Ed Reform and More: A Quick Look at Oberndorf Philanthropy

Raised in Cleveland, William Oberndorf attended University School in Ohio before attending Williams College and Stanford Business School. Oberndorf is one of the founders of investment firm SPO Advisory Corp in Mill Valley, California. Oberndorf recently retired from SPO and now manages Oberndorf Enterprises. It's unclear how much he's worth, but with his wife, Susan, he has given quite a bit of money over the years, and the couple are active philanthropists with a wide variety of interests.

The couple's charitable vehicle, the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation, was established in 1993, and according to the most recent available tax records, gave away close to $8 million and held nearly $80 million in assets. The foundation doesn't have much of a web presence or a clear way to get in touch with the couple. As far as staff, only Susan and Oberndorf are listed on 990s. Oberndorf is listed as vice president and Susan is listed as president of the foundation and has a LinkedIn profile.

The couple has a big interest in education reform, and the Oberndorfs are deep into school choice. In the early 1990s, Oberndorf co-founded the American Education Reform Foundation. The outfit has worked to "bring about systemic and sustainable reform by promoting broad-based parental choice that aids low-income families." Oberndorf also serves as chairman emeritus and board member of the Alliance for School Choice, an organization he co-founded. At a 2011 panel in Washington, D.C., according to Education Week, Oberndorf was credited with financing school choice with "tens of millions" of dollars. Oberndorf also said that charter schools and voucher programs inject "competition into the equation."

Recent education philanthropy by the couple has involved quite a number of outfits, including Foundation for Excellence in Education (a $100,000 grant in 2013), Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "an American education reform organization headquartered in Indianapolis," and SF School Choice Alliance. Support has also gone to charters such as KIPP Bay Area Schools, which received a $10,000 grant in 2013 and Gateway Public Schools. The couple tends to make a lot of grants in the Bay Area, but their education philanthropy is especially national.

Apart from K-12 education, funds have also gone to colleges and universities. Recent funds have gone to schools such as Marquette University, Williams College, and various outfits associated with the University of San Francisco including the UCSF Foundation, which received around $3.3 million in 2013, and around $4.3 million in 2012. Oberndorf is chairman of the University of California San Francisco Foundation. A steady stream of money has also gone to Stanford, where both Oberndorf and Susan graduated. In 2010, more than $2 million went to Stanford.

Another of the couple's interests is health, and the motivations are personal, at least in part. One of Oberndorf's late business partners, William J. Patterson, passed away from a brain tumor a few years ago. The couple has recently supported outfits such as Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Gladstone Institutes, "an independent and nonprofit biomedical research organization whose focus is to better understand, prevent, treat and cure cardiovascular, viral and neurological conditions," UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, Stanford School of Medicine, and Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

Recent grantmaking has also involved the environment, with funds going to Environmental Defense Fund (more than $250,000 in 2013), California Trout, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Lange Foundation, "a nonprofit organization in Southern California dedicated to saving impounded companion animals."

The couple is also interested in policy. Recent grants have included outfits such as the Hoover Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a D.C.-based "public policy research institution dedicated to analysis and policy impact." Money has also gone to the Institute of Justice, which is dedicated to advancing "economic liberty, school choice, property rights, and free speech." It's easy to see how support of some of these outfits, such as Institute of Justice, also intersects with the couple's aims in education reform.

The couple's arts and culture grantmaking has a Bay Area focus, and they have given millions to California Academy of Sciences. Again Oberndorf's late business partner, William J. Patterson, may play a role, and Patterson once chaired California Academy of Sciences.  In 2013, Oberndorfs gave California Academy of Sciences around $1.3 million. In 2012, the outfit received $1.75 million. Other recent support includes grants to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The couple has also funded a number of outfits supporting the Bay Area community. Recent money has gone to San Francisco 49ers Foundation, San Francisco Food Bank, San Francisco Free Clinic, San Francisco Parks Alliance, San Francisco YMCA, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Meals On Wheels of San Francisco and the Tipping Point Community, a "nonprofit that fights poverty in the Bay Area." In 2013, a $100,000 grant went to Tipping Point Community.

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