Danielle Steel

NET WORTH: $310 million, estimated

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Best-selling author

FUNDING AREAS: Mental health, Homelessness

OVERVIEW: Much of writer Danielle Steel's philanthropy is personal. She lost her son Nick when he was in his teens. Nick suffered from manic depression and committed suicide. Steele set up a foundation in the wake of his death called the Nick Traina Foundation, which funds organizations that provide treatment and therapy to the mentally ill, with focuses on young people, child abuse and suicide prevention. A second Steel philanthropic organization, the Yo Angel! Foundation, helps homeless people in San Francisco.

BACKGROUND: Danielle Steel was born in New York City, but spent much of her early childhood in France. She began writing poetry as a teenager, and graduated from Lycee Francais de New York in 1965, then attended Parsons School of Design, and New York University. She began writing her first manuscript at 19, shortly after her marriage to first husband Claude-Eric Lazard. After the birth of their daughter, she became a copywriter for an advertising agency. She divorced from Lazard nine years later and shortly before the divorce was finalized, published her first novel, Going Home. She married several times more, as she continued to publish novels and a book of poetry. Steel has written some 100 novels, and more than a dozen children's books.


MENTAL HEALTH: Like a lot of health philanthropy, Steel's mental health funding is personal. The Nick Traina Foundation was founded in 1998 by Steel after her son Nick lost his life to manic depression, when he committed suicide. The foundation funds organizations that provide treatment and therapy to the mentally ill, focusing on young people, child abuse, and suicide prevention. In recent years, the foundation has made around $200,000 in grants annually, with San Francisco organizations being the main beneficiaries. In life, Nick was a singer and musician, and the foundation now funds a scholarship at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in Nick’s name. Grantees include Access Institute for Psychological Services, which offers low- or no-fee psychological services; Adolescent Counseling Services; San Francisco Suicide Prevention; and Huckleberry Youth Program, a community-based agency serving young people at risk from drug and alcohol addiction, physical and sexual abuse, emotional or physical illness, and other issues. Individual grants rarely exceed $100,000.

Other grantees include St. Mary's Medical Center Foundation for an adolescent psychiatric unit, St. Vincent School for Boys, George Washington University towards an anti-suicide program, as well as MusiCares, NARSAD, and the National Mental Health Association.

HOMELESSNESS: About two years after Nick passed, Steel founded Yo Angel! with an outreach team to serve the homeless, and reach out to them where they are. With vans full of supplies, Steel and her team have delivered help in the form of form of clothing, tools, bedding, food, and hygiene supplies. 

LOOKING AHEAD: Steel's philanthropy is pretty focused, and personally motivated, suggesting she will stick to her wheelhouse. On the other hand, a large fortune is waiting in the wings here. It is worth mentioning that Steel operated an art gallery for several years, and these days has served as a guest curator.