Marathon Giver: Richard Gilder's Philanthropy Is Still Going Strong

Now into his ninth decade of life, brokerage firm founder Richard Gilder has been involved in philanthropy for a long time. The Gilder Foundation has been around since 1965. Gilder himself played a pioneering role in the Central Park Conservancy in the 1980s, and has been heavily involved at his alma mater Yale, the conservative policy shop the Manhattan Institute, and at the American Museum of Natural History. With a deep interest in history (his Yale B.A. is in history), he's also the cofounder of Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale.

Considering all that Gilder and his wife Lois Chiles, a former model, actress and Bond girl, are into, it's somewhat surprising that the Gilder Foundation doesn't currently have a website or a clear way for grantseekers to get in touch. What's more, it's unclear how much Gilder is currently worth. In a recent year, the foundation posted assets of more than $60 million, and gave away around $25 million.

While the foundation doesn't have as large an asset base or interests as diverse as, say, the Dalio Foundation, its list of annual grantees numbers in the hundreds, with tens of millions going out the door in two of the last three years we have available. That's quite a bit of money moving out the door with minimal staff.

Here are a few things to know about Gilder's philanthropy:

1. Yale is a Priority

Gilder is a major supporter of his alma mater Yale. He helped spearhead the so-called ’54/50 Fund, an idea he came up with at his Yale Class of 1954's 25th Reunion. His idea was that he and his classmates should  pool contributions to invest in stocks until their Class of 1954 50th reunion, when they would give the fund as a gift to Yale. By 2000, the ’54/50 Fund’s investment hit $90 million. Gilder gave $20 million to Yale in 2013 alone, to help restore Sterling Memorial Library. In a prior decade, Gilder gave millions to establish the Richard Gilder Boathouse for Yale’s crew, for which his Olympic-medalist daughter had rowed.

Perhaps the most prominent Gilder effort at his alma mater is the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. The Gilder Lehrman Institute's activities include fellowships, prizes, seminars, and lectures. Gilder majored in history at Yale and the effort shows the strong interest Gilder has in advancing research and understanding of history.

2. Large Sums Have Gone to Other Areas in Education as Well

Apart from Yale, the Gilder Foundation also recently gave at least $1 million to the Hunter College Foundation in 2014, and $10 million to Northfield Mount Hermon School in 2013 to help build a new science, math, and technology facility on campus. Gilder attended Northfield Mount Harmon School in Massachusetts before he went on to Yale. It's worth noting that this is another funder who has committed large sums to STEM education. More than $2 million also recently went to Saint David's School. More modest sums have recently gone to Barnard College, and the University of Texas Foundation. Lois attended University of Texas.

The couple has also been active in the education reform space, like a number of other Wall Street funders. They've steadily supported the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, which describes itself as an "independent, nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to improving education in New York State by promoting accountability, stimulating innovation, and supporting school choice efforts." Modest sums have also gone to Teach for America, Chess-in-the-Schools, and Music Through Education.

Finally, the Gilder Foundation has funded libraries in local parochial schools.

3. The Couple Loves History

Besides the work at Yale at the Gilder Lehrman Institute,  recent money has gone to the Massachusetts Historical Society, Islesboro Historical Society, Virginia Historical Society, Montpelier Foundation, and the National Center for the American Revolution ($1 million in 2011). Outside of Yale, some of the largest sums in this area have gone to the New York Historical Society, which received some $3.4 million in 2013. Gilder has also been a steady supporter of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, which is sponsored by the College of William & Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

4. The Gilders Are Strong Supporters of Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History

Hedge fund billionaire John Paulson gave $100 million to Central Park a few years ago, the largest gift ever given to the park. But while the park is in good shape these days, in the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn't. Gilder, who used to walk to work each day across Central Park, wanted to make some changes. In 1974, Gilder founded the Central Park Community Fund, one of two park groups that merged in 1980 to create the Central Park Conservancy, of which he is a founding trustee. At least $500,000 went to Central Park Conservancy in 2013 alone. As well, in the early 1990s, around $20 million went to Central Park Conservancy. More modest sums have gone to National Parks Of New York.

The Gilders are heavily involved with the American Museum of Natural History, where Gilder is a trustee and served as co-chair of the museum board’s planetarium committee. Much like Central Park, in the early 1990s, the planetarium was in desperate need of improvement, and Gilder helped spearhead an improvement project and helped tap star astronomist Neil deGrasse Tyson to run the planetarium.

The American Museum of Natural History is also the site of the Richard Gilder Graduate School, which has a Ph.D. program in comparative biology.


It's worth noting, as well, that Gilder's politics lean right and he's currently chairman emeritus at the Manhattan Institute, though recent sums toward the think tank haven't been overwhelming. Assorted sums have also gone to health and arts outfits like Carnegie Hall, and Mt. Sinai Medical School. Considering Lois' background in the arts, these interests should be kept in mind as well.

Related: Richard Gilder IP Profile