A Veteran Wall Streeter Steps Up Giving, With an Eye on International Issues

Shelby M.C. Davis, like his late investor father Shelby Cullom Davis, had a successful career in finance as the founder of Davis Advisors, a mutual fund management company which held some $37 billion under management at the end of 2014. Davis handed the reins of his company over to his son Christopher and lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with his wife Gale. Since retiring, Davis has become an active philanthropist particularly in the area of international education.

The Davis family has been involved in international issues for decades. Davis' father, Shelby Cullom Davis, in addition to attending Princeton and Columbia, earned a doctorate in political science from University of Geneva. Shelby also used to work on politician Thomas E. Dewey's staff and was U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland. All of this, by the way, in addition to Shelby's successful investment career. Davis' late mother, Kathryn Wasserman Davis, meanwhile, created Davis Projects for Peace, which supports and encourages "today's motivated youth to create and test their own ideas for building peace."

Davis once said, "My mother cared deeply about the world... she really wanted to focus on peace through individual efforts and learning to get along... that was her mission over many years." In 2007, on her mother's 100th birthday, Davis and Kathryn created a $5 million endowment to Princeton University's International Center, which was renamed the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis '30 International Center.

It's safe to say that Davis has followed in his parents' footsteps with respect to this work. In 1998, Davis and Gale gave a $45 million gift to United World College in New Mexico to fund scholarships. Moreover, in 2000, Davis and veteran international educator Phil Geier cofounded the Davis United World College Scholars Program to "advance international understanding through education." Since its founding, the program has provided grants to selected American colleges and universities to support United World College graduates who matriculate at these schools. The first schools in the pilot group were Colby College, College of the Atlantic, Middlebury College, Princeton University, and Wellesley College.

The Davis United World College Scholars Program currently has 91 partner institutions spanning the country, from Scripps College in suburban Los Angeles, to Lake Forest College in Illinois, and Bates College in Maine.  The couple is currently contributing tens of millions annually to this cause. Davis also recently contributed $15 million to launch the Davis-UWC IMPACT program to ensure "UWC can continue to award places to students based on merit, irrespective of their background."

We should probably also mention that the couple's charitable vehicle, the S&G Foundation, held more than $1 billion in assets at the end of the 2014 fiscal year and gave away close to $26 million. This charitable vehicle flies well under the radar, and doesn't have much of a web presence or a clear way to get in touch with the couple. I've written about similar philanthropic operations before, such as that of Ray and Barbara Dalio. These are charitable vehicles with huge asset bases, moving quite a bit of money of the door annually with minimal or no staff.

Apart from supporting the couple's work in international education, money streaming out of the S&G Foundation has also gone towards environmental outfits such as Friends of Arcadia in Maine and Grand Teton National Park Foundation in Jackson, Wyoming, which received $65,000 in the past two tax years for which records are available. Other recent support includes Jackson Hole Land Trust, which received $200,000 in the 2014 fiscal year. A component of the couple's philanthropy also involves local outfits in Wyoming, Maine, and Florida, where Davis' parents lived.

It's also worth noting that lately, most of the S&G Foundation's money has been deposited to a donor-advised fund at Vanguard Charitable Trust. In the 2014 fiscal year, some $25 million out of approximately $25.8 million in 2014 grantmaking went to Vanguard Charitable Trust. It's possible that these funds are related to the couple's work in international education, but could also involve other interests. Or maybe the money is just piling up for later use. In any case, this makes it tough to get a handle on the full scope of the couple's philanthropy.

Finally, I'll close by saying that there's still quite a bit of money waiting in the wings, here. Down the line, we'll also have to keep an eye on the third generation of Davis philanthropy. Those working in the family's interest areas, particularly international education, should definitely keep the Davis family in mind.

Related: Shelby M.C. Davis