OVERVIEW: The Swartz Foundation was formed by Sidney Swartz's portion of the Timberland Company fortune. The foundation contributes almost exclusively to Jewish-related causes but keeps involved with medical research institutions in the Boston area as well.
IP TAKE: Catching an attorney — a partner, for that matter — on the phone is no easy feat. However, Robert Shapiro is pretty much the only way into the Swartz Foundation. If you're doing a little Internet research on the foundation, be sure to look for the Boston Swartz's and not the Swartz Foundation or Swartz Trust that are both based in New York.
PROFILE: If you've ever been in the market for a good pair of work boots, you're already a little familiar with the Swartz Foundation. The foundation's donor, Sidney Swartz, is the son of the sturdy shoe-making entrepreneur who started the Timberland Company. Sidney's dad started off his career in the shoe business by becoming an apprentice stitcher in Boston. When Sidney took over the family business, he had enormous success transforming Timberland into a lifestyle brand that also makes clothes, watches, glasses, and leather goods.
Sidney and his wife, Judith, started the philanthropic foundation in 1994 to channel their wealth toward charity, but they keep their business pretty low-key and tight-lipped. The Swartz Foundation doesn't have a website or any published guidelines for grantseekers. Instead, it lists its attorney's name and address on contact forms.
The vast majority of Swartz Foundation funds go to Jewish temples and Jewish-based organizations in the Boston area. Medical research organizations also receive a good portion of Swartz grants each year. One of the couple's newsworthy grants was a $50 million award to create an emergency medicine center at Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, which was appropriately named after them.
Most of the past grants in the Boston area have gone to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, with the grants ranging from $32,000 to $3.2 million. The foundation does consider other non-profit organizations in the city for grants, but recipients are almost always rooted in the Jewish faith. Swartz doesn't give out a lot of grants each year, but the grants are huge when they are awarded.
At the end of a recent year, the foundation reported over $198 millionin assets and $667,350 in total giving. For comparison, the funder claimed $212 million in assets and more than $12.3 million in total giving the previous year.
Although Sidney Swartz instilled a sense of philanthropy in his son, who took his turn running the Timberland business, the foundation isn't a family affair by any means. Before he sold off the company for $2 billion, Jeffrey Swartz made corporate responsibility a priority in the family business. And when the idealistic Jeffrey retired at the age of 51 to find his purpose in life, he set out to save the world on his own terms.
It may not be easy to get hold of someone at the Swartz Foundation, but there is money to be won if you're running a Jewish organization in Boston. For more information, contact Ropes & Gray's Robert Shapiro at 617-951-7000.
- Janet C. Taylor, Philanthropic Adviser
- Sidney Swartz, Donor
- Robert N. Shapiro, Partner at Ropes & Gray LLP