Sandler Foundation: Grants for Disease

OVERVIEW: The Sandler Foundation invests heavily in asthma research as well as basic scientific research.

IP TAKE: In principle, the Sandler Foundation is open to new ideas and pitches. But it doesn't accept or respond to unsolicited requests for funding and is extremely selective about what initiatives it backs. While this is an important research funder to know about, most grantseekers are unlikely to get very far here.

PROFILE: Herb Sandler grew up in New Work and graduated from CUNY and then Columbia Law School in 1954. He worked as an attorney and met Marion Osher, the first female executive of the Wall Street firm Dominick & Dominick. The two married, moved to California and started Golden West Financial Corporation, an Oakland-based financial services company. The couple served as co-CEOs for more than 40 years before selling the company and walking away as billionaires. Marion passed away in 2012.

While the Sandler Foundation was founded in 1991, the bulk of its giving has taken place over the past decade. The Sandlers were early Giving Pledge signatories. One major area of Sandler philanthropy is medical and scientific research, specifically in neglected areas.

Asthma is a top giving priority for the foundation. It's a disease that affects 25 million Americans but isn't necessarily front and center in health philanthropy. For years, asthma research was something of a backwater in the medical research world. Early on, Marion realized that one way to make breakthroughs on this chronic disease was by courting exceptional scientists in non-asthma fields to study the disease.

Other priority topics of disease related grantmaking for Sandler includes neuroscience, parasitic diseases, and biomedical research with a focus on innovative basic science.

The Sandler Foundation describes itself as “a spend-down foundation and therefore act with urgency to make significant contributions that have both an immediate and lasting impact." And for the most part, it chooses to fund large, established organizations as well as those it has had a hand in creating, such as the American Asthma Foundation Research Program and the UCSF Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center. This leaves very little room for outsiders.

Anyone thinking about approaching the Sandler Foundation should closely read a document on its website that spells out its "Guiding Principles for Grants." This funder sets the bar very high and does not request nor respond to unsolicited funding requests.


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