Progressive Causes and More: A Look At Steve Silberstein's Philanthropy

In 1978, Stephen Silberstein cofounded Innovative Interfaces, which develops automated systems for libraries. Today, Innovative Interfaces spans the globe, with more than 2,400 library systems installed in 9,500 libraries in 66 countries. Silberstein is now retired, and in the late 1990s, he established the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation, which in the most recent tax year for which records are available held more than $112 million in assets and gave away around $6 million.

Silberstein is well known in progressive circles for both his long-time giving and involvement in various causes. He's a member of the Democracy Alliance, the progressive funders network, and also the Patriotic Millionaires, which describes itself as "a group of more than 200 Americans with annual incomes over $1 million and/or assets of more than $5 million who believe that the country’s current level of economic inequality is both dangerous and immoral." In recent years, Silberstein was also executive producer of Inequality for All, a documentary featuring former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich's efforts to draw attention to America's growing wealth and income gap. 

Beyond his philanthropy, Silberstein has been an major political donor, giving widely to sway both federal elections and also politics in his home state of California, including contributions for ballot campaigns. His parallel tracks of philanthropic giving for policy and political donations illustrate a pattern we see a lot of these days: Wealthy individuals pulling every lever they can to advance their views in public life. 

But Silberstein's money doesn't only reach the worlds of policy and politics. He also gives for the education, arts, and more. 

While a great many Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation grants go to nonprofit groups, it's not clear how to get on this list. Unfortunately for grantseekers, the foundation does not have website or a clear avenue for getting in touch with Silberstein. But here are a few must-knows about this funder:

1. Silberstein Casts a Wide Net With His Policy Giving

Nearly every major progressive policy and advocacy group in the U.S. has received money from Silberstein in recent years. That long list includes the American Constitutional Society, ACLU, Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for America's Future, Center for American Progress, Media Matters ($300,000 in 2013), Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Common Cause, Economic Policy Institute, the Nation Institute, People for the American Way, and more. Support has also gone to places such as California Budget Project, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Impact Fund, which "provides strategic leadership and support for litigation to achieve economic and social justice," and the Tides Foundation, which gives "grants to nonprofits working toward social change in the U.S. and abroad." A component of Silberstein philanthropy also involves leveraging media. Recent sums have gone to Brave New Foundation which supports Brave New Films, a socially conscious documentary film company, and Kitchen Sisters Productions, which "works to build community through storytelling." Silberstein is a big supporter Democracy Now, the radio news show hosted by Amy Goodman, and has provided support to ProPublica, which does investigative reporting, and Media Matters for America. 

2. Funds Have Also Gone to the Environment and Arts & Culture

Recent grantees include National Resources Defense Council, which received a $150,000 grant in 2013. Funds have also gone to outfits including Rainforest Action Network, San Francisco Baykeeper, Seacology, a "charitable organization headquartered in Berkeley, California that focuses on preserving island ecosystems and cultures around the world," and the Sierra Club Foundation, which received a $200,000 grant in a recent year. A large $200,000 grant went to San Francisco Film Society in 2012. Recent money has also gone to outfits such as Berkeley Repertory Theater.

2. Silberstein Has Also Supported Education And Libraries

Silberstein is a trustee of UC Berkeley Foundation and UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy. Silberstein, by the way, graduated from UC Berkeley and worked as a computer programmer at UC Berkeley's library. A $1 million grant went to UC Berkeley Foundation in 2013, and $700,000 went to the foundation in 2012. Last decade, UC Berkeley received grants of $1 million each in 2003 and 2007. Recent support has also gone to the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, whose "mission is to inspire and empower an extraordinary public education for every child." Given Silberstein's background, it's no surprise that he's also supported libraries. He sits on the board of the Belvedere-Tiburon Library Foundation and the Belvedere-Tiburon Library has been supported. Recent support has also gone to Berkeley Public Library and Alameda Free Library Association.

Related: Stephen M. Silberstein Profile