Shel Kaphan

NET WORTH: Unknown


FUNDING AREAS: Policy & Civic Action, Education & Youth, Digital Rights, Environment, Health & Human Services

OVERVIEW: Shel Kaphan does his grantmaking through the Kaphan Foundation, a low-profile charity that does not appear to accept unsolicited proposals. Kaphan, through his foundation, gives to select causes and prioritizes organizations in Seattle. Kaphan backs several local policy and civic groups in Washington State.

BACKGROUND: Shel Kaphan received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from UC Santa Cruz. He worked for such companies as Lucasfilm, Xerox AODS, and Kaleida Labs before joining Amazon in 1994. He was Amazon's first employee and founding member of the technical team. Around the time the company went public, in 1997, he became CTO.


POLICY AND CIVIC ACTION: Kaphan serves on the board of MapLight, "a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics," and strongly supports the organization via his foundation. Other grantees include Democracy Now!, Center for Constitutional Rights, Washington Progress Fund, FairVote, The Innocence Project, and Fuse, which brings "Washington residents together to support progressive causes and leaders." Kaphan seems to prioritize local organizations that work in Seattle and across the state of Washington. 

EDUCATION & YOUTH: Kaphan has supported Bellevue College Foundation, Code for America, Chances for Children, and Year Up.

DIGITAL RIGHTS: Kaphan has supported Wikimedia Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Long Now Foundation, a project of computer pioneer Daniel Hillis and Whole Earth founder Stewart Brand to develop The 10,000 Year Clock.

ENVIRONMENT: Past grantees include Earth Economics, and Seattle Tilth, a "nonprofit organic gardening and urban ecology organization with classes, learning gardens and farms, children's programs and community," both in Washington State. Kaphan has also supported NRDC through his foundation. 

HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Kaphan supports Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and DESC of Seattle, which serves disabled and vulnerable homeless adults.

OTHER: Kaphan has supported A Jewish Voice for Peace. On a global level, past grantees include Oxfam America and Worldreader, which provides e-books to people in low-income countries.

LOOKING FORWARD: Kaphan has a range of interests, but keeps a low profile, making it tough to get a handle on what, exactly, he looks for in his grantees. Expect Washington State to feature heavily in his future philanthropy, though.


The Kaphan Foundation does not provide a clear avenue for getting in touch but below is contact information:

The Kaphan Foundation
514 Second Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119


Shel Kaphan Linkedin