Pershing Square Foundation: New York City Grants

OVERVIEW: The Pershing Square Foundation was established in 2006 by hedge funder Bill Ackman and his wife Karen. The foundation has broad interests that include global issues, but the couple lives in New York City, which is a major focus of their giving.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, poverty, health, Jewish community, parks

IP TAKE: The Ackmans care deeply about education and poverty, but have been increasing their footprint in health. Don't look here for big money for cultural institutions. 

PROFILE: Billionaire Bill Ackman, the cofounder of Gotham partners and Pershing Square Capital Management, may not be a big name outside financial circles, but his philanthropy is growing. The Ackmans have been pouring more assets into the Pershing Square Foundation lately and stepped up its giving.  Areas of interest are arts & urban development, economic development, education, healthcare and justice, and all giving areas all under the umbrella of creating social change.

The Giving Pledge letter Ackman signed with his wife Karen explains some thinking about philanthropy. Ackman mentions that his father instilled in him the value of giving back. Ackman is also a believer in the ideas of John Rawls, who famously argued that we should all imagine we might have been born into any circumstances and organize society accordingly. 

The Pershing Square Foundation has grown from giving away only $500,000 in its first year of operation to giving away around $31 million in recent year and ending that year with over $99.5 million in assets. In recent years, this rapid growth has been facilitated by foundation CEO Paul Bernstein, who comes from the NGO world, and executive vice president Amy Herskovitz, Karen Ackman's sister, who has a background in social work.

In New York City, the Pershing Square Foundation has many cards in play. One of those is education. The foundation has been a steady funder of Minds Matter, a nonprofit helping low-income high school students get into college, which has received around $100,000 annually from Pershing Square over the past few years. The foundation has also funded iMentor, a mentorship program that pairs a college student with an at-risk high school student. Teach For America, which has a huge presence in New York City, has also received funding from Pershing Square in recent years. What's more, Bill Ackman is on the board of Boys & Girls Harbor, a performing arts nonprofit in Harlem. Boys & Girls Harbor has received $600,000 between 2011 and 2013 from the foundation.

The foundation has also been a consistent funder of several private and parochial schools in New York, including the Dalton School and the Cathedral School. Karen serves on the board of directors at Dalton. 

Another of the foundation's active areas is poverty and social justice. The Robin Hood Foundation has received funds, as have Big Brothers and Big Sisters and other organizations. Amy Herskovitz's background in social work surely comes in handy as the Pershing Square Foundation navigates this area of grantmaking. Looking beyond New York, Karen Ackman is on the board of directors of Human Rights Watch, and the Ackmans have also been backers of the Innocence Project.

While the Pershing Foundation isn't a huge funder of New York City museums or theaters, it's been a staunch supporter of the High Line, a hugely popular new elevated park in Chelsea. Karen Ackman, who is a landscape architect and artist, serves on the Friends of the High Line board of directors, toward which the foundation has doled out $5 million in past years. Bill Ackman, meanwhile, is deeply passionate about tennis. He once squared off against tennis legend Andre Agassi and regularly spars against George Soros and other billionaire pals. The foundation has been a consistent funder of New York Junior Tennis League.

The foundation has also recently been moving into health, specifically cancer funding. In 2013, the foundation gave to American Cancer Society. It has also given money to NYU Langone Medical Center and Yeshiva University. At the core of the foundation's health giving is the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance, established in 2013, which funds promising New York City cancer researchers.

Finally, it should be noted that while Ackman doesn't describe himself as deeply religious, he has been a strong supporter of Jewish causes in the city. He's given to UJA-Federation of New York, the Center for Jewish History, the Jewish Museum and aforementioned Yeshiva University.  

The important thing to remember in all of this is that Ackman is still a relatively young guy, and remains very focused on business. The giving he's doing now will likely pale in comparison to the giving he'll be doing later. 

PEOPLE:

  • Olivia Tournay Flatto, President
  • Georgia Levenson Keohane, Executive Director 
  • Christina Koury, Program Analyst

CONTACT:

Pershing Square Foundation
10 Melville Park Rd.
Melville, NY 11747
212-813-3700  
www.pershingsquarefoundation.org