Marion and Herb Sandler established the Sandler Foundation in 1991.
In 2006, prior to the closing of the sale of Golden West, the Sandlers contributed approximately $1.3 billion to the Foundation, which was the second largest American charitable contribution of 2006. The Sandlers are committed to giving away their wealth to philanthropy, and have participated in the Giving Pledge initiative organized by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.
The Sandlers have applied the same business-oriented discipline to their philanthropic endeavors, including conducting extensive due diligence to identify gaps and evaluate the potential for impact, the opportunities for leverage, and the quality of management. The foundation has focused on a relatively small number of areas with relatively large grants, and has been willing to take risks and make bold strategic investments.
A 2008 article in The New York Times entitled “Self-Made Philanthropists” captured the foundation’s grantmaking philosophy when describing the Sandler’s decision to launch ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism newsroom led by former Wall Street Journal editor Paul Steiger: “They chose a path … that few other philanthropists had trod. Rather than give money to someone who approached them, they did the approaching. Rather than finance an organization that already existed, they started their own outfit. They found a star to run it. They seemed almost to relish the thought that they risked failure with this new, unproven model of journalism, though if truth be told, they don’t think they’ll fail. And they gave a lot of money — $30 million for the first three years, with the expectation of continuing that commitment, if not more, for years to come.”
Overall, the foundation has contributed more than $600MM to various initiatives, including the following:
- The foundation has contributed more than $100 million to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), including the Program for Breakthrough Biological Research, a program that challenges UCSF scientists to pursue basic science projects that are creative, risky and transformative; the Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center, an investigative unit dedicated to basic discovery in asthma research; support for neurosciences facilities and groundbreaking research; and a research effort focused on third world parasitic diseases.
- The foundation has contributed more than $100 million to support highly innovative research in asthma since 2000. Marion’s insight was to attract outstanding scientists from non-asthma fields to study asthma, which has resulted in hundreds of scientists and postdoctoral research associates reorienting their research to study a chronic disease that affects 25 million Americans. The American Asthma Foundation research program has already produced dozens of major advances in understanding or treating asthma, including fourteen that have drawn support from the biotech and pharmaceutical industries and five that have advanced to clinical trials.
- In addition to starting ProPublica, the foundation helped start the Center for American Progress, a think tank launched by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta; the Center for Responsible Lending, an organization that protects homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial practices; and the Human Rights Center and Center for Equitable Growth at UC Berkeley.
- The foundation has helped catalyze the expansion and/or improved operating capacity of a number of nonprofit organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the American Constitution Society, MDRC, the PICO National Network, the National Center for Youth Law, Oceana, the Public Library of Science, and others. The foundation is also providing catalytic funding to support the establishment of the Stanford University Clinical Excellence Research Center and its mission to design and test innovative ways to provide high-quality health care at lower cost.
- The foundation has supported various other projects, including to increase critical thinking and equity in the nation’s schools, to improve credit card standards and transparency (with the Pew Charitable Trusts), to reduce central line infections in hospitals nationwide, to combat climate change and to protect marine life and coastal lands in Baja California.
Additional information about the Sandler Foundation can be found at www.sandlerfoundation.org.