How Richard Kinder, the Warren Buffet of Energy, Approaches Philanthropy

Although Warren Buffet is considered to be one of the most successful investors of all time, industry experts have drawn some significant parallels between him and the co-founder and CEO of Kinder Morgan.

Richard Kinder has been described as the “Warren Buffet of energy” because of his approach to owning company stock, taking a nominal salary, use of leverage, and philanthropic pursuits. Richard Kinder’s current net worth is over $10 billion, and he and his wife run the Kinder Foundation, which grants funds for urban green space, education, and quality of life.

But unlike other prominent Houston philanthropy power couples—such as Alfred and Judy Warrington, or Laura and John Arnold— the Kinders make a priority of giving to Houston-based causes. Out of 37 Texas organizations, families, and individual donors that made the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2014 “America’s Top Donors” directory, Richard and Nancy Kinder were the only ones to give at least $1 million locally—to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Related - Kinder Foundation: Texas Grants

Preserving Houston’s parks and making them more accessible is one of the most important aspects of Kinder Foundation grantmaking. The Kinders were hardcore George W. Bush supporters and helped create the George W. Bush Institute and the George W. Bush Presidential Center with a $10 million grant. In 2013, the Kinder Foundation awarded a $50 million to Houston Parks and $2.5 million to the Texas Cultural Heritage Center. Clearly, when the Kinders give, they give big.

Also in tune with the Warren Buffet crowd, Richard and Nancy Kinder signed the Giving Pledge in 2011 and have committed to giving 95 percent of their wealth to charitable causes either during their lifetimes or at their deaths. So down the line, we could be looking at a Kinder Foundation that ranks with the largest foundations in the United States. If it kept its local focus, that would be a remarkable boon to the Houston area. If broadened to national issues, the foundation would be a player wherever it chose to direct its attention. 

Business seems to be going well over at Kinder Morgan, so we expect to see significantly more money flow into Kinder Foundation in the years ahead, and for Richard Kinder to get even richer. The Houston-based Kinder Morgan Energy Partners is the nation's largest pipeline company. Its parent company, Kinder Morgan, announced in August that it would merge Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and two other affiliates into Kinder Morgan. Following pressure from investors to consolidate, cut costs, and increase profits, Kinder’s pipeline empire consolidation could open up $1.5 trillion in potential purchases and projects.

So although the Kinder Foundation’s assets are less than $150 million at this time, there is a lot more money sitting on the sidelines and a lot of future potential for what is now still a modest sized family foundation. Richard Kinder is just 69 years old, and the foundation has only been on the philanthropy scene since 1997. We suspect that the foundation may still be testing out some grantmaking waters and evolving with changes in the city of Houston.

But unfortunately for grantseekers, the Kinder Foundation doesn’t welcome unsolicited grant requests or applications. Perhaps that’s yet another thing the Kinders and the Buffetts have in common.