Low Profile, Long Track Record: The Philanthropy of the Menschel Brothers

The Carnegie Corporation of New York recently announced its 2015 recipients of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy to be awarded in October. We've written about many of these recipients before, including Paul G. Allen,  David M. Rubenstein, and Irwin and Joan Jabobs. But there were two less familiar names that caught our attention, Robert B. Menschel and his brother Richard L. Menschel, both of whom have been engaged in philanthropy, with a focus on New York City, for decades.

Born in 1929, New York City native Robert Menschel received a B.S. from Syracuse University and attended NYU's Graduate School of Business. He became a specialist with the New York Stock Exchange in 1951, and joined Goldman, Sachs & Company in 1954. He became partner about a decade later and currently is a senior director.

How about Richard? Well, this Menschel brother has a similar story. He's also a Syracuse graduate who then went on to Harvard Business School. After serving in the Air Force, he also climbed the ladder at Goldman Sachs, where he currently serves as a senior director.

Both Menschel brothers have foundations that give away around $1 million annually. There's the Robert and Joyce Menschel Family Foundation, established in 1958. Richard Menschel and his wife Ronay, meanwhile, move some of their philanthropy through the Charina Foundation, which was founded in 1980. Both brothers have interests in arts and culture, education, health, and plenty more, mainly in New York City. But before we talk about that, I should probably mention another name— Horace Goldsmith.

The late Horace W. Goldsmith was a New York stockbroker who became a member of the New York Stock Exchange all the way back in 1927. He was also a philanthropist, and established the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, which focuses in on Jewish organizations. Robert and Richard Menschel were trustees at the Goldsmith Foundation.

For those keeping count, that's already three foundations that the Menschels have been involved with over the years. But there's more.

When Goldsmith passed away in 1980, half of his foundation's net assets were bequeathed to two charitable vehicles called Vital Projects Fund and Charina Fund, each of which posted some $315 million in assets in 2014 and gave away a little under $13 million that year. And here's the most important part: Vital Projects Fund and Charina Fund are philanthropic vehicles for the Menschel brothers. Vital Projects is chaired by Robert and Richard is president of Charina Fund. As well, each Menschel brother is a trustee of the other's fund.

Got all that?

As for how Goldsmith and the Menschel brothers developed a relationship in the first place, well, according to the New York Times, the Menschel brothers and the other trustees of the Goldsmith Foundation back then are all related to Goldsmith. It's also worth noting that while it's unclear how much Goldsmith, the longtime Wall Streeter, was worth in his day, the Goldsmith Foundation still posted assets of more than $560 million recently.

Getting back to the Menschel brothers' philanthropy, though, here's a rundown of what they've been up to of late. There's some overlap in the grantmaking going on here between all the different Menschel outfits. As a general rule, the Charina Fund and Vital Projects Fund are far more national in their grantmaking and give much larger grants. It's also worth noting that none of these vehicles has any kind of web presence, or clear guidelines of how to get in touch. Here are a few must knows, however:

1. Both Menschel Brothers Are Interested in Arts and Culture

Robert's former wife, Joyce, has been on the board of trustees at the Met since the 1990s and the museum is the site of the Joyce F. Menschel Photography Library. The Met received some $400,000 from the Menchels' family foundation in 2014. Vital Projects, meanwhile, gave $1 million to the Met in 2014. Sums have also gone to MoMA, where Menschel used to chair the board of trustees and has given at least 130 works of art. Money has also gone to Light Work, a nonprofit photography organization.

Both families have supported various arts and culture outfits in New York City, and Richard Menschel and his wife have also supported historic preservation outfits such as Nantucket Historical Association and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

2. Education Is A Priority As Well

Syracuse University, where Robert and Richard both graduated, has been a major site of philanthropy. The University is home to the Robert B. Menschel Media Center and the Robert B. Menschel Photography Gallery. Syracuse received $1.5 million from Vital Projects Fund in 2013.

Richard has been a strong supporter of Harvard, both the business school and its School of Public Health. A recent $12.5 million gift from Menschel and his wife Ronay established the Transforming Public Health Education Initiative, whose aim is to develop "innovative teaching methods, train faculty, harness new educational technologies, and highlight fieldwork and experience-based learning." The couple also established the Richard L. and Ronay A. Menschel Senior Leadership Fellows Program, launched in 2012, which "brings high-level leaders in government, nonprofits, and journalism to HSPH for three months to share their expertise." The Horace W. Goldsmith Fellowships, meanwhile, were established with support from the Menschels in 2007.

Million-dollar sums have also gone to Cornell, where Richard's wife, Ronay, graduated. Several other colleges and universities have been supported by the Menschels of late, as well. For instance, Tulane's Newcomb Art Museum has been supported. Joyce attended Newcomb College of Tulane. 

On the K-12 front, recent money has gone to Prep for Prep, Citizen Schools, KIPP NYC, and NJ Seeds, which aims to "ensure that students have the knowledge, skills, access and support to thrive at the nation’s finest schools and colleges."

3. Health Is Another Interest

The Menschel Family Foundation has recently given modest sums to outfits such as the Lymphoma Foundation, SLE Lupus Foundation, National Marfan Foundation, and New York Presbyterian Fund. Menschel is a trustee and member of the executive committee of New York Presbyterian Hospital. Richard Menschel, meanwhile, is a chairman emeritus at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Millions have streamed to that outfit from the Charina Endowment Fund. Another recipient of millions through the fund has been Nantucket Cottage Hospital.

4. Human Rights and Criminal Justice is Another Interest,

Recent money coming out of the Vital Projects Fund has gone to ACLU Foundation and local chapters in Colorado, Delaware, and Montana. Support has also gone to Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy and law institute at NYU that "focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice."  Money has also gone to the Council on Foreign Relations, Doctors Without Borders, Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Center for Human Rights, and Freedom of the Press Foundation, among others. Again, there's some overlap with some of these grantees with other Menschel outfits.


As you can see, Robert and Richard Menschel are running quite the philanthropic operation here, with money streaming from a number of different places. They're also doing this with limited staff, reminiscent of donors we've written about before, like Herb Sandler, or Philip Anschutz.

There's also philanthropy by the brothers that involves the environment, human services work, and general support of the New York City community. Down the line, we'll also have to keep appraised of what the next generation of Menschels does with all these charities.