Charles Simonyi

NET WORTH: $1.8 billion

SOURCE of WEALTH: Microsoft

FUNDING AREAS: Arts & Culture, Education, Space Exploration, Seattle Community

OVERVIEW: Simonyi has given away well over $100 million in total, much of it through the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, which was created in 2004. Contrary to most funds, it only keeps a few million in assets on hand, but it tends to give out roughly $6-$7 million in grants every year, so it is constantly being replenished by Simonyi’s personal coffers. In the Seattle area, Simonyi’s giving runs the gamut, but on a national scale, he’s mostly interested in arts and culture, and the occasional educational organization.

BACKGROUND: Simonyi grew up in Budapest, Hungary. His father was a professor of electrical engineering, giving Charles an early interest in computers. He attended college at Cal Berkeley, obtaining a master’s, and went to Stanford for his Ph.D. During his time at Stanford he was hired by Xerox, where he worked on one of the first personal computers. In 1981, he went to work for Microsoft, overseeing the creation of the Microsoft Office applications. He spent nearly 20 years at the company before leaving in 2002 to cofound Intentional Software.

Simonyi is also known for some of his more extravagant expenditures—he owns a superyacht that is 70 meters long and has been to the International Space Station not once, but twice.

ISSUES:

EDUCATION: Simonyi has been responsible for the funding of three professorships over the years. In 1995, he established the Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, a position first held by Richard Dawkins. Two years later he endowed a chair at Stanford—the Simonyi Professorship for Innovation in Teaching. Finally, in 2005 he made a $25 million donation to the Institute for Advanced Study, which was used in part to fund the Simonyi Professorship of Mathematical Physics. He also donated $200,000 to Student Achievement and Advocacy Services in Maryland, though most of his smaller donations are focused on the Seattle area.

ARTS & CULTURE: Simonyi’s giving in arts and culture is focused on the Seattle area, with his largest gifts going to the Seattle Symphony ($10 million), the Seattle Public Library ($3 million), the Seattle Art Museum ($2 million), the Museum of Flight ($2.7 million), and the Seattle Opera ($1.2 million).

His generosity is certainly not limited to the Seattle area, however; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in his one-time home of Denmark has received $4.5 million, and the Museum of Computer History in California received $1 million. Other notable donations include $4 million to the Russian Arts Foundation, $1.4 million to the Hungarian-American Coalition, $1.6 million to Ancient Egypt Research Associates, $1 million to the Metropolitan Opera, $1 million to the Salzburg Festival Society, and $550,000 to the Julliard School. Smaller donations to organizations outside Seattle are less common; for instance the Textile Museum in DC got $12,000, and the Shenandoah Valley Arts Center received a grant of $10,000.

SEATTLE AREA: Though his largest giving is in arts and culture, Simonyi will support just about any kind of non-profit in the Seattle area, from those that focus on health and education to community services. Some examples include the Boys & Girls Club, Stronger Families, Seattle Chinese Gardens Society, National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, the United Service Organization of Puget Sound, Seniors Making Art. He’s also donated to scholarship funds, schools, hospitals, and the local humane society.

SPACE EXPLORATION: Simonyi has been a major supporter of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Arizona, giving $20 million to the project, which images remote galaxies to help uncover the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, and can also be used to chart hazardous near-earth objects. He’s also given $55,000 to the National Space Society, and $110,000 to the Pima Air & Space Museum.

HEALTH: Compared to other areas, Simonyi’s record here is relatively sparse, but he has given a series of smaller donations totaling around $150,000 to Medical Teams International, $25,000 to the Mount Sinai Medical Center in NY, $10,000 to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, $60,000 for biomedical research, and about $180,000 to the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

LOOKING FORWARD: Outside of Seattle, Simonyi tends to look for organizations that support his other interests, such as space and flight and modern art. 

CONTACT:

Susan Hutchison, Exec. Dir.
Simonyi Fund
P.O. Box 85900
Seattle, WA 98145-1900
Telephone: (206) 522-7000

susan@simonyifund.org

LINKS:

Simonyi Fund