Steve and Jean Case

NET WORTH: $1.4 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Steve is co-founder of AOL; Jean is a former executive at AOL

FUNDING AREAS: Entrepreneurship, civic engagement, philanthropy innovation. 

OVERVIEW: The couple, who met while they were working at AOL, has largely focused on fostering entrepreneurship and reimagining philanthropy. Since retiring from AOL, Jean has made philanthropy her career.

BACKGROUND: If not for Steve Case, the way we look at the internet might be far different. As the co-founder of AOL in 1985, Case introduced millions of people to the internet. He's also something of a pioneer as a tech philanthropist, having founded the Case Foundation back in 1997. In 2005, Case founded the investment fund Revolution, with a mission to build disruptive, innovative companies that offer consumers more choice, convenience and control in their lives." Steve is author The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, which was released in 2016. The book describes the Third Wave as "a period in which entrepreneurs will vastly transform major 'real world' sectors like health, education, transportation, energy, and food—and in the process change the way we live our daily lives."

As one of four children raised by a single mother who worked as a waitress, Jean has come full circle, from receiving charity to giving it. Besides serving as CEO of the Case Foundation, she serves on the boards of several other nonprofits, including the National Geographic Society.

Steve  and Jean do most of their giving through the Case Foundation, but they also make personal donations outside the foundation. They have signed the Giving Pledge, and have committed to giving most of their fortune to charity.

PHILOSOPHY: At first, the Case Foundation traveled a traditional road of donating money to causes the Cases cared about, and was somewhat successful with that strategy. The couple then realized they could make the greatest impact by applying an entrepreneurial approach to the foundation's giving. The Case Foundation describes its philosophy this way:

We create programs and invest in people and organizations that harness the best impulses of entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and collaboration to drive exponential impact. Our partners are changemakers with ideas that have transformative potential and can lead us to uncover new, more impactful ways of addressing chronic social challenges.
Our efforts to drive social change are focused on three key pillars: revolutionizing philanthropy, unleashing entrepreneurs and igniting civic engagement

Like many other philanthropists emerging from the tech sector, the Cases seek more sustainable models for social change, including market-based approaches. They’re keen to blur the lines between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors in pursuit of innovative problem-solving.  


ENTREPRENEURSHIP: The Case Foundation says that it supports “the development of sustainable, market-driven models to build skills, networks and pathways to unlock the potential of first movers and risk takers everywhere. We want to see more entrepreneurs deployed across all sectors—starting businesses, running sustainable social enterprises, and bringing fresh ideas to old challenges.” To achieve this vision, the foundation has engaged in a range of grant funding and impact investing, both in the U.S. and abroad. It especially keen to encourage entrepreneurship in developing countries and draw more support to diverse entrepreneurs in the U.S. (Learn more here.)

TRANSFORMING PHILANTHROPY: The Cases have been evangelists for major change within the philanthropic sector. Steve says, "Philanthropy 1.0 hasn't worked well enough; our system needs an upgrade." Their foundation argues that “the definition and practice of philanthropy needs a major reboot so we can make real progress toward addressing chronic challenges.” The Cases are big advocates of impact investing, and a goal of their foundation is to “support the growing impact investing ecosystem and provide opportunities to educate and activate investors.” The Cases also favor stronger partnerships between philanthropy and other sectors. Jean told Reuters in June 2017, "... a common theme in a lot of what we have done is to take initiatives and really scale them in a powerful way by partnering with government and the private sector."

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND VOLUNTEERISM: The Cases believe that solving key problems requires more involvement from citizens, and their foundation supports civic engagement efforts with a special focus on millennials. In previous years, the foundation has supported organizations such as City Year, Atlas Corps, Youth Serve America, the National Conference on Citizenship, and Global Year Citizen—all of which encourage people to give their time and connect them to volunteer opportunities.

OTHER ISSUES: Steve and Jean are deeply involved with Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), a nonprofit they co-founded with Steve’s late brother Dan and Dan's wife Staceyn.  Similarly, the couple has  supported the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as Sisu Global Health, one of the six winners of Revolution's  "Rise of the Rest" competition, in which each winner was awarded $100,000.

LOOKING FORWARD: Grantmaking by the Case Foundation in recent years has been relatively modest, according to available tax forms. In 2015, for example, it gave out just over $1 million in grants. But as mentioned, the Cases have substantial wealth and have signed the Giving Pledge. So at some point, the foundation is likely to increase giving to support this couple’s longstanding interests in promoting entrepreneurship and a more innovative philanthropic sector.