The Gap turned a jeans store into a cultural institution, but the couple behind the clothing empire also gave millions to education causes. The heirs to the Fisher wealth have carried on the tradition, each with their own style of giving.
Don and Doris Fisher opened their first clothing store in San Francisco in 1969, which Don would have called “Pants and Discs” if Doris hadn’t come up with abbreviating "the generation gap." The massive retail chain is now pulling in around $16 billion a year in sales through its multiple brands. Don Fisher passed away in 2009, and family assets have been transferred to three sons, Bob, John and Bill.
While the family name is probably not too familiar outside of San Francisco, Don and Doris Fisher had quite a run in philanthropy, most notably as supporters of education reform and as Republican donors. Starting in the 1990s, the couple donated several million dollars to causes like Teach for America and the KIPP Foundation, which supports charter schools.
The couple also owned a vast modern art collection, now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Don Fisher was one of a group of businessmen who collaborated to keep the San Francisco Giants in the city.
Fisher is survived by wife Doris Fisher, who remains an honorary lifetime board member of the Gap, and a trustee of the couple’s still-active foundation. And the couple’s three sons and their families have continued giving to causes, some similar to those their parents favored, others quite different. Here’s an overview of their philanthropy:
John J. Fisher
John Fisher is the youngest in the family, and while he is the only son who does not sit on the board of Gap, Inc., he does manage Pisces, Inc., the family’s investment portfolio. Forbes puts his net worth at $3 billion. The first thing to know about John is that he’s a sports fan—a big one. He owns a majority stake in the Oakland Athletics, smaller stakes in other teams, and Don Fisher has said the investment in the Giants was John’s idea.
John Fisher keeps a very low profile, but his giving seems to follow his father’s pretty closely. He’s a lifelong Republican, having worked for the RNC, Ronald Reagan, and Vice President George H.W. Bush, and financially supporting GOP candidates. All of the sons support the KIPP schools, but John's carried on the family’s passion for charter schools the most, as he is heavily involved in the movement. He's made large donations to KIPP and serves as chairman of the board. He’s also chair of the Charter School Growth Fund and is involved in a number of other education reform organizations.
William (Bill) S. Fisher
The middle Fisher son has worked at the Gap for years in various roles, and is credited for expanding the chain’s international presence. He is now the managing partner for Manzanita Capital, a London-based private equity firm, and Forbes estimates his worth at $2.1 billion. Fisher is married to Sakurako Fisher, who is president of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Like both of his brothers, William Fisher attended the Phillips Exeter Academy and then Princeton University. He earned an MBA at Stanford, and the school is one of his main philanthropic causes. He sits on the university’s School of Business Advisory Council. The couple also give to the Exploratorium, the science center in San Francisco for which Bill serves as vice chair and Sakurako previously served as vice chair. Sakurako Fisher is involved in several arts and educational institutions, including as chair of the National Board of the Smithsonian. The couple has given to several mostly Bay Area cultural and educational causes, including Global Citizen Year, iCivics, and the Headlands Center for the Arts.
Robert (Bob) J. Fisher
Bob Fisher has been involved in the family company in one way or another for around 30 years. He’s been on the board since 1990 and served as chairman for three years. But he’s also been the most active in terms of philanthropy and nonprofits. He served on the board of the NRDC for more than 20 years, and is now a director for Conservation International. Politically, Bob Fisher has given mostly to Democrats, and has funded multiple environmental initiatives. He was a large funder of efforts to stop 2010's Proposition 23, which would have killed the state’s main global warming law.
He and wife Randi Fisher cofounded the Pisces Foundation, a funder giving about $8.5 million annually to environmental causes. Fisher’s and Pisces’ main issue is water resources, and during his run on the board he cofounded the NRDC’s national water program. He also cofounded the California Water Foundation, which works to strengthen the state’s resources. Pisces also gives through two other programs, Climate & Energy, and Environmental Education.
It's also important to note that Randi Fisher is very active in philanthropy, and works closely with husband Bob at the Pisces Foundation. She serves as cofounder and trustee of the foundation, and while she’s involved in all aspects, she deals with the Environmental Education program most directly.
Randi Fisher is all over Bay Area education programs, including as a trustee at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy focusing on environmental literacy and stewardship for youth. She formerly served as a trustee of the California Academy of Sciences, a science center and huge grantee of Pisces. And she helped developed the Bay Area Discovery Museum for children, which includes environmental education programs. But she’s also involved in Conservation International, the Energy Foundation, and other nonprofits.
Finally, while the family members have different priorities, and political leanings, they do have one common ground—ballparks. Namely, the City Fields Foundation, which all three brothers started in 2006 to provide more equitable access to sports facilities across the city.