A Closer Look at Julian Robertson's Environmental Philanthropy

As we wrote recently, the billionaire Julian Robertson Jr.'s philanthropic operation is both complicated and not very transparent. The 82-year-old former investor and hedge fund manager has been at this for a while. He has $3.2 billion to his name and two outfits from which he does his giving: the Tiger Foundation, which is quite accessible to grantseekers, and the much bigger Robertson Foundation, which is not very accessible.

Robertson has a number of passions, including education and medical research, but we've invested the most energy so far in exploring his environmental philanthropy. Check out our analysis of the Robertson foundation's climate funding and also our look at its funding of work for marine conservation.

One of the key takeaways of this digging is that the Robertson Foundation prefers to work with top tier players. In 2012, the foundation doled out money to environmental heavyweights like Oceana, the largest ocean-conservation and ocean-advocacy organization in the world. Other big names that got grants that year include EarthJustice, the National Parks Conservation Association, the World Resources Institute and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Gifts to these organations ranged from $750,000 to $5.4 million. A year prior, EarthJustice also received $750,000 from Robertson and the Enivronmental Defense Fund received $10.5 million. 

A lot of Robertson's grants appear to be multi-year. His commitment to EarthJustice has been over a period of several years and he's given $2 million over the course of three years to Oceana.

Keeping with the international theme, New Zealand businessman and former University of Oxford vice-chancellor John Hood serves as CEO of the Robertson Foundation.

Getting a grant through the Robertson Foundation isn't easy. In addition to the foundation's preference for the big names, the foundation has a stringent vetting process for its grantmaking. Before they even consider a proposal, staff do a thorough "data driven scan of the area of interest," kind of like a market research or industry analysis report.

Perhaps things will change in time, however. Robertson still has a lot of money left to give and as a signatory of the Giving Pledge, most of his money is likely going to philanthropy. Our bet is that the environmental giving we've seen so far by Robertson is modest compared to what lies ahead. We also suspect that at some point this operation may need to expand and staff up to move more money out the door.

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