NET WORTH: $27.9 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Microsoft
FUNDING AREAS: Children & Families, Education, Seattle Community, Los Angeles County
OVERVIEW: Steve Ballmer has not been a high-profile philanthropist until recently. His wife, Connie Snyder Ballmer, has been closely involved with the nonprofit world for a while though, and the couple's efforts to help children and families are the focus their philanthropy.
BACKGROUND: Ballmer grew up in Detroit, and attended Harvard, where he met Bill Gates. Dropping out of Stanford Business School to work for Microsoft, he eventually succeeded Bill Gates as the CEO, running the company from 2000 until February 2014. In May 2014, he had the opportunity to purchase the LA Clippers basketball team for $2 billion, and officially became the Clippers' owner in August. In 2015 Ballmer revealed that he had acquired a 4% stake in Twitter.
The couple formed the Ballmer Group, which is a foundation focused on children, youth, and families in Los Angeles County and the state of Washington. They have quickly gotten involved in collaborative efforts with major funders in these regions.
CHILDREN & YOUTH: Until recently, Ballmer wasn't heavily involved in philanthropy, given the demands of running Microsoft. However, Connie has been another story. She has long been involved in non-profit organizations. Her biggest passion has been children, and after reading stories about kids lost in Washington's foster system, she played an instrumental role in founding a regional nonprofit, Partners for Our Children, in 2007. The Ballmers underwrote the group's creation with a $10 million donation. Connie serves on the board of the group, which seeks to improve the child welfare system in Washington state through a partnership between government, academics, and the private sector. Ballmer also started an organization called A Plus, which was initially accused of being a vehicle to get better basketball players into his son's school, but now offers academic and other support to well over 100 kids in more than 50 schools.
Steve and Connie Ballmer, through the Ballmer Group, got involved with Blue Meridian Group early on. This is a collaborative effort of big-name funders dedicated to children and youth. The Ballmer's foundation has largely given to well-established children and youth nonprofits in the Los Angeles thus far. Youth in Washington is also a priority for the Ballmers.
EDUCATION: Ballmer gave $50 million to the University of Oregon, half of which will be used to fund a financial aid program for low income students, with another $20 million going to its anti-obesity program. Harvard also recently received an estimated $60 million, which will be used to fund 12 new computer science professorships. The Ballmers contributed $11 million to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship partnership to fund scholarships for low- and middle-income students pursuing degrees in STEM and health care. A $20 million gift to University of Washington School of Social Work, meanwhile, brings the couple's support of the School of Social Work to $32 million in the past five years.
GIVING THROUGH MICROSOFT: Through Microsoft's philanthropy over the years, we always had a feeling that Ballmer was interested in helping young people. In 2012, Microsoft announced the largest philanthropic initiative in its history — a $500 million, three-year effort, called YouthSpark, to expand opportunities for global youth. In announcing YouthSpark, the company noted that "Today's young people face an opportunity divide — a gap between those who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful and those who do not." The initiative involves partnerships with nonprofits around the world with the goal, as Ballmer put it, of "connecting young people with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship."
Before launching YouthSpark, the Microsoft Foundation had already been keenly focused on young people, hosting the Imagine Cup, one of the world's most prestigious student technology competitions. Additionally, the foundation has a host of programs designed to give kids access to all sorts of technological resources to help them become innovators and leaders in their chosen fields. The Microsoft Foundation has given more than $8.5 billion in cash, services, and software to nonprofit organizations worldwide, including $1.1 billion in recent years. Much of this giving has been in the form of hardware and software that enables nonprofits to do their work more effectively. In addition to providing opportunities for children, the Microsoft Foundation focuses on the arts, drought relief in Africa, making technology accessible to seniors and those with special needs, and funding research to disrupt human trafficking.
LA CLIPPERS CHARITY: As part of Ballmer's deal to buy the Clippers, $200 million of the $2 billion price tag will be used to start a foundation co-chaired by Steve and the wife of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The foundation will support programs that benefit underprivileged families, battered women, minorities and inner city youths.
LOOKING FORWARD: The Ballmers have been ramping up their family philanthropy for quite some time and now it's really kicking off. New staff members are being hired, and new grants are being awarded. For the foreseeable future, Washington and Los Angeles County will be the geographic focus, and all grantmaking will benefit children and families in these areas. In fact, the Ballmers are poised to become one of the largest givers in this area.