Public Policy & Social Science

Schools and academic programs devoted entirely to public policy are relatively new institutions. Fifty years ago, there were only a handful of such programs; now there are dozens, with new schools being founded every few years. Over the past decade, hundreds of millions of dollars have been gifted to universities to bolster existing policy programs or create new ones. Following a larger trend in higher education (even at public schools), public policy research and practice, once supported by substantial public spending, increasingly relies on philanthropy from the private sector. 

Public policy schools are unique in their ability to appeal to a wide range of disciplines: Health, law, foreign relations, leadership, education, economics, and even philanthropy itself are just a few of the subjects examined under the lens of public policy. As a result, donors from all kinds of backgrounds are interested in giving to public policy schools.

Who's Giving

Graduates of public policy programs who dedicate themselves to public service or policy analysis aren't typically rolling in money. But there have been numerous multimillion-dollar donations to public policy schools over the past few years, and indeed, these big gifts came from alumni working in the private sector, primarily in finance or industry. While public policy schools draw primarily from alumni, few of these donors actually graduated from their alma mater's public policy program.

Many donors talk about their dedication to good citizenship and public service. With a major gift to a public policy program, donors hope to support the next generation of public leaders and do-gooders. Other donors have more specific aims. With public policy programs covering such a wide range of fields, many donors create institutes or supporting programs devoted to a field of policy studies related to their professions:

    • Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, an investor, gave $500 million in 2016 to his Berggruen Institute a think tank he created in 2010 to address governance issues and the culture and philosophies behind political systems. While the institute is a stand-alone organization based in Los Angeles, it works closely with major universities such as Stanford and others inChina and the United Kingdom to administer its global fellowships.
    • Anne McNulty, a former Goldman Sachs partner, gave $10 million n to establish the Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program at Wharton.
    • University of Connecticut alumnus Gary Gladstein, his wife Phyllis, and billionaire George Soros gave a combined $4 million recently to University of Connecticut toward that university's Human Rights Institute.
    • Peter S. Kalikow, president of a real estate firm, gave $10 million to Hofstra University to the fund the new Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs.
    • John P. Birkelund, former chair of Dillon, Read & Co.,  recently gave $5 million to establish the Program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
    • Jon M. Baker Sr., founder and CEO of International Planning Group, a global life insurance broker, gave $10 million to Georgetown University to establish the Baker Center for Leadership and Governance within the McCourt School of Public Policy
    • Jeff Aronson, cofounder of Centerbridge Partners L.P., and his wife Shari recently gave $10 million to Johns Hopkins University to create an international studies center bearing their name.
    • Silicon Valley investor Bob King and his wife Dottie gave $21 million to Dartmouth to continue supporting the King Scholar Leadership Program, which provides scholarships to students from developing nations.
    • Billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife Ann recently gave their mutual alma mater Rice University $50 million to a new Doerr Institute for New Leaders.

    In recent years, several new public policy centers have been created by large individual gifts.

    1. Georgetown's McCourt School of Public Policy: Frank H. McCourt Jr., a real estate developer and former owner of the L.A. Dodgers, gave $100 million to Georgetown University to create the McCourt School of Public Policy, established in October of this year. It was the largest single donation in Georgetown's history. McCourt's gift will transform the Georgetown Institute of Public Policy into a school of public policy. After graduating from Georgetown with a degree in economics in 1975, McCourt sat on the university's board from 2005 to 2011. The school will specialize in formulating and analyzing policy based on big data through the creation of a Massive Data Institute.
    2. Hofstra's Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs: The school, named for the real estate mogul who gave $10 million, will help students prepare for their future as "informed and responsible citizens of their local, national, and global communities through engagement with the rigorous intellectual traditions of social scientific inquiry in disciplines such as anthropology, global studies, and sociology."
    3. Pennsylvania's Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics: The University of Pennsylvania is currently developing the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, thanks to a $25 million gift from philanthropist and alumnus Ronald O. Perelman. Creating the center underscores Perelman's "deeply held belief that our next generation must be given the tools to not only understand but positively impact government and the increasingly complex global economy.”
    4. University of New Hampshire's Carsey School for Public Policy: A new public policy school was also launched at the university with a $20 million gift from television producer and alumna Marcy Carsey who wanted a school that, in her words, "will educate and invigorate young people to serve," based on interdisciplinary policy research. This isn't Carsey's first public policy gift: In 2002 she gave UNH $7.5 million to create the Carsey Institute for  policy research on vulnerable children, youth, and families.

     A few other big policy gifts we've uncovered from the past few years:

    • In 2015, Steven J. Green, along with his wife Dorothea and daughter Kimberly, gave $20 million to Florida International University's international and public affairs program to support academic research and public affairs initiatives focused on "transnational studies, international institutions and security policy in the Americas."
    • Billionaire David Rubenstein, founder of the Carlyle Group, has given big to both Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and, more recently, Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. After graduating from Duke, Rubenstein began his career as a policy advisor to President Carter, and though he never attended Harvard himself, in 2004 he gave $10 million to the Kennedy School in largely unrestricted funding. Four years later, he gave another $5 million to Kennedy to help bridge the public/private divide by offering scholarships to dually enrolled Kennedy and Harvard Business School students. In 2009 he gave $5.75 million to the Sanford School, which was followed by another $10 million gift.
    • In 2011, the University of Southern California's school of public policy received $50 million through the Price Foundation on behalf of Sol Price, an industrialist and philanthropist, to create a public policy school bearing his name. 

    Who's Getting

    While most colleges and universities politics courses, the number of schools devoted entirely to public policy is pretty small. All the programs we've reviewed are part of university systems. 

    Major Universities

    The most prestigious policy schools got the big bucks — Harvard's Kennedy School, Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Duke's Sanford School, Northwestern's Kellogg School, and Georgetown's McCourt School. 

    Fundraising efforts at USC's Price School have been particularly lucrative over the past few years. In addition to the $50 million from Sol Price, USC also received:

    • $25 million from Leonard Schaeffer, CEO of the country's largest health insurance company by membership, to create the Leonard Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics,
    • A commitment of $20 million from Arnold Schwarzenegger to create a policy institute bearing his name, and
    • An endowment of $10 million from David Dollinger, the real estate magnate, for the newly named Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development program.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Here are some additional major gifts organized by category:


    • Lisa and Douglas Goldman gave $2.5 million to Berkley's prestigious Goldman School of Public Policy for a new building. 

    Scholarships and Fellowships

    • The late industrialist James R. Russell gave $17 million to establish the Russell Fellowship program for masters-level students at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, which includes generous need-based scholarships. 
    • Ralph and Linda Eads contributed $2.5 million for scholarships and undergraduate research at Duke's Sanford School.

    Endowed Professorships

    • Oil and gas investor Osman Shahenshah gave $1 million to endow a professorship in energy policy.
    • Former U.S. diplomat Donald Mchenry donated $3 million to create a visiting professorship in diplomacy and international affairs at Illinois State University.
    • Allen and Lee Sinai contributed $1.5 million to endow a professorship in macroeconomics at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy.

    What Are the Gifts for?

    The biggest gifts in recent years have gone to creating new policy schools or centers within existing schools, but there have also been numerous gifts to establish endowed scholarships, internships, and professorships.

    Many donors discuss the need for better, more informed civic engagement and stronger public leaders, but recognize the income disparities between those who work in the public and private sectors (i.e., between those who study policy and others who study business). The rise of unpaid internships seems to be another concern for donors; many are setting up fellowships that include stipends for internships once classes are out. Student financial support is a major component of gifts for public policy. 

    How the Gifts Happen

    All the big policy gifts came from either alumni or individuals who have an intimate relationship with the recipient institution; a good example is David Rubenstein's giving to Harvard. Though he never attended, he told a crowd when announcing his $10 million gift to Harvard's Kennedy School, he felt a deep connection to Kennedy because he has had so many friends, relatives, and colleagues attended. 

    Frank McCourt's mega gift of $100 million to Georgetown was a gift nearly eight years in the making. Starting in 2005, McCourt sat on the university's board of directors, and it was at a board meeting in 2006 that Georgetown President John J. DeGioia first announced plans for a public policy school. McCourt says he was interested from that first announcement. DeGioia and McCourt both have interests in how the Internet and big data collection technologies can help shape public policy. According to McCourt, exploring these intersections between emerging technologies and public policy is what really got him excited about Georgetown. 

    In other cases, donors give to enhance the policy programs they created with earlier support.Marcy Carsey's $20 million gift to the University of New Hampshire illustrates that trajectory — she already set up a policy center at UNH in 2007, and her later gift was used to enlarge the program into a formal public policy school bearing her name.  

    What Strings Are Attached

    All of the large gifts we reviewed went towards scholarships, fellowships, buildings, or programs with a large number bearing the name of their respective donors. Getting one's name attached to a public policy school or initiative seems to be a big draw for donors. It's also clear donors want to support policy research related to their career interests. Those without a strong connection to the policy world want to make sure that the work their money supports is aligned with their interests. Two perfect examples occurred at the University of Southern California: Healthcare CEO Leonard Schaeffer created a Center for Health Policy and Economics there, while real estate developer David Dollinger endowed a master's program in Real Estate Development.

    Insights & Tips

    Giving to public policy schools — as evidenced by the creation of three major programs in a single year — is on the rise. While fundraisers at public policy schools should go after alumni or individuals with deep connections to their universities, the big money is coming from individuals at the intersections of policy and other fields. So courting individuals with prior policy experience can pay off. 

    And as Marcy Carsey’s $20 million gift illustrates, it’s vitally important to maintain good relations with these donors: The donors’  passionate interests in policy programs and research, especially when it bears a person’s name, can be parlayed into even larger repeat gifts.  

    Many donors give to policy schools and programs because it's a sort of double-duty philanthropy. Not only are the presently supporting educational institutions; they're giving to train the next generation of do-good public servants. And, based on the gifts we reviewed, these donors want people to know it — naming is a big attraction in policy philanthropy.