Another Day, Another Gift for a Campus Research Institute at an Elite University

The Robert and Lisa Margolis Family Foundation is one of those small private foundations that prefers to make an impact, not talk about it. You know the kind I’m talking about—no website, no social media presence, virtually no digital footprint whatsoever, just a couple of folks with a lot of money and a clear plan on what they want to do with that money.

A quick look at their past grantmaking reveals the main two things you need to know about Margolis funding priorities: It's heavily concentrated on Jewish life and healthcare. And although the foundation may prefer a more behind-the-scenes approach to its charitable giving, its latest gift has put it front and center.

Earlier this month, Duke University announced the creation of a new health policy center aimed at examining and implementing healthcare reform ideas. The center was formed thanks to a $16.5 million gift from the Robert and Lisa Margolis Family Foundation. It will be called the Duke-Robert J. Margolis, MD, Center for Health Policy.

The center will connect the intellectual resources at Duke with policymakers and policy analysts in the public and private sectors. Disciplines involved in the Duke-Robert J. Margolis, MD, Center for Health Policy include business, biomedical research, clinical care, public policy, global health, law and other areas.

A graduate of Duke medical school, Dr. Robert Margolis is the former managing partner and CEO of HealthCare Partners, a California-based medical group and independent physician association and management services organization. And While Margolis has kept a relatively low profile in the philanthropy world, he’s something of a rockstar in the healthcare community, serving on innumerable boards of healthcare groups.

With this gift, Margolis joins a growing list of philanthropists funding research institutions on elite college campuses and slapping their names on them. Remember that $100 million gift that established the University of Chicago’s new global conflict center? Or how about the $20 million gifted to Harvard Medical School to establish the Warren Alpert Foundation Discovery Fund for Immunologic Research? I could go on.


The center’s inaugural director will be Mark McClellan, a former FDA commissioner and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And that, right there, represents the power of big philanthropy tied to big-name institutions—not yet off the ground and already bringing in the big guns.