Family Interests, Family Giving: A Look Inside the Dalio Foundation

Ray Dalio, the enigmatic, transcendentally meditating leader of one, if not the, most successful hedge funds in the country, does not tend to brag or boast about, well, anything. Not about one of his funds earning 38 percent YTD a few years back, or about his net worth, which continues to grow by the minute. (Forbes' estimates his fortune at $14.4 billion.) Dalio has said that he hates media attention, a feeling that seems to spill over into his philanthropy. 

Being that Ray Dalio seems to be one of the more modest billionaires around, it isn’t surprising that he quietly funded the Dalio Foundation years ago. What is surprising, especially coming from a man who believes and practices what he refers to as "radical transparency," is the fact that information on the Dalio Foundation is really hard to come by. (See our full profile of Dalio and his philanthropy.)

Let’s talk about "radical transparency" for a minute. It’s really a simple concept of Dalio’s that is core to life at Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's biggest hedge funds. At Bridgewater, Dalio records every conversation and every employee is privy to those recordings. He expects his employees to speak their minds, no matter if they are speaking to an underling, a superior or to Dalio himself. He also expects his employees to give and receive criticism openly, and to think independently.

Comparatively, the Dalio Foundation seems to be cloaked in a lead curtain, which poses challenges for grantseekers. 

The Dalio Foundation had nearly $600 million in assets at the end of 2012, but that figure may well be much greater now, since Dalio has been putting new funds into the foundation in recent years. Likewise, while the foundation dispersed around $30 million in 2012, it may well have given more in 2013.

The foundation doesn't have a website, so the best info comes from its most recent 990. There, Ray Dalio is listed as the foundation’s president, his sons Devon and Matt Dalio are both listed as vice presidents and Ray’s wife, Barbara, serves as the foundation’s director. We offer a detailed rundown of where the foundation's money has gone in recent years in our profile of Dalio. It's a pretty big list, and appears to reflect the different passions of the family.

Ray sits on the board of Grameen America, so it's no surprise that the organization gets foundation money. Given his interest in mediation, it's also no suprise that the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education was one of the foundation's biggest grantees in 2012, and that big money has gone to other meditation groups. 

In addition, Ray cares a lot about the environment. He's "wild about the wild," as the Dalios phrased it in their Giving Pledge letter, and he is on the board of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), which has received serious Dalio Foundation money over the years. A number of other environmental or conservation groups have also received more modest funds at times. 

As for Barbara Dalio, the couple's giving letter said that she “gives particular attention to trying to help inner city education," and that interest can be seen in the foundation's major gifts to organizations like Achievement First, a network of public charter schools, which got $1 million in 2012, and Teach for America, which got $1.5 million that same year. 

Ray and Barbara also are responsive to urgent needs that arise, and made big humanitarian contributions following the earthquake in Haiti and, closer to home, Hurricane Sandy. In addition, they are big local givers, supporting a wide range of organizations in Connecticut. 

Their son Matt Dalio is a Harvard graduate with a Stanford MBA who founded a nonprofit that cares for Chinese orphans, the China Care Foundation. The Dalio Foundation has awarded grants to Matt's group, but also other charities in China such as Children for China Pediatrics Foundation and the China Foundation for disabled persons. 

As far as Devon Dalio goes, there isn’t much information out there about him. He works at Bridgewater and was listed as "self-employed/trainer" in 2008 on various political campaign contribution lists. (John McCain, by the way, was the politician he was supporting.)

The last person worth mentioning here is Kevin Ashley, the Special Projects Coordinator at the Dalio Foundation and the foundation’s highest paid employee. Ashley is a dropout from the finance world who's been helping the Dalios give away money since 2008. Ashley also serves on the board of the Richard and Barbara Whitcomb Foundation, Hope for Haiti and Grace Community Church, all of which have received Dalio Foundation support.

We expect Ashley is a pretty busy guy, given that the Dalio Foundation makes scores of grants every year, and yet the staff seems to be very minimal. (Only two staff are listed at all on the 990 for 2012.)

Of course, all this activity by the Dalio Foundation is just a warm-up for bigger things to come. Meeting the Giving Pledge is going to require that the family start writing much bigger checks sooner rather than later.