OVERVIEW: Founded by wealthy investment banker Julian Robertson in 1996, the Robertson Foundation is a major contributor to education nonprofits and schools, and the foundation has a particular interest in K-12 public education reform. Its overall giving approach is guided by surveying organizations, accessing whether goals can be met, and identifying successful approaches in each of its issue areas.
IP TAKE: The Robertson Foundation takes an investment-bank-like approach to philanthropy - great news for financially stable, innovative nonprofits. But there's a downside: The foundation doesn't accepted unsolicited proposals or inquiries.
PROFILE: Since its founding in 1996, the Robertson Foundation has been aggressive in its approach to education funding. Particularly, the foundation's education grants support K-12 school reform, an issue many foundations have been targeting in recent years. It's an exclusive focus for Robertson, which approaches the issue in two ways.
One is the foundation's Reform from Within initiative, which seeks to "enhance existing system policies and practices, drive more effective use of resources, and conduct demonstration projects which can be adopted throughout public systems." The other is the Drive Change by Generating External Pressure initiative, which is focused on "encouraging competition by supporting the development of charter schools, voucher programs, and resources that enable informed parent choice."
In fact, charter school funding drives a lot of Robertson's education funding. The foundation has particularly highlighted its support the "Children First reform agenda" as well as "the expansion of the New York City charter sector" and the New York City Charter School Center.
Robertson is by no means a small-grant donor; by its own account, the foundation "makes large, transformative grants." It also describes its grantmaking as "business-like" and "results-oriented," with a preference for partnerships with other funders and organizations "to leverage investments and maximize impact." Those descriptors offer of plenty of insight into Robertson's grantmaking decisions: established, financially stable organizations with diverse funding sources and results to show have traditionally received its funding.
Because the foundation doesn't accept unsolicited proposals or inquiries, it can be difficult for fundraisers to penetrate Robertson's grantmaking. All grantees are identified by program staff. On the positive side, Robertson has established many successful partnerships with organizations and funders in the field, and Julian Robertson also is a signer of the Giving Pledge, so it's likely the foundation will continue to play a major part in his philanthropic endeavors.
- Kathryn Alcorn, Program Officer
- Heather O'Neill, Program Officer