Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation is the philanthropic vehicle of William Oberndorf and his wife Susan. Much of the couple's philanthropy is focused in on the Bay Area, where the Oberndorfs have interests in education reform, health, policy, and more.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, Health, Environment, Arts & Culture, Policy, Human Services

IP TAKE: The foundation does not have much of a web presence or a clear way to get in touch with the couple.

PROFILE: Raised in Cleveland, William Oberndorf graduated from Williams College in 1975 and received his M.B.A. from Stanford Business School in 1978. Oberndorf cofounded the Mill Valley, California investment firm SPO Advisory Corp. Oberndorf retired from SPO and now manages Oberndorf Enterprises.   William Oberndorf and his wife Susan move their philanthropy through the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation, which unfortunately doesn't have much of a web presence, or a clear way to get in touch. In a recent year, however, the foundation held over $71 million in assets but gave away just $157,737. These figures were down from the previous years.

Much of the couple's grantmaking is centered around the Bay Area. The Oberndorfs have a big interest in education reform. While this philanthropy is national in scope, grants have also gone toward education in the Bay Area. In the early 1990s, Oberndorf co-founded the American Education Reform Foundation, whose purpose is to "promote, through legislative action, the granting of publicly funded scholarships that will allow primarily low-income parents to opt out of the public school system if it is not working for their children."

Education philanthropy in the Bay Area has involved SF School Choice Alliance, KIPP Bay Area Schools, which received a $10,000 grant in a past year, and Gateway Public Schools. Money has also gone to San Francisco Education Fund, whose mission is to "harnesses the power of the community to equip every public school student with the skills to succeed in college, career and civic responsibility," and BASIC Fund, which received a $101,000 grant. The BASIC Fund is a privately funded organization providing partial tuition scholarships to low-income families across the Bay Area.

Apart from K–12 education, millions have also streamed to various outfits associated with the University of San Francisco system, including the UCSF Foundation, which received around $3.3 million in a past year, and around $4.3 million in the year before that. Oberndorf is chairman of the University of California San Francisco Foundation. A steady stream of money has also gone to Stanford, where Oberndorf and Susan both graduated. Ina past year , more than $2 million went to Stanford.

Another interest of the couple in the Bay Area is health. Money has gone to Gladstone Institutes, "an independent and nonprofit biomedical research organization whose focus is to better understand, prevent, treat and cure cardiovascular, viral and neurological conditions," UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, Stanford School of Medicine, and Cancer Prevention Institute of California in Fremont. Cancer appears to be a particular interest of the couple, and it's worth mentioning that one of SPO's founders, William J. Patterson, passed away from a brain tumor. The foundation gave a headline-worthy $25 million grant to UCSF to advance psychiatry and neuroscience research.

Grantmaking has involved the environment, and money has gone to California Trout, a nonprofit "whose mission is to protect and restore wild trout, steelhead, salmon and their waters throughout California." Sums have also gone to Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, San Francisco Zoological Society, and San Francisco Parks Alliance, among others.

A component of the couple's philanthropy also involves arts and culture, and large sums have gone to California Academy of Sciences which was once chaired by Oberndorf's business partner William J. Patterson. In a past year, Oberndorfs gave California Academy of Sciences around $1.3 million. In another year, the outfit received $1.75 million. Other support includes grants to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Money has also gone to policy outfits such as Hoover Institution and Pacific Research Institute, "a nonprofit advocated for personal responsibility and individual liberty in national and state issues." As well, sums have gone to community and human services outfits such as San Francisco 49ers Foundation, San Francisco Food Bank, San Francisco Free Clinic, San San Francisco YMCA, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Meals On Wheels of San Francisco and the Tipping Point Community, a "nonprofit that fights poverty in the Bay Area." In a past year, a $100,000 grant went to Tipping Point Community.


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The Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation does not provide a clear avenue for getting in touch with the couple, but below is an address:

Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation

505 Sansome St., Ste. 1950

San Francisco, CA 94111