Eric and Liz Lefkofsky: Tech Grants

NET WORTH: $2.2 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Co-founder of Groupon, founder of Lightbank venture capital firm

FUNDING AREAS: Education, Human Rights, Healthcare, Medical Research, Arts & Culture

OVERVIEW: In 2006, Eric and Liz Lefkofsky formed a charitable trust called the Lefkofsky Family Foundation. The foundation's stated purpose is to "advance high-impact programs, initiatives and research that enhance the quality of human life in the communities we serve." Most of the support prioritizes the Lefkofskys' hometown of Chicago.

BACKGROUND: Described by some as a "serial entrepreneur," Eric Lefkofsky began his career by selling carpet as a freshman at the University of Michigan. After law school, he and his longtime business partner, Bradley Keywell, borrowed money to buy Brandon Apparel in 1994. That company failed, leading to more than a decade of lawsuits. In 1999, Keywell and Lefkofsky founded an internet company, Starbelly, that specialized in promotional products. He sold Starbelly for $240 million just before the dot-com bubble burst. Creating, buying and selling one company after another eventually led to his creation of Groupon. 

Liz Lefkofsky has long been involved in philanthropy. Her mother was the founder of the American Brain Tumor Association. Liz serves as executive director of the Lefkofsky Family Foundation and has been involved in range of partnerships and initiatives in Chicago. She is a board member at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ravinia Festival, and Human Rights Watch.


EDUCATION: Many of the education initiatives Eric and Liz support are focused in the Greater Chicago area. They support younger children, while also giving to charter schools, after-school programs for disadvantaged youth, and scholarship programs. On a broader scale, the Lefkofskys support organizations that seek to develop tools for teachers and administrators. One such group is New Leaders and Educators for Excellence. Perhaps the most innovative program the Lefkofskys support is called Moneythink, which provides mentors to teach financial education in urban schools. As an alumnus of the University of Michigan, Eric has donated quite a bit to the university over the years. He has made substantial grants to Chicago-area universities Northwestern and DePaul, as well.

HEALTH: Health is one of the few areas of the couple's philanthropy that is not confined to Chicago. As a child, Liz lost her older sister to cancer. Liz's mother, Susan Kramer, started the the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) in the wake of her daughter's death. ABTA, Damon Runyon, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have all received funds. Another key area appears to be supporting medical centers in and around Chicago, particularly those that care for children, as well as several donations to pancreatic cancer, though the Lefkofskys have also supported research into treatments and cures for thyroid cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia. The Lefkofskys have donated to organizations that prioritize cardiovascular disease, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's, Lupus, brain tumors, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and food allergies as well. The Lefkofskys also support the global health initiative Medical Missions for Children, and in late 2015, donated $785,000 to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

Eric Lefkofsky has blogged passionately about his interest in curing disease, and he has recently written that medical discoveries have become his primary focus. He writes that "the elephant in the room is cancer (and other diseases) that endlessly consume our resources, impoverish our healthcare system, and deflate the spirit of every patient and family member battling disease."

HUMAN RIGHTS: The Lefkofsky Family Foundation has supported places like Human Rights Watch and the Anti-Defamation League. Other organizations listed under human rights on the foundation's website would more rightly be categorized as local community support and advocacy. The foundation has supported organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, as well as a PAC to support pro-choice candidates, a couple of Jewish advocacy groups, a Chicago community for people with developmental disabilities, and an organization that serves homeless Chicagoans. 

ARTS AND CULTURE: The vast majority of the Lefkofskys' grantmaking in arts and culture is done in their hometown of Chicago. Their largest contribution to any organization to date is the $7 million they have given to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Other grantees have included Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, Aspen Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Art Institute of Chicago. Aside from the major support of museums, the Lefkofskys' other major cultural contribution was a $100,000 donation to the organization responsible for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid. They have made smaller contributions, generally ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, to other Chicago-areas museums, dance, theatre, and ballet companies, a public radio station, and the Chicago Botanic Garden. 

TECH: The Lefkofsky Family Foundation partnered with both Google and the Motorola Mobility foundation to create 1871 FEMtech, which Inside Philanthropy has covered here. The three have supported FEMtech with over a half-million dollars, with the hopes of encouraging and enabling more female tech entrepreneurs to break into the field.

LOOKING FORWARD: The Lefkofskys are still in their 40s and have substantial wealth. With a strong philanthropic platform, the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, and a growing track record of giving, the couple are likely to become bigger players in the philanthropy world in Chicago and beyond. 

LINK: Lefkofsky Family Foundation