—were bequeathed by the couple to their local museum.
In addition, the Spinks gave their hometown 10 paintings by American artists. These include a Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, four Wyeth watercolors, and two works by Norman Rockwell: “Thanksgiving” and “Hot Stove League.” The cumulative value of the Spink donation to their community was conservatively estimated at $50 million.
Despite the enormous amount of money sloshing through Silicon Valley, and the high-profile giving of families like the Packards, Hewletts, and Moores, our tech heartland has traditionally been a comparatively low-donating area. Until just the last few years, the community foundation covering Silicon Valley (San Mateo and Santa Clara counties) trailed well behind community foundations in places like Tulsa and Kansas City in total benefactions. That began to change in recent years, and by 2014 the Silicon Valley Community Foundation became the largest in the nation.
Most of the SVCF’s recent expansion is thanks to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. In 2012 they placed in their donor-advised fund 18 million Facebook shares that were then valued at $500 million, and worth about a billion dollars a year later. Late in 2013 they gave another 18 million shares. The $100 million the couple had earlier pledged to Newark school reform was also channeled through the foundation, pushing their total personal boost to foundation assets to more than $2 billion. There have been a few other megadonors to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation as well, like former eBay head Jeff Skoll, who has given about $500 million. GoPro founder Nick Woodman and his wife, Jill, gave another to the SVCF when they donated shares worth $500 million in late 2014.
Of course most giving in Silicon Valley, as everywhere else in America, is made through direct donations, not through any community-foundation structure. Whatever form the donating takes, though, there is clear evidence that typical residents of Silicon Valley give far less to charity, especially on an income-adjusted basis, than Americans in most other places. (See “Who Gives Most to Charity” near the end of this book.)
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is also a less home-oriented version than most counterparts across the nation, with a comparatively high proportion of its funds being directed to national or international causes. Nonetheless, a slight majority of its spending is done in the counties where it is based. It funnels about 40 percent of its grants into education. Health care, economic security, and immigrant integration are other significant priorities.
Philanthropists have been funding lawsuits as a way to improve public policies for more than a century. Booker T. Washington secretly financed the Giles v. Harris case back in 1903, and throughout the rest of his life paid for other litigation aimed at undoing racial disenfranchisement (see details in the 1903 entry). Today, public-interest law philanthropy is funded by innovative donors interested in topics such as school reform, and carried out by nonprofits like the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute.
One charitable litigator is Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, who spent several million dollars between 2011 and 2016 building a court case that California’s teacher-tenure laws deprive students of the right to be educated as guaranteed by the state constitution—by, for instance, granting permanent employment after just 18 months on the job, making it nearly impossible to fire even the most terrible teachers, and requiring school districts to lay teachers off based on seniority rather than competence. Welch and his wife had first tried traditional education philanthropy, giving money to bring new teaching methods and technology into schools. They soon realized, though, that in many public schools, incompetent teachers made necessary educational improvements impossible. So in 2011 they founded a group called Students Matter and gathered facts about the forces blocking school reform.
Nine students told Welch their education had suffered after they were stuck in classrooms with poor teachers. The donor hired a top-flight legal team to help them assemble a court case. He also funded an accompanying public-relations campaign to fend off the massive counterattack by teacher unions that predictably followed.
In 2014 a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that “there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms” and that this causes thousands of students to fall years behind in math and reading. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” wrote Judge Rolf Treu in his Vergara v. State of California decision striking down seniority-based job protections for unionized teachers. This prompted other philanthropists and education reformers to consider similar donor-funded lawsuits in states like New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon, with the aim of eliminating rigid procedures that block dismissal of incompetent teachers.
The California education bureaucracy and unions appealed the Vergara decision. And in 2016, a three-judge panel overturned the verdict, bringing widespread criticism from legal scholars and newspaper editorial boards. California’s Supreme Court declined further review of the case, 4-3, despite urging from one its justices that “the questions presented have obvious statewide importance, and because they involve a significant legal issue on which the Court of Appeal likely erred, this court should grant review.” David Welch’s nonprofit, Students Matter, asked the California legislature to act where the courts would not, by improving the state’s laws on evaluation, retention, and dismissal of teachers.
When Robert E. Lee sided with his state instead of his nation and took command of the Confederate army, the U.S. seized his family estate located on a hill overlooking the nation’s capital from the south bank of the Potomac. Lee’s home—Arlington House, which was built as a tribute to his relative George Washington and modeled on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens—was turned into a military headquarters. The grounds became the residence of several thousand liberated slaves, and then, in the third year of the war, a cemetery for men killed in the fight to preserve the Union.
In 1925, Arlington House was designated a memorial to Robert E. Lee. By 2014 it was a tattered property operated by the National Park Service. To improve the experience for the 650,000 people who visit each year, Washington-area philanthropist David Rubenstein pledged $12.4 million to the National Park Foundation for restoration of the house and museum, the landscape, and the historic slave quarters.
Rubenstein has a passion for U.S. history and has focused his philanthropy in the national capital region. He said at the announcement of his gift that “the goal is to remind people of American history.... People know so little about our history.... That’s really why I try to do this.”
Gerald Chan worked on a master’s degree and then a doctorate at the School of Public Health at Harvard in the 1970s. After that he pursued medical research for a period. Eventually he entered the family business of real-estate development and founded his own investment fund.
Grateful for his education, and alarmed by growing international threats like Ebola, in 2014 Chan and his brother gave Harvard the largest single gift in its history—$350 million—to bolster the endowment of the university’s public-health school. The money will be used for things like increased financial aid for the 1,000 students who are enrolled in the school at any given time, forgiving loans for graduates willing to work in underserved areas, improved faculty recruitment, and funding for early-research projects. “While medical doctors give health benefits to individual patients, public health is a field that helps to give benefit to the whole population,” Chan told the Boston Globe in announcing the family gift.
Chan’s gift was just the latest and largest in a string of donations that have energized this field. Michael Bloomberg provided tens of millions of dollars to build up the school of public health at Johns Hopkins University (the world's largest). Then in 2016 he gave the school an additional $300 million. In 2014, Michael Milken donated $40 million to the school of public health at George Washington University. In 2007 the Rollins family doubled the size of the public-health facility at Emory University with a $50 million grant, and the Gillings family made a similar $50 million investment in the school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And Columbia’s public-health program was strengthened by one of the first large philanthropic infusions to this field, a $33 million gift in 1998 by Joseph Mailman.
The School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, one of the top-rated institutions of its kind, was strengthened further in 2014 by a gift from an alum who parlayed a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the school into a quirky career. T. W. Whaley donated $35 million plus 700 claims to mineral rights. This will allow, in the first year alone, 34 promising students to learn engineering on scholarship.
Whaley had grown up as an orphan, been adopted, served in the Army, then gone to college. After completing graduate school he worked on production of the F-111 fighter, then was recruited by the CIA as an expert on antenna technology. He made his money by managing the family farm, which was not only a large agricultural operation but a beneficiary of oil and gas below the surface.
Oil and gas philanthropy was also important in building up the UT Austin engineering school in the first place. It was named the Cockrell School in 2007 in recognition of many years of gifts—totaling the equivalent of $220 million—from the petroleum earnings of the Cockrell family of Houston.
Marie-Josée Kravis has served on the overseers’ board at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for decades, and she heads the board of its research arm, the Sloan Kettering Institute. Her husband, financier Henry Kravis, was also interested enough in the Center to ask officials whether its long experience in the field could be combined with new advances in gene sequencing. The Kravises eventually offered $100 million to create a new center for molecular oncology at the New York City facility. Within a week of the public announcement, six new-generation gene-sequencing machines were being installed at the hospital. These will be used not only to analyze the tumors of 10,000 active patients each year, but also to explore the characteristics of “archived” tumors from more than a million patients who have been treated at MSK since 1980. The genetic qualities of each preserved tumor will then be compared with the archived records of that patient’s care and his or her final treatment outcome. This cross-referencing of deep biological and clinical records could uncover important patterns previously undetected by physicians, and lead to new directions in treatment.
In the last decade or so, Johns Hopkins University has jumped to the top of the charts when it comes to cancer research and treatment, and this has been particularly powered by philanthropy. The university’s state-of-the-art program for investigating cancer and teaching students is centered in the Bunting Blaustein Building, launched by twin $10 million gifts from each of those families. Another $20 million gift created the connected David Koch Research Building in 2006.
Inside those structures labor teams led by Bert Vogelstein and Kenneth Kinzler, two cancer investigators with more citations in scientific papers over a recent ten-year period (50,000+) than any other researchers in the world. Their work was supercharged in 2006 by a $20 million open-ended gift from the foundation of Daniel Ludwig (see 1971 entry), which they used to create the first genomic maps of cancer. Of the 75 cancers which had been genetically sequenced as of 2014, fully 68 were mapped at Hopkins. Hopkins also became a leader in developing cancer screening tests, cancer vaccines, and therapies like bone-marrow transplants. In 2014, the Ludwig trustees made an additional $90 million grant to Johns Hopkins.
Like many other lab directors (see Eric Lander’s remarks in 2012 entry on the Broad Institute, Charles Marmar’s observations in his 2013 entry, and Leroy Hood’s comments in entries below dated 2000, 1986, and 1982), the co-directors of the Ludwig Center at Hopkins have remarked on the outsized importance of philanthropic gifts in allowing laboratory breakthroughs that traditional research grants won’t back. “The Ludwig bequests have revolutionized what we’ve been able to do,” says Bert Vogelstein. “We’ve pursued some of the most important questions in cancer—not necessarily the most fundable questions.”
When asked by a reporter, “Your discoveries have outpaced much larger laboratories. What is the key to this success?,” Kenneth Kinzler answered: “Part of the reason we have been so successful and beaten huge groups is because of our Ludwig funding. It allows us to do what’s important. Our focus is not decided by committee. We could do the most groundbreaking research without having to worry about where the next level of funding would come from.... We try to develop research projects that are not in the mainstream now.”
Kinzler adds that, “Our current research programs focus on diagnostics for the early detection and prevention of cancers thanks, in large part, to Ludwig support. Compared with treatment research, early detection and prevention research is underfunded, but it can potentially make more of an impact on reducing cancer deaths. It takes a long time and a sustained effort to see the results of cancer prevention and early detection studies. Ludwig funding will enable us to carry this and many other research projects forward.”
The tradition of timely and intelligent cancer philanthropy at Johns Hopkins has continued in recent years. Around 2013, the university realized that with its treatment of cancer patients expected to increase 35 percent or more over the next decade, it needed a new building where therapies could be offered to the ailing. The foundation of Albert “Skip” Viragh solved that in one fell swoop by providing $65 million in 2014 to cover nearly all of the construction costs for a new center. A Marylander who started a mutual fund and grew it into a $9 billion entity, Viragh died of pancreatic cancer himself. His foundation previously established a center for research and care of that disease with a $20 million gift to Hopkins.
The Viragh building relieves pressure on a prior cancer-treatment center that opened in 1999 thanks to a $20 million pledge from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The Weinberg and Viragh structures are complemented by a facility located across the street that offers subsidized housing for patients and their families while they are in therapy. It was funded by the Hackerman family (who also endowed a lab and oncology chair at the cancer facility).
Umbrella funding over all of Hopkins’s cancer work came from businessman Sidney Kimmel, who gave $150 million in 2001. He donated an additional $50 million in 2016, matched by $50 million from Michael Bloomberg, and another $25 million from other donors, so that Johns Hopkins could dive deeply into immunotherapy—one of the most promising new techniques for battling cancer. The university was at risk of losing its leading researchers unless it created a new venture to let them move fast and deeply into the emerging field, which it quickly did by relying on philanthropy—the keystone on which Johns Hopkins has built its rise to the heights of cancer work.
The Denver Art Museum has been admired for its contemporary, Native American, and Western art. In 2006 the building gained a major Daniel Libeskind-designed expansion, thanks to a $20 million gift from longtime trustee Frederic Hamilton, who made his fortune in the oil business. “However, our museum is derelict in one significant area, and that is Impressionism,” states Hamilton. In early 2014, however, the benefactor filled that hole by promising to the museum his personal collection of 22 great Impressionist paintings, by the like of Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, van Gogh, and Cézanne. These were described by Rusty Powell of the National Gallery of Art in Washington as “an extraordinary grouping of works by the greatest artists of France. It would be a big deal for any museum to get.” Valued at approximately $100 million, they will give Denver the biggest collection of Impressionist art in the Western U.S. when they transfer to the museum at Hamilton’s passing. The city got a taste of what is to come when Hamilton lent the collection for a temporary exhibit in early 2014. The crowds that thronged to see the masterworks finalized Hamilton’s decision to will them to the public institution instead of passing them on to his heirs, as he had originally intended.
When philanthropist Paul Mellon died in 1999, he bequeathed 110 major works of art to the National Gallery, the last in a very long string of art gifts from the Mellon family (see 1937 entry on Andrew Mellon). The donated pictures were to remain in the care of Paul Mellon’s wife during her lifetime. She released some, but continued to enjoy others in her home. The final 62 works became property of the people of the United States when Rachel Mellon died in 2014. These include exceptional paintings by Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and other masters. Because they were acquired for enjoyment in a family house, they are mostly intimate and cozy pieces. And they express collector appetites, eras, and viewpoints that may not be fashionable today. “These are not the works everyone else is acquiring and displaying,” said a curator at the National Gallery at the announcement of the gift. This is an example of the way philanthropy adds diversity to institutions, by preserving individual idiosyncrasies and capturing perspectives that lie outside mainline trends. Some of the paintings went on display quickly; a 2016 exhibition was scheduled to present them in toto.
New York City is home to one of the most successful charter-school expansions in the U.S., from its initial handful of students in the fall of 2000 to 95,000 enrollees at the start of the 2015 school year. In some poor neighborhoods a quarter of all youngsters were attending charter schools by that time, with powerful results. For instance, Success Academy Harlem 4, a school with 97 percent minority children, scored No. 1 in the state in math achievement by fifth graders. Stanford University research shows that, on average, New York City charter students absorb five months of extra learning per year in math, and one extra month in reading, compared with counterpart children in conventional schools.
Yet when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014 with strong support from unionized teachers, he made it clear that he intended to clip the wings of philanthropically supported charters. He announced almost immediately that he was canceling a $210 million construction fund important to the schools, ending space-sharing with them, and intended to charge them rent (unlike other public schools that have their buildings provided by the city).
Charter allies responded to these threats. Early on, thousands of families marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to demonstrate their concern. Advocates like the group Families for Excellent Schools, backed by the Broad, Walton, and Buck foundations and many individual donors, aired a series of advertisements spelling out the achievements of New York’s charters and urging legislators to oppose de Blasio’s crimps. Then on a freezing March 2014 day, 11,000 parents and children rallied in defense of charters in the state capital of Albany. (Donors helped pay for buses and such.) Telling them “Parents deserve a choice,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo promised, “You are not alone. We will save charter schools.” Nine days later, the state Senate passed a budget resolution containing several provisions that effectively annulled the new mayor’s squeeze on charter schools.
Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools were the worst district in the second-lowest-performing state in the entire U.S. Fully 78 percent of NOLA students attended a school designated as “failing” by state standards. Then the storm wrecked 100 of the city’s 127 schools. Rather than rebuild the dysfunctional and corrupt school district, local leaders decided to instead create the nation’s most complete necklace of charter schools, then let them independently pursue a new set of higher common standards. Decision-making power was decentralized away from the old school-board bureaucracy and transferred to individual principals, teachers, and schoolhouses. Top charter operators from across the country were invited in to set up shop, and more than 40 different entities now operate charters in the city on a competitive basis. At the same time, school performance began to be monitored intensely, with the understanding that new schools given five-year operating charters would be shut down at the end of that period if their students were not succeeding.
This was bold new territory never before explored on a citywide basis, and education-reform donors leapt to help out. It is estimated that philanthropists have poured an average of $20 million per year into New Orleans charter schooling over the past decade. In 2012, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation alone unveiled $40 million of support for high-quality schools and the organizations erecting them in New Orleans. In addition to writing checks, donors have set up oversight and assistance organizations, helped social entrepreneurs plan and build new schools, aided various training and support organizations in coming to the city to support the education upgrade, created a solid voucher program to give poor children access to private schools, and worked to give families as many choices as possible. In 2014, the Recovery School District (which runs all but five of the public schools in New Orleans) closed the last of its conventional schools and became the first in America to shift entirely to charter schools to educate its children. Much work remains to be done, but already the high-school graduation rate has climbed from 54 percent to 80 percent.
In 2014, a verdict arrived in the Vergara v. California case—in which nine school children brought suit arguing that provisions of state law that block the firing of poor teachers unconscionably degrade the quality of public education available to California children. The students’ legal costs were covered by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Dave Welch. The Los Angeles County judge’s decision struck down lifetime tenure, obstacles to dismissal, layoff rules blocking administrators from keeping their best instructors, and other constraints demanded by unions, because they result in “a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.” The ruling will be appealed, but sets an historic precedent for ending traditional school-contract terms that place the interests of school employees above those of students.
Welch’s funding, channeled through the nonprofit Students Matter, is part of a longer tradition of public-interest law philanthropy on behalf of educational improvement. Donor-funded groups like the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute have litigated over many years to protect school choice, educational tax credits, charter schools, and other elements of school reform.
The most influential tool in astronomy and astrophysics over the last generation has been the Hubble Space Telescope. In 2014, construction began on a new instrument, to be located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, that will provide images 12 times sharper than Hubble’s. The Thirty Meter Telescope will have nine times the light-collecting power of the largest existing telescopes, and its new “adaptive optics”—making constant minute mirror adjustments to counteract turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere—will allow it to create images as sharp as those taken in space where there is no atmosphere to deflect incoming light. The potent instrument will initially be used to understand the formation of stars and planets and the evolution of galaxies, and is expected to have revolutionary effects on cosmology and fundamental physics.
The Thirty Meter Telescope is likely to work often in tandem with the James Webb Space Telescope—the successor to Hubble now being built by NASA for launch sometime between 2018 and 2020. The Webb telescope may locate targets that will then be studied in detail by the powerful spectrometers in the TMT. Interestingly, the Webb is a government-run, publicly funded project that is currently nine years late, with an expense overrun of four times the original plan, yielding a total cost of $9 billion. Meanwhile the TMT is a collaboration among U.S. universities and overseas science organizations, funded by private philanthropy, and its total cost will be about $1.2 billion by the time it opens its “eye” eight years from the construction launch.
The trailblazing funder enabling the Thirty Meter Telescope is the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Endowed by the co-founder of Intel Corporation, the Moore Foundation provided a seminal early investment of $50 million in 2003 to design the telescope, then pledged an additional $200 million in 2007 to complete the planning and initiate construction. By the end of 2013, Moore’s full quarter-billion dollar pledge had been delivered to project leaders at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. Both universities launched campaigns to raise matching millions from other private donors, thus powering this landmark project almost entirely with philanthropic money.
There will never be as much instrument time on large telescopes as astronomers would like for conducting experiments, so a similar project—the Giant Magellan Telescope backed by a different group of universities and philanthropists—has been nearly as avidly supported. Oil and gas pioneer George Mitchell, father of the “fracking” process, donated more than $33 million to the Magellan project before his death in 2013. His gifts, given through Texas A&M University starting in 2004, not only launched the 25-meter telescope from concept to construction project, but also spurred major financial and scientific partners like the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard to sign on as well. Site preparation began in 2014, with initial telescope operation expected in 2020.
In a development extraordinary in its intentions, its scope, and its emergency nature, 15 Michigan and national foundations announced that they would pool together $466 million of philanthropic funds to prevent works of art from the Detroit Institute of Arts from being sold off to cover pension shortfalls and other debts amid Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy. The Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, and others pledged the funds to meet immediate demands from city retirees and shield the Detroit Institute so that it can be migrated from city ownership and control to an independent nonprofit trust, preventing the artworks accumulated at the museum over generations of giving from being liquidated and lost to the local viewing public. Donors also contributed to a separate $100 million the Detroit Institute of Arts committed to raise from private sources—including $10 million from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, $3 million from the J. Paul Getty Trust, and $26 million donated by the three Detroit automakers. In response to these private pledges, the state government offered to kick in $200 million. The philanthropic gifts came on top of existing heavy annual giving to the people of the greater Detroit area by most of the same foundations, for purposes ranging from education to policing to social uplift.
The Denver Art Museum has been admired for its contemporary, Native American, and Western art. In 2006 the building gained a major Daniel Libeskind-designed expansion, thanks to a $20 million gift from longtime trustee Frederic Hamilton, who made his fortune in the oil business. “However, our museum is derelict in one significant area, and that is Impressionism,” stated Hamilton. In early 2014, however, the benefactor filled that hole by promising to the museum his personal collection of 22 great Impressionist paintings, by the likes of Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, van Gogh, and Cézanne. These were described by Rusty Powell of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. as “an extraordinary grouping of works by the greatest artists of France. It would be a big deal for any museum to get.” Valued at approximately $100 million, they will give Denver the biggest collection of Impressionist art in the Western U.S. when they transfer to the museum at Hamilton’s passing. The city got a taste of what is to come when Hamilton lent the collection for a temporary exhibit in early 2014. The crowds that thronged to see the masterworks finalized Hamilton’s decision to will them to the public institution instead of passing them on to his heirs, as he had originally intended.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, offers a good example of how local philanthropy enriches American lives. This small city has generous individual donors and independent foundations along with a community foundation endowed with $3.8 billion in assets. Now a new donor-funded park is taking shape along the Arkansas River that runs through town, placing a fresh green crown on Tulsa’s head. In the summer of 2014 local oilman and banker George Kaiser made a $350 million gift—the largest for a public park in U.S. history—to create what will be known as “A Gathering Place.” The park will wind through the heart of the city and total nearly 100 acres when complete.
Drawing on suggestions collected in public meetings, it will connect four riverside sites into a cohesive recreation area with amenities like bike trails, boating, tennis courts, open lawns and gardens, playgrounds, a skate park, water features, and public meeting spaces. The Kaiser Foundation donated most of the land, as well as design, engineering, and construction plans, plus $50 million to operate and maintain the park once it is open. Supplementing Kaiser’s $200 million were funds from other private donors, companies, and foundations like those created by the Chapman, Schusterman, Murphy, and Helmerich families. The local government will own the property, but a private conservancy established by the Kaiser Foundation will manage and program it, following the philanthropic model which has been so successful in other parts of the country.
Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, first pursued an interest in media operations that promote “good government” when he funded a digital “newspaper” devoted to investigative reporting, public policy, and politics in his home state of Hawaii. His appetite whetted, Omidyar considered buying the Washington Post, before fellow tech-tycoon and donor Jeff Bezos did so for $250 million in 2013. Instead, Omidyar decided to devote the same pile of money—$250 million—to create his own muckraking publications from scratch. In 2014 he unveiled his first venture: the Intercept, an online magazine devoted to “adversarial journalism on national security, criminal justice” and related topics. It was formed around a trio of hard-left reporter-commentators: Jeremy Scahill of the Nation, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald, who led publication of the Edward Snowden leaks.
Omidyar’s next publication was to be a scathing forum called Racket that would “attack Wall Street and the corporate world.” Before the venture even published its first story, however, the attacker-in-chief hired by Omidyar to run the publication clashed with his bosses and was accused of sexual harassment by an underling. The venture collapsed and it was announced that the staff hired to run it would be let go.
One year after Omidyar’s announcement that he was going to loose on the world a whole stable of digital news sites “that will cover topics ranging from entertainment and sports to business and the economy,” the only functioning element was the Intercept, and the founding donor was at war with many of the journalistic crusaders he hoped to lead into society-altering news coverage. The effectiveness of this investment is thus yet to be seen. Its sheer size, however, and the interest it has sparked among other donors and a press corps obsessed with new media, guarantee that it will be looked back upon as a milestone in public-policy philanthropy, whether of a positive or negative sort.
he national rankings of top graduate schools in public policy have held pretty steady for some years, centered on Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, the Kennedy School at Harvard, Indiana University, University of Georgia, and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. Recent philanthropic gifts aim to move another entity up that list. The University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy is a relative newcomer established in 1988 (thanks to leadership and an endowment gift from businessman Irving Harris). It enrolled 410 graduate students in 2014, and is particularly known for its quantitative training. In 2014, DeVry University co-founder Dennis Keller donated $20 million, and the family of Irving Harris gave another $12.5 million, to build a new home for the graduate school. This will allow expansions into leadership training, with the goal of anointing more trailblazers in public policy.
Detroit may be America’s most ill-governed, and saddest, city. That’s the public’s verdict: The city’s population plummeted from 1.9 million in 1950 to just 680,000 in 2014, just after Detroit filed the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy, estimating that it was $20 billion in debt.
Private philanthropies have tried for years to stanch the worst of Detroit’s bleeding. The only streetlights that work in midtown are the ones paid for by the Hudson-Webber Foundation. In 2013, the Kresge Foundation and some partners donated 100 police cars to the city (where the average response time to a 911 call is 58 minutes). These and other donors poured at least $628 million into the city between 2007 and 2011, particularly hoping to soften life for children and other innocent victims of the misgovernance, and to spark a bit of private-sector economic activity.
Then in late 2014, a coalition of 15 foundations—both local and national—plus some corporate and individual donors pledged $466 million to shore up the city’s insolvent pension system and transfer the Detroit Institute of Arts from city to nonprofit ownership, so that its great works and building wouldn’t have to be sold for cash. This philanthropic help was the key to negotiation of a grand bargain of concessions, cuts, and contributions that allowed the city to emerge from bankruptcy. Whether Detroit will ever become a healthy community again remains to be seen, but the donors who had been protecting city residents for decades at least gave the city and the state breathing space to create more responsible and sustainable public policies.
Though he is no longer mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg continues to nudge public policy—these days as a donor. In 2014 he put up $50 million to create an educational nonprofit (with separate lobbying and campaign-donation arms) to push for stricter gun control. To put that in perspective, $50 million is about two and a half times what the National Rifle Association spent that same year to campaign for gun-owner rights.
In the run-up to the 2014 election, Bloomberg’s groups surveyed candidates on gun issues, and bought millions of dollars of TV issue ads. The allied political action committee made campaign donations to selected candidates at the state and federal levels. Ad Age calculated that Bloomberg’s money allowed gun-control groups to outspend gun-owner groups by 7:1 on television advertising.
Even still, gun controllers didn’t do well in the 2014 election. Bloomberg is swimming against inhospitable policy currents. According to the Pew Research Center, public support for gun control deteriorated steadily over the last two decades. When asked “Is it more important to control gun ownership or protect the right of Americans to own guns?” the public flipped from favoring gun control 57-34 percent in 1993, to favoring gun-ownership rights 52-46 percent in 2014. A sharp drop in the rate of murder committed with firearms between 1993 and 2011—from 6.6 victims to 3.2 victims per 100,000 population—corresponds with a large rise in gun ownership during that same period. Americans owned 310 million firearms in 2009, up from 192 million in 1994.
Bill Ahmanson has a long history of supporting high-quality colleges, particularly in his home region of southern California. But he noticed that young men and women with military experience were underrepresented on these campuses. Indeed, at institutions like Harvard, Duke, Princeton, and MIT, the number of veterans enrolled as undergrads today can be counted literally on one hand. On the other hand, young people just out of the military are doing superbly at excellent universities like Columbia, Georgetown, USC, and Syracuse, so it’s clear the problem is simply that some elite colleges have no idea how to enroll students who don’t follow the conventional “right out of high school” path to campus.
Ahmanson went to work to help fix this at colleges in his area. He even included campuses that didn’t seem like prime candidates to enroll veterans, like three art schools and a women’s college. He asked leaders at the 24 campuses he partnered with to simply pledge initially that they would enroll at least one more veteran every year than they had in their prior class. This allowed administrators to gradually discover how to make themselves more compatible with students from military backgrounds. Ahmanson offered each of the campuses an annual gift of $50,000 for scholarship aid and new programming that would make veterans a normal and permanent part of their student bodies. A number of schools found other donors willing to match the Ahmanson funds, or augmented the funds themselves.
After four years, Ahmanson had invested $5 million in this effort, and many of the participating colleges “blew the doors” off their modest pledges. Some schools ended up with hundreds of veterans enrolled as undergraduates. Across the country, other donors were providing funds at this same time for similar mixes of dedicated scholarships and new administrative efforts to support veterans on top campuses. For instance, a number of companies donated money to the Posse Foundation to support its new program to enroll vets at places like Vassar College, Wesleyan University, and Dartmouth College. Real-estate developer Conrad Prebys pledged $20 million in 2014 for scholarships aimed at veterans in his hometown of San Diego.
The effort spread not only to other colleges but to different kinds of degrees: In 2016, Eric Gleacher gave $10 million to the University of Chicago to help veterans get MBAs there, and brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta put $15 million into New York University for the same purpose. The next year, Peter Nolan followed suit with a $10 million commitment to support veterans at Cornell’s business school.
Graduate school is typically a monkish undertaking, in which many participants become comparatively isolated from peers during their deep dive into a chosen academic subject. To balance this a bit, investor Charles Munger helped fund graduate-student housing at Stanford which ganged students into four-bedroom apartments in hopes that the communal interactions coming from living together would overflow into useful professional discussion. This was a success.
Munger then gave the University of Michigan the largest gift in its history—about $110 million worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock—to go even further in this direction. With his 2013 donation, Michigan built a 632-bedroom apartment building that houses graduate students in an innovative way. Every student has a soundproof bedroom and study area and a private bath, but these are grouped as seven-bedroom flats sharing extremely large and comfortable living rooms and kitchens. “Almost every occupant has to share an apartment with six others,” notes Munger. The idea is to give Michigan grad students (who come from 113 countries) easier opportunities to build relationships with fellow scholars, with the expectation that this will not only be pleasant but also encourage useful informal exchange of ideas.
Munger made a similar investment in the co-location of thinkers at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A creation of physicist-turned-businessman Fred Kavli, who donated hundreds of millions to science philanthropy before his death in 2013, the institute brings together top physicists from around the world for professional discussion outside of any teaching or research responsibilities. “Away from day-to-day responsibilities they are in a different mental state,” says director Lars Bildsten. “They’re more willing to wander intellectually.”
Physics is famously a field where insights can bubble up from insights in everyday life, or casual conversations with peers, and Kavli encourages this in its daily programming. However, there was no physical counterpart in the way the visitors were housed. Until 2014—when Munger pledged $65 million to build a permanent residence hall where it will be easy for visiting physicists to mingle informally after hours.
Then in 2016 Munger made his biggest pledge yet to his pet cause of academic housing that encourages collaboration and intellectual success: $200 million to the University of California, Santa Barbara. The entire University of California system was under pressure to expand enrollments and housing to meet high student demand, and Munger agreed to help. But he insisted that the buildings created with his donation must follow the same social-life-friendly design principles applied in his dorms at the University of Michigan and elsewhere.
One of the commonest injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, also a domestic concern thanks to auto and sports accidents, is brain injury. The resulting depression, irritability, and stress disorders can be almost impossible to document and measure, and thus hard to treat. A $17 million donation to New York University by financier Steven Cohen and his wife, Alexandra, aims to find out if brain injuries and mental health conditions can be assessed more concretely.
In a five-year study of 1,500 military veterans, NYU psychiatrist Charles Marmar and his lab will see if they can establish characteristic biomarkers of mental disruption. Hormone levels, blood chemistry, brain images, genetic clues, even voice patterns, will be assessed to see if any of these reliably signal disability or illness after a concussion. Just as certain blood proteins and brain shrinkages are now known to indicate Alzheimer's, the hope is that physical indicators can be established for syndromes like PTSD. That should improve diagnosis and treatment. “We want to elevate mental health to standard physical health,” says Marmar.
Marmar told the audience at a 2014 Philanthropy Roundtable gathering that the speed, flexibility, and non-bureaucratic nature of private donations were crucial to getting his project off the ground. “I’ve been a National Institutes of Health researcher for decades, and to get an NIH grant from the government you essentially have to already have solved the problem in question.” His business-experienced donors, however, were comfortable in undertaking highly speculative investigations, recognizing that huge benefits could result if the experiment succeeds.
In addition to $800 million of medical donations to his native region of South Dakota, businessman Denny Sanford has been an important angel for medical research in San Diego—a national center for that work, and a second home for Sanford. He began by providing $70 million, in two chunks, to what is now known as the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. His gifts sparked a subsequent $275 million donation offered anonymously, and then a $100 million gift from philanthropist Conrad Prebys.
Sanford Burnham Prebys has become one of a half-dozen bio-med powerhouses in San Diego, nearly all of them cooperating in a research alliance that Sanford established with a $30 million gift. The Consortium for Regenerative Medicine aims to accelerate practical therapies in its field by developing new drugs and treatment plans for patients. Sanford provided another complementary nudge in 2013 when he offered $100 million to consortium member University of California, San Diego to launch a stem-cell clinic in the region. Sanford has now provided $200 million to the hotbed of San Diego charities working to transform the promise of regenerative medicine into a practical, lifesaving reality.
In March of 2013, health-care entrepreneur Donald Rubin and his wife, Shelley, donated $500,000 to the Bronx Museum of the Arts to expand and extend its free admission policy. In May, the couple gave another $500,000 to the Queens Museum of Art. And in September they presented $300,000 to the Socrates Sculpture Park, hard by Manhattan’s Upper East Side—except that it’s on the opposite shore of the East River, in Queens, on a former landfill site. “I haven’t seen anybody else do this ‘we-believe-in-the-rest-of-the-city’ tour,” said Queens Museum of Art director Tom Finkelpearl. “They’re definitely not cookie-cutter philanthropists.”
The Rubins do have some counterparts, however. For instance, Alan and Stuart Suna, brothers who co-own the TV production facility in Queens where shows like “The Sopranos” were shot. They have been loyal donors to museums, parks, and theaters in their unglamorous borough. “We’re Queens guys,” Alan told the New York Times. “Our business is in Queens, and Queens is always getting short shrift, so we’re there to help.”
Compared to Manhattan, four times as many New Yorkers live in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is famous as a citadel of “progressivism,” for which it is sometimes referred to as the “Berkeley of the Rockies.” All faculty members, for instance, are encouraged to put a prepared statement in their initial class materials telling students they are free to choose a different gender pronoun for themselves if that would make them feel more comfortable.
In the hope of introducing missing perspectives into the university’s teaching, and broadening political discussion on campus, a group of Boulder-area donors including local banker Earl Wright and former Boulder mayor Bob Greenlee proposed to fund within the political-science department a new position in Conservative Thought and Policy. After more than 20 area donors raised a million dollars, a three-year pilot program was set up to bring a series of visiting scholars to campus on annual rotations.
Political scientist Steven Hayward, CU-Boulder’s first Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, taught four classes during the 2013-2014 school year: two on Constitutional law, one on free-market environmentalism, and another on American political thought. In addition to teaching, he organized debates and guest lectures that brought center-right scholars to campus. In 2014, the second visiting scholar arrived—Hillsdale College historian Bradley Birzer. The third visiting scholar, economic historian Brian Domitrovic, arrived on campus in 2015.onmentalism, and another on American political thought. He also organized more than a dozen debates and guest lectures that brought center-right scholars to campus. In the fall of 2014, the second visiting scholar arrived—Hillsdale College historian Bradley Birzer.
The Searle Freedom Trust was founded in 1998 by Dan Searle with proceeds from the sale of the G. D. Searle pharmaceutical company. The foundation has been a major funder of university professors, supporting career development and detailed, esoteric, long-term research with the goal of bolstering academics working outside of reigning liberal orthodoxies. The trust has also been underwriting online higher education as a way to make college instruction less monolithic.
More recently, Searle has influenced public policy via support for important litigation. “Our biggest victories lately have come in the legal arena,” says president Kim Dennis. “There have been numerous Supreme Court decisions that we helped to fund. These produced decisions in policy arenas as diverse as voting rights, environmental regulation, education, and health care.”
“Of course these things can all be changed by one heart attack on the Supreme Court,” notes Dennis. “But there are also state courts. There’s a lot you can do in litigation.”
Until very recently there was no comprehensive review to assess U.S. teacher colleges, as other sectors and services are rated. That changed in 2013 when the National Council on Teacher Quality used philanthropic gifts to create a new annual assessment and guide. The 2014 second edition of Teacher Prep Review, produced in collaboration with experienced school ranker U.S. News and World Report, rated thousands of college programs that train the nation’s elementary and secondary teachers, and found that low-rated teacher-prep efforts currently outnumber top-rated efforts by more than 8:1. Indeed, out of 1,668 teacher programs that were rated, only 26 for elementary-school teachers and 81 for secondary teachers earned NCTQ’s highest marks. The report found that 23 states do not have a single college track that provides high-quality math training to teachers.
By 2013, the charter schools in many U.S. cities were beginning to pile up remarkable achievement records, but the accomplishments of Boston’s philanthropically supported charters were in a category by themselves. First, it’s important to note that Boston charters enroll students who are almost indistinguishable from the students who attend conventional public schools in the city. In the latest school year, 84 percent of Boston’s charter-school students were black or Hispanic, compared to 76 in the conventional system; in both systems, seven out of ten students came from low-income families. Yet three top-tier studies released in 2013 demonstrated that the children in charters were getting much better educations.
A Stanford study found, stunningly, that charter students in Boston were learning at twice the rate of their peers in conventional schools—gaining, for every school year completed, an additional 13 months of progress in math, and an additional 12 months in reading. Charter schools were especially effective, the researchers showed, at pushing students above the “proficient” level and into the “advanced” ranking on the tough end-of-year exams administered by the state of Massachusetts.
A different study released that same year by an MIT economist and four fellow professors was a careful comparison of high-school students from charters to demographically matched counterparts in conventional schools. It found that the charter students were twice as likely to take A.P. classes (and scored higher on final exams), that they did much better in statewide tests (“with especially large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored college scholarship”), that they ended up with composite SAT scores more than 100 points higher than non-charter kids, and that they were much likelier to attend a four-year college instead of a two-year college.
The final burst of high-quality charter-school research to ripple through the city in 2013 was an investigation funded by the Boston Foundation. It tracked very closely with the two results above, and added the detail that charter schools’ “largest gains appear to be for students of color, and particularly large gains were found for English Language Learners.”
But perhaps the most remarkable finding that year concerning Boston’s charter schools was that not one of them was sub-standard. Fully 83 percent of Boston charters performed “significantly better” than neighboring schools, and the remaining 17 percent produced equivalent results. Zero percent performed below the norm.
Despite these stellar outcomes, Boston and the rest of Massachusetts are burdened with a cap on the number of charter schools permitted to exist. Even in districts where conventional schools are worst, a regulation imposed by charter opponents limits the proportion of students attending charters to a maximum of 18 percent of all public-school enrollees. In 2013 that blocked spectacularly successful inner-city institutions like the Edward Brooke Charter Schools, and others, from accommodating additional students languishing on lengthy waiting lists. The Massachusetts House voted in 2014 to raise the cap slightly, but opponents organized by the state teacher union knocked the measure down in the state Senate.
In 2013, data entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg made a $350 million gift to Johns Hopkins University. The large donation was structured to fund 2,600 scholarships for needy students, and to create 50 Bloomberg professorships with special cross-disciplinary expertise. This was only the latest in a 49-year string of offerings. One year after he graduated from Hopkins with an engineering degree, Bloomberg donated $5 to the college; his first million dollar gift came 20 years after leaving campus. With his 2013 investment Bloomberg’s total giving to Johns Hopkins reached more than $1.1 billion. He also served as chairman of the university’s board of trustees for six years, and has helped raised millions from other donors.
Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of the Blackstone private equityinvestment company, has focused his philanthropic giving on learning, including long-time support of Catholic schools in New York City and a $100 million donation to the New York Public Library. In 2014 he announced his most speculative foray yet into education philanthropy: the Schwarzman Scholars, a program modeled on the Rhodes scholarship. Every year it will unite 200 top young college graduates from the U.S., China, and other nations to study together at Tsinghua University in Beijing (the alma mater for many of China’s elites). The large role that China will inevitably play in future global developments demands deeper personal ties and more mutual understanding among the next generation of Chinese and Western leaders, argues Schwarzman. To supplement his $100 million gift, Schwarzman promised to raise another $200 million in private matching funds toward the project, which he accomplished by July 2014. The study program is scheduled to launch in 2016.
This is a test of Local Achievements
The Boy Scouts of America had a problem. Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia had for nearly two decades been home to the Scouts’ national jamboree, which draws 45,000 boys and up to 300,000 friends and family from across the country. But throwing up the temporary infrastructure needed for the quadrennial jamborees cost the Scouts as much as $16 million each time, and the Scout leadership realized they needed a more permanent fix. That solution came in the form of a 10,600-acre site in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, near the wild New River Gorge. (The deep gorge is cut by the only river that rises east of the Appalachians yet manages to find a slot through the mountains and reach the Ohio River Valley.) The location was perfect: 70 percent of Scouts would be within a 10-hour drive of the site, and it would provide not only a jamboree location but also an eastern “high adventure” base to supplement Scouting’s famous Philmont ranch in the West. The site is surrounded by more than 70,000 acres of federal recreation land that Scouts may explore.
The BSA has long relied on generous giving, but acquiring and developing the West Virginia property was an extraordinary philanthropic lift. Starting in 2009, a long string of individual donors plus some corporations lined up with more than $300 million of quiet gifts. Stephen Bechtel donated $50 million. Walter Scott gave $25 million. Mike Goodrich funded creation of a man-made lake. Consol Energy offered $15 million. Most of the lead donors to the Summit are Eagle Scouts.
A major amount of “terraforming” was needed to create useable sites on the rugged topography. Camping areas and bike trails had to be built. The large lake was dammed. A 9,000-square-foot warehouse was needed on the grounds. A landmark pedestrian bridge was designed to cross the gorge dividing the eastern and western halves of the property.
In addition to hosting jamborees, this spectacular facility, known as the Summit, will allow 88,000 Scouts each year to enjoy whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and rappelling, swimming, fishing, and shooting sports. The Summit is projected to host 1.5 million Scouts within its first decade; by comparison, Philmont took 70 years to reach 1 million visitors.
Wall Street investor Dan Lufkin grew up in small-town New York, studied at Yale as a naval reservist, joined the Marines, and then earned his MBA at Harvard Business School in 1957. He and two classmates established an investment firm that focused on small fast-growing firms rather than blue-chip companies. Starting with $240,000 in 1960, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette grew over the next 11 years to a net worth exceeding $50 million, and then expanded further.
In 1970 Lufkin approached Tom Meskill, a Republican candidate for governor of Connecticut, with ideas for a new Department of Environmental Protection. The subsequently elected governor appointed Lufkin as the department’s first commissioner. A serious problem in the civil service, Lufkin later noted, is that “you can’t get rid of people who are really doing nothing. With the Department of Environmental Protection, we had a new department…. As a result, all the people we brought were there on merit, not tenure.” His experience in state government led Lufkin to publish Many Sovereign States in 1975, a defense of devolving resources and sovereignty to individual states.
After Lufkin returned to finance, he continued to take an interest in conservation and the outdoors. Riding horses and raising dairy cows, horses, and cattle, were passions, and he was inducted into the Cutting Horse Association’s Hall of Fame. He donated to the National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, National Park Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation Fund, American Farmland Trust, and Atlantic Salmon Federation. With an endowment from Lufkin’s family and friends, the National Audubon Society created the Dan Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership in 2013. The initial recipients of the $100,000 cash prize for innovators in conservation were Dr. George Archibald in 2013, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, land trust pioneer Patrick Noonan in 2014, and Spencer Beebe, an expert in integrating economic and ecological well-being, in 2015. All men in Lufkin’s mold, with an interest in finding ways of conserving nature without damaging human prosperity.
More than 70 of our national parks have established cooperating nonprofit membership associations to help them raise donated funds for park improvements. In 2013, one of these linked nonprofits—the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy—received the largest-ever cash gift made to a U.S. national park. The S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, founded by the owner of the Bechtel construction and engineering firm, offered $25 million to create a new natural space on the top of a roadway that tunnels across the Presidio, the historic and highly scenic open area overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean, which used to be a military post. The funds will also support programming at the Presidio for local youths. A focus of Stephen Bechtel’s philanthropy elsewhere has been Scouting. (See 2013 entry on his gift for the Summit.)
Much of Houston was built on marshland, and the hundreds of miles of natural streams and man-made ditches that drain the area were converted in many places to simple storm channels, lined with concrete and pared of trees and vegetation. Local citizens began to realize that these waterways could serve multiple purposes as recreation areas, non-motorized travel corridors, and beautifiers of the city, without impairing their role in watershed management.
The Houston Parks Board, a private nonprofit that has been improving local green space since 1976, developed an ambitious plan to turn 1,500 acres of utilitarian drainage channels into a citywide necklace of parks and trails. Nine different bayous touching scores of neighborhoods would be cleaned, landscaped, planted, and linked together via 150 miles of new or improved trails. The board would take responsibility for raising $115 million of donated private money, to be matched with $100 million from the city of Houston, and after construction is complete the nonprofit will manage a total of 4,000 acres of new and existing bayou parklands. This will give Houston the largest system of public off-street paths in the nation, and it is estimated that six out of every ten city residents will live within a mile and a half of a bayou park or trail.
Launching this dramatic project was a $50 million gift from local residents Rich and Nancy Kinder—one of the largest voluntary offerings ever for public greenspace in the U.S. Other givers include the Houston Endowment, the Wortham, Fondren, and Brown foundations, and many individual donors. The Kinders had previous experience at underwriting public parks with their donations, (see our 2010 entry describing their revival of Buffalo Bayou Park) and back in 2004 the Kinders provided $10 million to another nonprofit conservancy to create a brand-new permanent green space and public park near their city’s convention center. The new Discovery Green was carved out of 12 underused acres in the middle of downtown. Nancy Kinder served as founding chairwoman of the organization that created and now privately manages the intensively used park—which hosts 400 concerts, festivals, exercise classes, child play groups, pet gatherings, and other events every year, attracting more than a million people.
This and other philanthropic ventures in a number of cities that created popular new parks out of vacant lots, forlorn waterways, abandoned subway trestles, and other overlooked areas have inspired a new wave of donors to build great urban parks using similar private conservancy models. In 2012, for instance, a park opened in Dallas on more than five acres of land created “out of thin air” by decking over a recessed expressway that cuts through the arts district. As in other cases, this project was catalyzed by donor funds, created and managed by a private nonprofit, and enjoyed immediate popularity and heavy use.
The architecture school at the University of Notre Dame is known, along with the University of Miami, as the finest in the U.S. for the study of classical architecture and traditional urbanism. That’s why the Driehaus Prize (see 2003 entry) was based there. In 2013 Matthew Walsh, who runs his family construction company, the largest contractor in Chicago, announced that he and his wife, Joyce, would fund creation of a new School of Architecture building on the Notre Dame campus. They are simultaneously paying for the addition of two new programs—in historic preservation, and real-estate development—which will expand the program’s enrollment. This was one of the largest gifts in the university’s history, and aims to elevate the Notre Dame architecture school, which dates back to 1898, to the highest levels of the profession.
Back in 2008, South Dakota businessman Denny Sanford gave $80 million to bolster the Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego. In 2013, Sanford donated an additional $100 million to establish the allied Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at the University of California, San Diego. Building on the same hope for new therapies that motivated the regenerative medicine consortium, the new center aims to help transform promise into reality by accelerating the development of new stem-cell-derived drugs and treatment plans for patients. The particular focus will be clinical trials which attempt to translate research into everyday medical practice. With this gift, Sanford passed the $1 billion mark in lifetime donations, with most of his funding going to health-related causes.
In 2008, Penny and Phil Knight (co-founder of Oregon-based Nike Sportswear) donated $100 million to the Oregon Health and Science University to create the Knight Cancer Institute. The university’s prior cancer institute had grown to prominence and then hired one of the top cancer researchers in the world, Brian Druker, as its director in 2007. Druker launched the world’s first drug to target a genetic weakness in a particular cancer when he developed Gleevec, which smothers myeloid leukemia by targeting an enzyme that triggers the disease. Gleevec has saved tens of thousands of lives since it burst onto the scene in 2001 and is credited with inspiring a whole train of similar potentially revolutionary drugs that zero in on specific cancer genes, thereby shutting down tumors without harming healthy surrounding tissue.
Armed with the $100 million Knight donation, Druker and his colleagues went on a hiring spree shortly after his arrival, attracting some of the brightest minds in the field to OHSU. 1n 2009, Druker received one of the Lasker Awards established by philanthropy to encourage top medical investigators (see 1945 entry).
Then in late 2013, the Knights announced they would donate an additional $500 million to OHSU if the university could raise the same sum from other donors within two years. (In between these two anti-cancer gifts, Penny and Phil Knight had donated $125 million to support cardiovascular medicine and research at OHSU.) If the university could meet its side of the challenge, its president concluded the day after the Knight’s announcement, their cancer program would leap “from excellence to true preeminence.” Thanks to many additional gifts, including one of $100 million given by Gertrude Boyle—the chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear, whose sister was a pioneering biologist and a cancer victim—the university announced in 2015 that it had collected sufficient donations to match the Knight pledge..
The John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C., is the nation’s busiest single performing arts venue, hosting some 2,000 performances annually. For years it has been cramped by its lack of rehearsal space and classrooms. “We run the largest arts-education program in the country,” says president Michael Kaiser. “We work with 11 million children a year . . . but the building doesn’t have a classroom in it.” To address this, the Kennedy Center announced in 2013 an expansion that will add classrooms, rehearsal rooms, lecture space, some offices, gardens, and a stage floating on the Potomac River. The $100 million project will be entirely privately funded, centered on a $50 million gift (the largest in the Kennedy Center’s history) from Washington-based financier David Rubenstein.
Rubenstein had previously donated $75 million to the Kennedy Center. He expressed hope that his latest donation will draw other donors to engage in what he calls “patriotic philanthropy.” (See 2009 entry.) “The federal government today cannot afford to do many of the things it would have done before. I hope this will encourage other people to give to…organizations that have been helpful to our country.”
Leonard Lauder, for many years CEO of the cosmetics firm Estée Lauder that was founded by his parents, became a disciplined and tightly focused collector of art as his wealth swelled in his forties. Eschewing the temptation to buy flashy works across a range of popular styles, he started scooping up one kind of creation: early Cubist works. “I liked the aesthetic,” he told the New York Times, and during those years when Impressionism and post-Impressionism were much more fashionable, “a lot was still available, because nobody really wanted it.” Lauder notes that “early on I decided this should be formed as a museum collection.” He relied on expert guidance from Hunter College art historian Emily Braun, and “whenever I considered buying anything, I would step back and ask myself, does this make the cut?”
In 2013, the 80-year-old Lauder announced he was donating his melange of Cubist paintings, drawings, and sculptures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It totaled 78 works by just four artists, each represented in depth—Picasso, Braque, Léger, and Gris—and was valued at more than a billion dollars. Art experts characterized this as one of the most significant art donations ever, and described the group as single-handedly equaling or exceeding the very best collections of Cubism that major museums like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, or Paris’s Pompidou Center had managed to accumulate over a century. “In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-twentieth-century art,” asserted Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell. “It is an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about.”
David Gundlach founded a company that provided insurance directly to consumers, by phone and online, way back in 1997 when that was rare. The company thrived, and he sold it in 2006 for $260 million. But Gundlach was walking proof that money can’t buy you happiness, or purpose, or belonging.
Acquaintances say Gundlach was socially awkward, argumentative, and unaware of how he could grate on others. Even as a boy, people avoided him because of his lack of tact, and as an adult he ended up spending most of his time alone, except for eating dinner every night for ten years with the computer programmer he hired to help launch his company. Hoping to maximize the amount of time he could work, Gundlach stopped doing laundry and instead bought new shirts, pants and underwear every week. When he threw a big party for his hundreds of employees at the time of the company’s sale, almost no one came.
Gundlach tried the pleasures of consumption. He bought 11 exotic homes, a Citation jet, and many luxury cars. Still he made no friends. Still he felt no meaning.
His mother continued to live in the town where he had grown up—Elkhart, Indiana—and he was devoted to her. During his visits he found that “when I’m around people from Elkhart I like myself better.” Elkhart is an old manufacturing center that has produced many successful companies and wealthy men over the years. And as in many other tightknit cities there is an informal code of responsibility: when you get wealthy you put in volunteer hours and donate money to make your community better. One local business titan who impressed Gundlach was Art Decio, who made millions building RVs, then gave generously to his region, sparking much admiration.
But Elkhart crashed hard in the 2009 recession, with unemployment spiking to 20.3 percent, the highest in the nation. The city council had to pass a law limiting residents to one garage sale per month. During one of his visits to his mother right about then, Gundlach told the president of the Elkhart County Community Foundation that he was going to leave money “to do good in my home town.”
In 2011, David Gundlach died quite unexpectedly in Malibu, California, of a heart attack at age 56. Elkhart residents were shocked to learn that his will transferred almost all of his assets—about $150 million—to their community foundation. That yielded a sixteen-fold increase in its discretionary endowment and giving, which, as foundation president Pete McCown put it, “will write a different future for Elkhart County.”
Though he had no true friends in Elkhart, or anywhere, the local man who knew Gundlach best summarized his gift this way: “I think it is a great example for people. That we are all limited. But we can transcend that, and be good.”
As in lots of cities that get transected by highways, when eight subterranean lanes of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway were slashed through downtown Dallas, the surrounding neighborhoods were damaged. But few observers anticipated how strongly the area would re-blossom after three blocks of the freeway were roofed over with philanthropic support and turned into Klyde Warren Park. Named for the son of lead donor Kelcy Warren, the five-acre site was converted into a busy mix of lawn, dog park, playgrounds, food trucks, and performance areas. The free public park has a packed daily schedule of events, concerts, workouts, and meet-ups—all privately managed by the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, which raised $55 million of private donations to create the oasis. By becoming the favorite downtown location for residents, and physically reuniting two separated halves of Dallas’s arts district, the park has dramatically transformed local urban life.
Hoping for a similar effect in Philadelphia, the William Penn Foundation announced in 2017 that it would give up to $15 million to encourage a similar capping of several blocks of Interstate 95 where it currently cuts off the Philly downtown from the city’s Delaware River frontage. For a decade now, the foundation has sponsored citizen input, master planning, and a variety of improvement projects, including a new waterfront trail, to build understanding and support for reconnecting Philadelphia with its scenic river.
Back in 2002, entertainment executive David Geffen donated $200 million without restriction to the medical school of UCLA, the single largest gift ever to a school of medicine. In 2012 he made an even more interesting donation to the school—a $100 million endowment to allow one fifth of each incoming class of medical students at UCLA thereafter to attend free of charge.
Geffen stipulated that the scholarships would be awarded by merit, allowing UCLA to attract some of the very best medical candidates in the country. And he included in the pool of students he would support those on a combined M.D./Ph.D. track—a path from which many medical-research breakthroughs emerge, though it is generally much less lucrative for the individual. The average newly minted doctor today leaves med school with a debt burden of about $200,000, which constrains subspecializations, regions of practice, and other career decisions.
Philanthropists Lynn and Foster Friess began supporting the nonprofit Water Missions International in 2005, after a tsunami created a health crisis in south Asia. They have since visited the group’s projects in Haiti and Malawi, and supported other efforts in the 49 countries where WMI builds safe water and sanitation systems for poor residents or victims of natural disasters. In 2012, the Friesses gave the group its largest contribution ever, $1 million, and printed and distributed 20,000 copies of a book of photos of people aided by WMI, to encourage other givers to become involved. Since its founding in 2001, Water Missions International has brought healthy water to more than 2 million persons.
Other donor-supported groups focused on bringing drinkable water and healthy sanitation to poor countries include the Water Project, Water.org, charity:water, Water is Life, PureMadi, Miya, Three Avocados, and the Water Center at Columbia University. Social businesses created and incubated with philanthropic funds are also becoming active in sanitation and drinking water—for instance, Water Health International, and Sanergy, both of which approach villagers and slum dwellers as customers rather than donees.
The Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival, which unfolds during summers in the small city of Auburn in the heart of New York state, is one of the largest musical-theater producing organizations in the country, serving 60,000 patrons in just its third year. It grew out of the success of the local Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, which had expanded into a $5 million summer operation with a companion youth-theater program that serves 125,000 students during the school year. The festival operated at three area theaters in its first years, providing Broadway, off-Broadway, and experimental shows in appropriate venues.
Creation of the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival has been fueled by millions of dollars of support from the local Emerson, Stardust, Schwartz Family, and Allyn foundations, along with individual donors. With a mission of using the arts to generate economic growth across the region, the festival and its philanthropic backers have long-term plans to build an additional theater in the heart of Auburn, and to collaborate with the local community college in expanding theater education for students. The festival is already collaborating with the many local wineries and hospitality businesses across the scenic Finger Lakes region to expand cultural tourism.
Leslie Wexner lived the immigrant dream. Born in Dayton of Russian parents, he majored in business at Ohio State University. He continued on to law school before deciding business was much more interesting. He dropped out, got a $5,000 loan from an aunt, and started a young women’s sportswear store in 1963. It eventually grew into Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, and other popular companies.
Wexner believed Ohio State University had a lot to do with his success. “Attending this university changed my life,” he said flatly. He made his first donation, $5, three years after getting his degree. In 1989, he gave $25 million to create the Wexner Center, a “research laboratory for all the arts” that university president Gordon Gee called “one of the crown jewels of Ohio State.” Wexner subsequently gave the center $50 million more, plus a $42 million Picasso painting.
In 2011, the Wexners pledged $100 million to expand Ohio State’s hospital, which serves a wide region while also training doctors (and where all four of the Wexner children were born). That brought the family’s total giving to the university to $200 million. Wexner also put in 16 years of service on the school’s board of trustees, while his wife was active on the medical-center board.
With the aim of encouraging cooperation between school districts and charter schools for the good of local children, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $25 million investment in seven lead cities in 2012. Their “Collaboration Compacts” require operators of different kinds of schools, local leaders, and community members to hammer out citywide agreements for sharing ideas, buildings, teacher training, school sign-up websites, assessment tests, and other resources between conventional district schools and charter schools. The Compacts in Philadelphia and Boston also fold the Catholic archdiocese schools into the mix.
The highest aim of the Compacts is to make it easy for families to find good options in their neighborhood. The idea is that authorities shouldn’t care what sector a child gets instructed in, so long as the youngster and his family are well served. In addition to the seven cities that divided this $25 million grant, Gates is offering financial support and leadership in other cities to encourage additional experimentation with Compacts.
The B612 Foundation was founded by an ex-NASA astronaut to study ways of deflecting or destroying asteroids with the potential to be dangerous if they strike Earth. Eventually, the nonprofit reached the conclusion that it was coming at the problem from the wrong end—because no one knows the location of every space rock big enough to do damage, and neither NASA nor any other government agency had a plan to map all of the asteroids that could endanger humans. So in 2012 the foundation shifted its mission: It would partner with space-imaging leader Ball Aerospace to design and launch its own space-based infrared telescope capable of scanning the solar system and identifying all objects whose size and orbit made them threats. Once that was done, deflection would be realistic.
The private spacecraft planned to do the job is priced at $450 million (about half what the government was going to spend in a failed project). Funding is being sought from hundreds of private donors, including leaders of major Silicon Valley companies, philanthropies like the William Bowes Foundation and Google.org, plus corporate matching funds from firms like Microsoft and Google. The project received a fresh boost in 2013 when a previously unknown meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,200 people.
In 2012, two major philanthropists—oil-and-gas pioneer George Mitchell and Wall Street entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg—announced a joint effort by their foundations to encourage safe and efficient production of natural gas via shale fracking. They proposed to head off problems through “common-sense” state rules and voluntary adoption of best practices by the industry. The two foundations put up millions of dollars for efforts to improve fracking by minimizing water concerns, reducing methane leaks, optimizing well construction, disclosing chemical usage, and reducing local impacts on roads, land, and communities.
In 2013, a related collaboration of philanthropic organizations, oil and gas companies, and environmental groups established a Center for Sustainable Shale Development. It set 15 voluntary standards for improving shale-gas production in the Appalachian region, and encourages drilling companies to earn certificates of operational excellence by meeting criteria monitored by an independent auditor. It is working with states to encourage sensible rules that will avoid environmental problems which could damage public support for hydraulic fracturing. The significance of these philanthropic assists can be seen against the fact that fracking has become one of the most consequential economic, environmental, and national-security innovations of our time—turning the U.S. into the world’s largest gas producer in 2010, and the world’s largest oil producer in 2013.
In 2010, a new method of solving social problems was proposed in Britain. It called for putting up philanthropic or private investment funds to create programs that could head off bad future outcomes that would carry social costs. If the interventions were successful in avoiding future problems, then some of the public money that consequently didn’t have to be spent on things like law enforcement or welfare programs would be shared with the program funders. This is called “pay-for-performance” social investing (or sometimes described misleadingly as a “social-impact bond”). If proven and refined over time, this could become a way for not only donors but also for-profit investors to apply the power of capitalism to the amelioration of social problems in efficient ways.
Not long after the debut of this idea in Britain, American social entrepreneurs and philanthropists imported it to the U.S. and began much more extensive testing of the concept. In 2012, Goldman Sachs put up $10 million to offer nonprofit services to New York City juvenile delinquents exiting Rikers Island prison, aiming to avoid future lockups by offering them help in finishing their education, finding jobs, and managing their lives. Bloomberg Philanthropies provided a financial guarantee of the invested funds.
While that project was not successful, other pay-for-performance experiments are currently being set up around the U.S. These include a Utah effort, using money from United Way of Salt Lake, Goldman Sachs, and philanthropist J. B. Pritzker to reduce spending on special-ed and other remedial schooling later in life by educating children in high-quality preschools. It was the first pay-for-performance test to pay off for its investors, though there is disagreement on how successful it was because the effort failed to include a control group against whom outcomes could be compared. There are efforts in Massachusetts to get chronically homeless individuals off the street, and to reduce recidivism among young released convicts. In California, the James Irvine Foundation and REDF (see 1997 entry) joined in an effort to reduce joblessness, and another pilot was launched to try to cut the social costs of treating children with asthma by managing the problem earlier. In 2014, 15 states were in the process of testing pay-for-performance ventures in collaboration with philanthropists and corporate social investors.
“We need to look into this,” said GE chairman Jeff Immelt in 2012. He was bothered by the elevated rates of unemployment among young men and women just leaving the U.S. military. He knew many of them had valuable technical skills. He also knew that his company and many others were finding it hard to hire skilled workers—fully 82 percent of manufacturers now say they can’t find adequate employees for all of their skilled production positions. Over the next decade, it is projected that America will have 2.6 million jobs for which there will be a shortage of workers with the necessary talents.
Mixing corporate philanthropy with corporate business-interest, GE thus launched its “Get Skills to Work Initiative.” The assignment was to unkink the talent pipeline so that a social problem (unemployed veterans) could be fixed at the same time as an economic problem (trained labor shortages). GE began at its aviation business in Cincinnati, and other corporations in the area were invited to join in—including Alcoa, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, plus nearly 30 of GE’s regional suppliers. The Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to improving U.S. factories, was brought in to connect veterans to the areas where these companies would be hiring in the near future.
A host of companies were subsequently recruited into the Get Skills to Work Coalition, which aims to take 100,000 veterans with useful technical abilities and certify them for civilian work, placing many of them immediately in jobs. Where needed skills are not already present among vets, training paths are being established between community colleges and manufacturers. Vets are being recruited to take part through social media and at a dedicated website.
America’s schools no longer compete just with each other; they must be measured against counterparts in other countries that are turning out inventors, workers, and citizens of the future. With this in mind, a donor-supported nonprofit called America Achieves has begun offering U.S. schools a chance to assess their students on today’s top international exam—the OECD Test for Schools. In 2012, funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Hewlett, Kern Family, Barrett, Stuart, and Rodel foundations made it possible for any U.S. school to participate in a pilot offering; 105 schools did. The results showed that most U.S. students now fall in the middle of the international pack in the amount of knowledge they have absorbed. Honest, fair, sobering results like this, some reformers believe, are essential if expectations for American schools are to be raised, and an accurate roadmap created of the sectors that are most potholed and dangerous.
With the 2012 experiment successfully completed, America Achieves and its donors are now making the OECD test available to any and every high school in the U.S. And schools that have had their student body assessed will have the opportunity to participate in a “Global Learning Network” where they can collaborate, learn from each other, and pull themselves up to international standards.
Concerned that the prevailing “factory model” of education doesn’t serve either students or teachers well, a group of reformers banded together in 2012 to encourage the personalization of schooling via computerized instruction blended with live tutoring from teachers meeting with small groups. With catalytic funding from philanthropist John Fisher, the group created a new way for donors to pool investments—called the Silicon Schools Fund—with the aim of providing the startup grants to found 25 new “blended-learning” schools in the Bay Area of California over a five-year period.
The fund assists school founders with initial planning and organization, and also supports entrepreneurs who can supply them with software, curricula, training, and other resources to help their students and teachers mesh online teaching with personal instruction. It then publicizes these schools as laboratories and models for the rest of the country. In addition to the Fisher family, ten other major givers joined as charter supporters of the $25 million effort, including Bruce and Martha Karsh, Sheryl Sandberg and David Goldberg, the Sobrato family, the Emerson Education Fund, the Schusterman and Schwab foundations, and others.
College students shelled out an average of more than $1,200 each for books and supplies in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the College Board. In many basic subjects like introductory economics, biology, and statistics, a single textbook can cost up to $200. A new philanthropic product is now changing that. OpenStax College, established at Rice University with philanthropic funding from the Arnold, Hewlett, Gates, Maxfield, and 20 Million Minds foundations, creates open-source, peer-reviewed textbooks for today’s most popular college classes and encourages professors to assign them so students can take advantage of their being free online and low-cost in print versions. Each title covers all the topics taught in a standard course, in the usual order, but professors who want to instruct somewhat differently can also customize the text to match their lessons. Thanks to a $6 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2013, OpenStax is now in the midst of doubling its offerings, with new textbooks in pre-calculus, chemistry, U.S. history, and psychology on the way. The initial goal is offering free texts for the nation’s 25 most-attended college courses. Creating each new textbook costs more than $500,000. But with strong donor support, and a distribution deal with the National Association of College Stores, OpenStax is on the way to its goal of supplying 10 million students with free or low-cost textbooks—saving them $750 million.
So-called “distance learning” has been available to disciplined students for generations, with instruction and degrees available by mail, television, even radio. The Internet, though, opened yawning opportunities for new forms of education that could be of a high quality yet much more accessible and lower in cost than traditional classroom education. The year 2012 was when Internet-based instruction developed some critical mass, as so-called MOOCs (massive open online courses) expanded beyond the confines of major universities and began to become widely available from specialized entities. Some of the leading ventures in online learning, like Coursera and Udacity, aspire to be profitmaking ventures; others like University of the People, EdX, and the Khan Academy are set up as not-for-profits. Donations from the Andrew Mellon, Hewlett, Gates, and MacArthur foundations, as well as donations from the philanthropic arms of companies like Google, helped launch entities of both sorts.
While several MOOCs quickly garnered millions of students, very low course-completion rates so far suggest that limited numbers of students will have the discipline and perseverance to work their way through free courses on their own. But for those who do (including many students in the developing world), online learning makes very high-level education accessible at little or no cost, without geographic barriers.
The Smithsonian Institution was a product of philanthropy (a bequest from James Smithson), and about 30 percent of its budget continues to come from private donations (which play a particularly large role in expansions and new initiatives). A major refresh of its National Museum of Natural History began in the late 1990s, sparking the largest gift to the museum to that point from Ken Behring, who rose from harsh poverty to riches by selling cars and then developing real estate. He donated $20 million to spearhead a massive renovation of Natural History’s ground floor, resulting in, among other things, a new Hall of Mammals which opened in 2003. (Behring later donated $80 million to revitalize the National Museum of American History, making him the Smithsonian’s largest private donor.)
The Museum of Natural History continued its upgrade with a subsequent $15 million gift from philanthropist David Koch, creating the David Koch Hall of Human Origins. Then in 2012 Koch donated an additional $35 million which will be used to remake the museum’s dinosaur hall, its most visited area. One of the highest priorities of museum officials, the dinosaur-hall funding will provide fresh displays and specimens, and allow obsolete interpretations to be updated with the newest information from the fast-changing science of dinosaur paleontology.
When John Nau was eight years old, his family visited a Civil War battlefield in Kentucky. Walking the contested land created a yearning in the boy and a fascination with history that never faded. He grew up to become CEO of the nation’s largest Anheuser-Busch distributor, a major donor to the University of Virginia, a philanthropic leader in historic preservation, and one of the nation’s most active donors to the protection of Civil War battlefields. He and his wife funded, for instance, the transformation of 90 acres of the Vicksburg siege site—where there were 20,000 American casualties—back to what they looked like at the time of the clash, allowing visitors to re-live the heat of the climactic battle. As a donor and volunteer with the Civil War Trust, Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, National Park Foundation, Texas State Historical Association, Gilder-Lehrman Institute, and other groups, Nau has donated and raised many millions of dollars to protect all sorts of hallowed grounds across the nation.