NET WORTH: $18 Billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Microsoft
FUNDING AREAS: Children and families, youth, Seattle community
OVERVIEW: Steve Ballmer has not been a high-profile philanthropist. But his wife, Connie Snyder Ballmer, is closely involved with the non-profit world, and the couple's efforts to help children and families offer a strong hint of where they may focus their philanthropy after Ballmer leaves Microsoft.
BACKGROUND: In August 2013, Ballmer announced plans to step down as Microsoft CEO in 12 months. It remains to be seen what his future involvement with the company will be, but if Bill Gates's departure before him is any indication, Ballmer is likely to focus on using his vast fortune to support philanthropic endeavors.
Not much is known about Ballmer's charitable giving, but the best hint of where he may focus his attention lies in the work that he and wife, Connie, have done to help children. Microsoft's corporate giving programs focused on youth, as well as Ballmer's personal history, may offer some indications of his future philanthropic priorities.
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 — by far their largest known charitable commitment. 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.
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 $6.5 billion in cash, services, and software to more than 62,000 non-profit organizations worldwide, including a record $900 million in giving in 2012. 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.
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. He also attended Detroit Country Day School and later Harvard University, so we may be seeing increasing gifts to these schools in the near future, perhaps involving scholarships, teaching endowments, or buildings, particularly in the areas of computer science and technology.
Ballmer also is known for his love of basketball. Prior to the Seattle Supersonics departing for Oklahoma City, he was part of a group that unsuccessfully tried to strike a deal to keep them in Seattle. More recently, he has attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to Seattle. Given his love of basketball, it would not be at all surprising to see Ballmer either start his own charitable program or donate to existing programs to bring basketball to youths in underserved communities, particularly in Seattle and Detroit.
Ballmer's fortune is some five times greater than the assets of the Rockefeller Foundation. It's the kind of money 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 space.
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