NET WORTH: $90 million (estimated)
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Producer/Animator, SpongeBob SquarePants; United Plankton Pictures
FUNDING AREAS: Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Human Services
OVERVIEW: Stephen and Karen Hillenburg move their philanthropy through the United Plankton Charitable Trust, which has given under $500,000 annually of late. The couple focuses on arts and education in Southern California.
BACKGROUND: Born in Oklahoma and raised in Anaheim, Stephen Hillenburg was fascinated by the ocean and art as a child. He attended Humboldt State University and received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Before creating animated television phenomenon SpongeBob SquarePants , he served as marine biology teacher. In 2017, Hillenburg announced he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Hillenburg and his partner Karen, a chef who teaches at the New School of Cooking, reside in San Marino, California.
ARTS AND CULTURE: The Hillenburgs’ grantmaking has invested in a variety of large, established organizations and mid-sized ones. Past grantees include the Armory Center for the Art, KCRW, LACMA, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Pasadena Art Alliance, and Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS) an organization that advocates for the "creation, presentation, and recognition of experimental art and sound practices in the Greater Los Angeles area." Involved with SASSAS, Karen prioritizes supporting creative exploration, innovation and experimentation.
EDUCATION: The Hillenburgs invest in a variety of education-related organizations. They have invested in universities, K-12, and similar organizations on a mission to support learning. Past grantees include CalArts, the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, the Polytechnic School in Pasadena, the Boys and Girls Club of Pasadena and the UCLA Foundation.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The Hillenburgs largest areas of grantmaking cover women’s reproductive health, as well as national health organizations. Past grantees include Planned Parenthood, the MS Society, the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, and the IGN Foundation, which supports research into Oligo tumors, a rare type of brain tumor. A 2015 grant supported My Friend’s Place, which provides services for homeless youth in Los Angeles.
OTHER: The family has supported Liberty Hill Foundation, a social justice organization that focuses on Los Angeles communities.
LOOKING FORWARD: For now, expect the couple's Southern California focus to continue, The United Plankton Charitable Trust’s assets have increased year over year. In 2017, Hillenburg announced that he was diagnosed with the neurogenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which may emerge as a strong interest in this couple's giving in coming years.
The United Plankton Charitable Trust does not provide a clear avenue for getting in touch with the couple, but below is an address:
United Plankton Charitable Trust
11400 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 590
Los Angeles, CA 90064