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The Top 10 Hedge Fund Philanthropists


Late last summer, a hedge fund legend passed away and a new era dawned for the philanthropies created by the industry’s billionaire winners.

Julian Robertson, who was 90, was called by some the “father of the modern hedge fund.” He was also a father, of sorts, to hedge fund philanthropy. Along with fellow industry icons like George Soros and Jim Simons, he was one of the first to establish a substantial foundation, and like those two, his lead helped inspire many of his former charges to set up their own philanthropic shops. Renaissance Technologies, Simons’ fund, has a similar track record.

With its founder gone, the Robertson Foundation will now pass into the hands of his children in what will be the first of many such transitions among hedge fund philanthropists. Soros is 92, Simons is 84 and most of their philanthropic descendants are in their late 60s and early 70s. It may unfold slowly, but a great transfer of hedge-fund-enabled philanthropic power is underway.

How much money and influence are we talking about? To get a sense, I’ve assembled a list of the 10 most significant hedge fund philanthropists based on their total foundation grantmaking in 2020, the most recent year (whether calendar or fiscal) for which data was available. 

This group granted more than $2.8 billion that year, half of that from Soros alone, and that total likely underestimates their actual philanthropic muscle. Many also direct awards through donor-advised funds, LLCs and other less transparent avenues. The hedge fund world is overwhelmingly dominated by men, but in several cases, these foundations are informed or primarily guided by spouses, who are included in each entry.

Due to the delayed availability of grantmaking numbers, it’s not a perfect ranking, and there may well be other contenders out there that we don’t know about yet. It’s also a list that will be very much in flux in coming years. This period of transition is a microcosm of the country’s so-called great wealth transfer — baby boomer billionaires leaving their wealth to Gen Z and millennial children. That has traditionally meant new grantmaking approaches and emphases. Philanthropies run by children of this group, like the Heising-Simons Foundation, run by Jim Simons’ daughter and her husband, give a first glimpse of those possible shifts.

This transition is also a stress test of these billionaires’ pledged generosity. Robertson and Simons are both Giving Pledge signatories, while others have publicly pledged to give most or all of their wealth to charity. Future tax filings will reveal whether they and their heirs follow through. Even donors like Robertson, who was a relatively active philanthropist and Giving Pledge enthusiast, died with a reported fortune of nearly $5 billion.

As such, I would not call this a “most generous” list. In my eyes, generosity should be measured not by the size or volume of a philanthropist’s checks, but how any giving stacks up against each person’s ability to give. Some of those named here stand out for sending much of their known wealth to philanthropy, such as George Soros and John Arnold. Others, however, have contributed only a small fraction of their reputed fortunes. That said, maybe they will catch up in the years ahead.

I would call this list, like nearly all philanthropic rankings we do here at IP, a snapshot of power. Most named here are the sole members of their foundations’ boards or share authority only with spouses, children or long-time employees. They make the final calls on what to support and what to ignore. They may see their philanthropy as selfless, but their personal inclinations loom large — many back universities they attended, museums and hospitals in their home cities, and research into diseases that have impacted their lives. Each is bankrolling the leaders and visions of the future that appeal to them.

With all that said, here are the 10 biggest hedge fund grantmakers. Usual caveats apply. Philanthropic couples are listed, but counted as one entry since they give together. The grantmaking and endowment totals are from tax filings, except where noted with an asterisk, in which case they are self-reported.

George Soros

Infamously known as “the man who broke the Bank of England” for a winning bet against the British pound, Soros ran one of the most successful hedge funds in history until 2011, when he converted to a family office. Stanley Druckenmiller, who is also on this list, once worked for him. Soros’ globe-spanning philanthropy and hefty political contributions have led to widespread conspiracy theories about the Hungarian-American, including many invoking or feeding into anti-semitic tropes. Those false charges to some extent crowd out legitimate criticism of his influence.

In 2020, his grantmaking was overwhelmingly focused on global issues and the United States, each of which received more than $400 million in grants. OSF maintained smaller portfolios in Africa, as well as in Europe and Central Asia, among other locations. The foundation is known for supporting human rights and democracy around the globe, often working in countries and with groups that other philanthropies will not. Since 2016, his philanthropic giving has risen more than 20% annually.

C. Frederick Taylor and Andrew Shechtel

OK this one’s a little confusing. These business partners are grouped together here because it’s not clear how much each contributes to Wellspring, which receives all of its contributions via LLCs. The cofounders of TGS Management are easily the most secretive members of this list. In 2014, Bloomberg News revealed this pair, along with since-deceased co-founder David Gelbaum, as the donors behind what is now Wellspring, yet little is known about either.

Wellspring is one of the nation’s largest human rights and social justice funders. Some of its largest grants in 2020 went to the American Jewish World Service, League of Conservation Voters, Human Rights Watch, and Center for American Progress. Sequoia, which appears to be backed solely by Taylor, had not yet started funding in 2020. But many of Wellspring’s awards that year mirror Sequoia’s later grantmaking, such as big gifts to the European Climate Foundation and Australia-based Sunrise Project.

Learn more: There’s a New Giant in Climate Change Philanthropy. Here’s Everything We Know So Far

Jim and Marilyn Simons

Trained as a mathematician at MIT and UC Berkeley, Jim Simons founded Renaissance Technologies, which one study found achieved scarcely believable 66% annualized returns over three decades. As one academic put it, a $100 investment 31 years ago would now be worth $400 million. That success has put more than one philanthropy in business. The Simonses’ two children also run foundations that rank among the country’s 100 largest: Heising-Simons Foundation and Sea Change Foundation.

The Simons Foundation is known for its focus on basic science. Founded by Jim and his wife, Marilyn, who is the former president of the philanthropy, it now has a wide-ranging, 10-member board of directors. In 2020, life sciences, mathematics and physical sciences each received a little more than a third of all funding. Autism research and outreach and education were the other two major causes. The foundation also has a large programming budget, spending an additional $82 million in 2020, largely due to its own in-house research center, the Flatiron Institute.

Learn more: The Simons Foundation Has a New President for the First Time in Its History. Where’s It Headed Next?

John and Laura Arnold

Since retiring at 38, former trader John Arnold has focused on philanthropy, alongside his wife, Laura, a former corporate lawyer. The couple are the only ones on this list whose public philanthropic vehicle is an LLC, which combines three entities: the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a donor-advised fund and political giving group. 

The pair have their philanthropic fingers in a lot of pies. They have received a lot of press for their criminal justice work, but other top priorities include health, education and public finance. The LLC also has sizable portfolios in climate and energy, democracy and journalism, among other topics. The outfit is known for an evidence-based approach that strives, as its name suggests, to take a venture approach to funding. 

Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller

Stanley Druckenmiller, who converted his hedge fund to a family office more than a decade ago, carries out his philanthropy with his wife, Fiona, an investment analyst turned gallery owner. The couple run a low-profile, low-overhead operation — no website, no listed staff and very low expenses. The couple’s foundation tends to make big awards, with an average grant size of $2.1 million. Most of the foundation’s checks go to groups in New York, where the couple live and work, and Pittsburgh, where Stanley has roots. 

As I covered in a recent profile, the couple’s funding has often favored the Druckenmillers’ alma maters — NYU, Bowdoin, the Spence School — and established organizations, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering and the Environmental Defense Fund. Its biggest checks, however, have supported economic opportunity, with major gifts in 2020 and other recent years to Harlem Children’s Zone and the antipoverty collaborative Blue Meridian Partners.

Learn more: A Q&A With Stanley Druckenmiller on Priorities, Big Bets and Feeling “Incredibly Privileged”

Steven and Alexandra Cohen

The founder of SAC Capital Advisors, which shuttered after the firm pleaded guilty to fraud and paid $1.8 billion in settlements, now manages his fortune via a family office called Point72. His wife, Alexandra, serves as president of their philanthropy as well as the Amazin’ Mets Foundation, which the couple started after buying the New York Mets for $2.4 billion in 2020.

The couple’s foundation focuses on children and underserved communities, as well as a smaller arts portfolio, and minor psychedelics and sustainability programs. In 2020, big checks went mainly to New York institutions like Presbyterian Hospital, MOMA and Columbia University. The foundation’s largest donation of all, $38 million, went to the Cohen Veteran Network, a veterans’ mental health group founded by Steven after his son was deployed to Afghanistan. Lyme disease, which Alexandra had a bout with in 2009, is another focus.

Stephen Mandel, Jr. and Susan Mandel

This “Tiger Cub” and founder of Lone Pine Capital is one of the lower-profile members of this list — and his Zoom Foundation is the least transparent. Over the past decade, 99.9% of its funding has gone to a donor-advised fund. Such accounts are not required to disclose their grantees, nor do they face a deadline to distribute funding. 

Yet there are clues to what Mandel and his wife, Susan, support. Online acknowledgements of the couple and the foundation suggest a fairly standard portfolio. Major grants go to big institutions: Environmental Defense Fund, Teach for America and Blue Meridian, the antipoverty intermediary popular among billionaire donors. Smaller awards go to schools, museums, arts groups and others in New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, where the foundation is headquartered. 

Learn more: This Hedge Fund Billionaire’s Foundation Is a Black Box. Here’s What We Know About His Giving

Ray Dalio

The founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund, does his giving through multiple vehicles: Dalio Foundation, Dalio Family Fund and individual gifts (not covered here). His philanthropies maintain a wide range of portfolios, funding work on education, oceans, technology access, health, economic opportunity, arts, and causes in China.

In 2020, some of its largest grants went to Woods Hole Oceanographic Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Stanford and Harvard. There are also choices very specific to Dalio. One big award went to the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which teaches transcendental meditation. The financier is a vocal fan

John Paulson

The Paulson Family Foundation’s 2020 funding does not technically make the cut for this list, but that’s only because of its see-saw grantmaking approach, so we’ve included Paulson on the list. For example, it gave out $182 million in 2018, most of it in a $150 million award to Harvard. (Paulson was widely criticized for a $400 million gift to the university in 2015.) Ultimately, Paulson’s philanthropy is required to pay out 5% of its assets annually just like every other foundation, so it must award an average of $85 million a year, which puts it in line with others on this list. 

The foundation has historically given heavily to educational institutions, such as NYU and the private Spence School in Manhattan. Health and Jewish causes are also favored. More than half of grants are within New York City, including to cultural institutions like Metropolitan Museum, the School of American Ballet, and the Central Park Conservancy.

A look at the philanthropic legacy of Julian Robertson 

The founder of Tiger Management passed away late last year. Robertson also mentored a generation of investors, known as “Tiger Cubs,” who have started their own philanthropies, including one member of this list. 

Robertson’s foundation is in transition, but does not expect to change its core priorities: education, environment and medical research. It has made early bets on now-major groups, like Teach for America and KIPP, whose leader the foundation hired as its new president. But the foundation also backs established groups. In 2020, some of its largest checks went to the Environmental Defense Fund, the New York Stem Cell Foundation and Success Academy Charter Schools, all long-running grantees.

Learn more: With Its Founder Gone and a New Leader in Place, the Robertson Foundation Is Set to Evolve

Did I miss someone? Let me know: michaelk@insidephilanthropy.com.

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