NET WORTH: Unknown
SOURCE OF WEALTH: WAIS Inc.; Alexa Internet
FUNDING AREAS: Digital Access, Arts and Culture, Education, Affordable Housing
OVERVIEW: Brewster Kahle and his wife Mary K. Austin do their grantmaking through the Kahle-Austin Foundation. The foundation supports information access and archival efforts and has given millions to the Internet Archive, which stores books, recordings, and images for free access. It also funds arts and education. The couple also created Kahle-Austin Foundation House, through which they provide permanently affordable housing to nonprofit employees. Most recently, the majority of annual giving supports the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.
BACKGROUND: Brewster Kahle earned a degree from MIT in 1982, and in 1983, helped start Thinking Machines, a parallel supercomputer maker, serving as lead engineer for six years. In 1989, Kahle invented the Internet’s first publishing system, the WAIS system, and also founded WAIS Inc., a pioneering electronic publishing company. WAIS Inc. was sold to America Online in 1995 for $15 million. Another project, Alexa Internet, which logged Internet traffic patterns and recommended sites, went to Amazon for $250 million in 1999. Kahle is a founder and leader of the Internet Archive and helped implement the Wayback Machine, which allows public access to the World Wide Web archive that the Internet Archive has been gathering since 1996. Additionally, Kahle is attempting to collect a single print copy of every book that has ever been published; he keeps these in specially climatized storage containers. All of this goes to show, he takes information archival and access very seriously.
DIGITAL ACCESS: Kahle and Austin, through their Kahle-Austin Foundation, support Internet Archive, a nonprofit, free library of millions of books, movies, software, music and more, which was established under the principle of "universal access to knowledge." The Internet Archive has also supported other Internet-era issues, such as net neutrality. Over the last decade, tens of millions in funding went to the Internet Archive. Support has also gone to related organizations such as Electronic Frontier Foundation, "a donor-supported membership organization working to protect fundamental rights regardless of technology;" Public Knowledge, "a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based public interest group that is involved in intellectual property law, competition, and choice in the digital marketplace, and an open standards/end-to-end internet;" and Free Software Foundation, "a nonprofit organization founded to support the free software movement, which promotes the universal freedom to study." Public Knowledge, of which Kahle is the co-founder and director, has received $100,000 a year every year since 2013, making it the single largest recipient of the Kahle-Austin Foundation's annual distributions behind the Internet Archive and the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.
ARTS & CULTURE: Mary is a collector of artists' books and has some 2,000 pieces in her collection. She co-founded and is the board president of the San Francisco Center for the Book, which offers "book arts classes, lectures and exhibitions for Bay Area Artists," and more than 400 workshops annually, with letterpress printing, bookbinding, and general bookmaking instruction as priorities. Other past grantees include Minnesota Center for the Book Arts; Center for Art In Translation; The Codex Foundation, which promotes "the hand-made book in all its forms;" The Grolier Club, "a membership organization founded in 1884 for aficionados of the graphic arts;" the San Francisco Mime Troupe; and Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont.
Kahle-Austin also supports more conventional arts and culture institutions such as San Francisco Art Institute, California Academy of Sciences and The Exploratorium and The Long Now Foundation, which was established to "develop Clock and Library projects." Most recently, Kahle announced via his blog the launch of The Great 78 Project, which preserves 78 rpm records and digitizes their content, making it widely available.
EDUCATION: The couple makes annual contributions to the Oberlin Alumni Association, where their oldest son, Caslon, matriculated after graduating from Urban High School San Francisco. In 2013, the year that Caslon graduated, the Kahle-Austin Foundation gave $31,000 to Urban High School.
A component of the couple's philanthropy in this area involves arts education, with support going to Oxbow School, "a private single semester arts school for high school juniors and seniors located in Napa, California." Kahle-Austin has also supported Wellesley College, UC Berkeley Law, and San Francisco Nature Education.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Kahle runs a blog, featuring his thoughts on housing, education, food, and health in the United States. After a series of musings on the expensive housing market in San Francisco in particular, Kahle announced a new vehicle, the Kahle-Austin Foundation House, through which he wants to provide permanently affordable housing to nonprofit employees by purchasing apartment buildings. So far, the Kahle/Austin Foundation House has purchased an 11-unit apartment building in close proximity to Kahle's own nonprofit, the Internet Archive. Little has been said about this program since 2013, however.
OTHER: Past grantees also include Democracy Now!, the ACLU Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the San Francisco Foundation, which supports a variety of programs and initiatives to improve social equality and upward economic mobility for communities in the Bay Area. But the Kahle-Austin Foundation’s single largest disbursement in 2014 and 2015 was to the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, a donor-advised fund, in the amount of $1.5 million and $2 million, respectively.
LOOKING FORWARD: Historically, most of the couple's money through Kahle-Austin Foundation supports the Internet Archive. In 2013, for instance, $1 million of the approximately $1.5 million in grantmaking went to Internet Archive. Since that year, the majority of funding supports the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, perhaps indicating that Internet Archive funding is moving through that organization. Kahle is actively engaged in solving other problems, as evidenced by the Kahle-Austin Foundation House and his recent announcement of The Great 78 Project. Both of these initiatives were topics of blog posts, so Kahle's blog might be worth tracking, should another idea germinate from there.
The KahleAustin Foundation doesn't have much of a web presence or a clear way to get in touch with the couple, but below is an address:
513B Simonds Loop
San Francisco, CA 94129