A Twitter Billionaire and His Wife Turn to Philanthropy. What Are They Into?

One of America's newer billionaires as a result of Twitter's IPO, Evan Williams created the Sara & Evan Williams Foundation in 2011 with his wife Sara, who serves as its president. Williams is currently worth more than $2 billion, and while the couple's philanthropy is just getting started, this definitely a duo that grantseekers, particularly those in the San Francisco Bay Area, should keep an eye on.

In 2011, the couple gave away $100,000 through their foundation. That number increased to around $2 million in 2012, and $1.6 million in 2013. We don't yet have numbers for 2014, but there's obviously a lot of money waiting in the wings here, and the trajectory of giving for most younger donors is nearly always upward. That's especially true of the new generation of techies, many of whom are devoting more time and money to philanthropy early in their careers than tech entrepreneurs of previous eras. 

In short, Sara and Evan Williams are exactly the kind of donors we watch closely. Here are a few things to know about the couple's grantmaking through their foundation so far:

1. Supporting Youth and Education is a High Priority

The couple has given to 826 Valencia, which helps youth with their writing, Mission Graduates, which prepares students for college and beyond, and Little School, "a relationship-based, inclusive pre-school committed to providing individualized, quality education to young children." Support has also gone to the Marin Primary and Middle School. On the higher education front, $500,000 went to the UCSF Foundation in 2012. The Williamses have also supported Educators for Fair Consideration, which aims "to empower undocumented young people to achieve their academic and career goals and actively contribute to society."

Perhaps the biggest work so far in the ed area, however, is the couple's support of IDEO.org, which received at least $1 million in 2013. IDEO describes itself as a "a nonprofit design organization that works to empower the poor." The outfit was tapped, with the help of funds from the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, to help reform school cafeterias in the San Francisco Unified School District. The effort gets at issues such as healthy eating and meal cost to create a "student-centered lunch experience."

The project and its leveraging of technology and social media tools is particularly fitting for the Williamses, and might provide a glimpse at the kind of innovative philanthropy that the couple develops down the line. It also underscores their interest in food issues. (Another $200,000 grant went for work in this area.) Additionally, the IDEO project underscored the controversy associated with a higher philanthropic profile, attracting some public criticism

2. The Environment Is Another Interest

Recent money has gone to the Energy Foundation ($25,000 in 2012), which describes itself as a "partnership of major foundations interested in sustainable energy." Money has also gone to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. The couple has also supported Grist, an environmental news publication in Seattle, and 350.org, an "international effort to raise awareness of the need to decrease carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million." Support has also gone to Education Outside. Sara Williams has expressed alarm about climate change in her Twitter feed. 

3. The Bay Area is a Big Focus

Much of the Williamses' giving has so far focused locally, in the Bay Area. In addition to the grants mentioned, some of funding has gone through Community Initiatives, which works with many local nonprofits. Similarly, the couple has supported the Kindling Foundation, a local Bay Area outfit which selects one organization a year to fund.


One final note, which may be apparent by now: The Williamses lean progressive in their politics. They've both made large donations to the Democratic Party, and in 2014, Evan Williams gave $200,000 to Mayday PAC, a super PAC focused on getting money out of politics, the brainchild of Larry Lessig.

As for their philanthropy, perhaps the bottom line is that it's still early in the game for the 43-year-old Evan Williams and his wife Sara. They have a lot of money and some strong interests, but it may be a while before really big money starts to flow. Meanwhile, the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation still doesn't have much of a web presence, or clear avenues for grantseekers to get in touch.