How Will Gordon Gund's $50 Million Blindness Pledge Affect His Other Giving?

Last week, the Gordon and Llura Gund Foundation pledged an ambitious $50 million matching gift to the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Heard of it? It’s essentially the ambitious couple’s nestling, the foundation they established when Mr. Gund lost his sight and have nursed toward big breakthroughs for forty years.

Now that the FFB is precipitously close to those breakthroughs, with 20 clinical trials on rare retinal degenerative diseases ready to launch, the Gunds are stepping up. Partly, it’s a way to get more press, and more contributions for the donations-driven FFB, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. But what does this big commitment mean for the Gordon and Llura Gund Foundation’s other philanthropic interests? Specifically, the arts, the environment, and autism?

Well, it means they’ll be cooling it for a little while. “We want to be responsible for this challenge that we’re going into,” Gordon Gund told me on Monday. “While we’ll continue some other giving beyond this, we’ll mostly wait until we know where we are on this and where we’re going.”

Translation: if this bid is successful, and the FFB gets its donations, Gund’s down $50 million. It’ll be a hit he can bounce back from. He’s given over $130 million to the FFB since its inception, after all. If, on the other hand, this grand bid flops, Gund may end up having to pay for those 20 clinical trials himself, and that’s where things could get sticky.

As I said, this foundation is his baby. The guy went blind at age 30, for crying out loud, and while he gradually lost his sight, there was nothing anyone could do for him. Can you imagine? Oh, you’re going blind from retinitis pigmentosa? That’s too bad. Fortunate enough to be in the financial position to change the world, all Mr. Gund wants to do is spare others the same painful fate.

A person who comes down with a retinal degenerative disorder wants there to be treatments available. Even experimental ones. “I’m happy to say the FFB has built the critical base of scientific knowledge about retinal degenerative diseases,” says Gund. “It was an awful lot like building the base of a pyramid. Now we’re bringing [these treatments] out of the lab and into the clinic, so we need to put a lot of money into that.”

Exactly. If Gund’s bid flounders, there’s no way he’s going to let these promising trials fizzle. He’ll find the money to make them a reality, some way, some how. Even if he has to pay for them himself.