NET WORTH: $27.8 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Microsoft
FUNDING AREAS: Children & Families, Education, Seattle Community
OVERVIEW: Steve Ballmer has not been a high-profile philanthropist. But his wife, Connie Snyder Ballmer, is closely involved with the nonprofit world, and the couple's efforts to help children and families offer a strong hint of where they may focus their philanthropy.
BACKGROUND: Ballmer grew up in Detroit, and attended Harvard, where he met Bill Gates. Dropping out of Stanford Business School to work for Microsoft, he eventually succeeded Bill Gates as the CEO, running the company from 2000 until February 2014. In May 2014, he had the opportunity to purchase the LA Clippers basketball team for $2 billion, and officially became the Clippers' owner in August. In 2015 Ballmer revealed that he had acquired a 4% stake in Twitter.
YOUTH & SEATTLE COMMUNITY: It's not surprising that Ballmer hasn't been deeply involved in philanthropy, given the demands of running Microsoft. However, Connie is another story. She has long been involved in non-profit organizations. Her biggest passion has been children, and after reading stories about kids lost in Washington's foster system, she played an instrumental role in founding a regional nonprofit, Partners for Our Children, in 2007. The Ballmers underwrote the group's creation with a $10 million donation. Connie serves on the board of the group, which seeks to improve the child welfare system in Washington state through a partnership between government, academics, and the private sector. Ballmer also started an organization called A Plus, which was initially accused of being a vehicle to get better basketball players into his son's school, but now offers academic and other support to well over 100 kids in more than 50 schools.
EDUCATION: Ballmer gave $50 million to the University of Oregon, half of which will be used to fund a financial aid program for low income students, with another $20 million going to its anti-obesity program. Harvard also recently received an estimated $60 million, which will be used to fund 12 new computer science professorships. The Ballmers contributed $11 million to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship partnership to fund scholarships for low- and middle-income students pursuing degrees in STEM and health care. A $20 million gift to University of Washington School of Social Work, meanwhile, brings the couple's support of the School of Social Work to $32 million in the past five years.
GIVING THROUGH MICROSOFT: Microsoft's philanthropy suggests that Ballmer is interested in helping young people. In 2012, Microsoft announced the largest philanthropic initiative in its history — a $500 million, three-year effort, called YouthSpark, to expand opportunities for global youth. In announcing YouthSpark, the company noted that "Today's young people face an opportunity divide — a gap between those who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful and those who do not." The initiative involves partnerships with nonprofits around the world with the goal, as Ballmer put it, of "connecting young people with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship."
Before launching YouthSpark, the Microsoft Foundation had already been keenly focused on young people, hosting the Imagine Cup, one of the world's most prestigious student technology competitions. Additionally, the foundation has a host of programs designed to give kids access to all sorts of technological resources to help them become innovators and leaders in their chosen fields. The Microsoft Foundation has given more than $8.5 billion in cash, services, and software to nonprofit organizations worldwide, including $1.1 billion in recent years. Much of this giving has been in the form of hardware and software that enables nonprofits to do their work more effectively. In addition to providing opportunities for children, the Microsoft Foundation focuses on the arts, drought relief in Africa, making technology accessible to seniors and those with special needs, and funding research to disrupt human trafficking.
LA CLIPPERS CHARITY: As part of Ballmer's deal to buy the Clippers, $200 million of the $2 billion price tag will be used to start a foundation co-chaired by Steve and the wife of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The foundation will support programs that benefit underprivileged families, battered women, minorities and inner city youths.
LOOKING FORWARD: Given this history, look for Steve Ballmer and his wife to do more — perhaps much more — in children's issues. Other hints about Ballmer's future philanthropy may lie in his background. Ballmer grew up in the suburbs surrounding Detroit and has lived much of his life in the Seattle area, so if there is a geographic focus to his giving, it will likely be in these areas. At almost $28 billion, Ballmer's fortune just keeps getting bigger, and is of a scale that allows for big, bold initiatives. If the Ballmers choose to focus on children and youth, they could be one of the largest givers in that area.