"More Impact." Why a Power Couple Prioritizes Public Policy Giving

 The Brookings institution

The Brookings institution

Steve Rattner's name is likely to ring a bell, even if you don't follow Wall Street. After much success in finance, including serving as a general partner at Lazard Frères, Ratter was tapped by the Obama Administration to help restructure the automobile industry as "car czar." He's been visible lately as an economic analyst on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and as a contributing writer for the New York Times op-ed page. Rattner was also embroiled in government investigations in 2009 and 2010 into how his firm secured business from a New York State pension fund.

These days, Rattner's day job is serving as chairman and CEO of New York City-based Willett Advisors, which manages the personal and philanthropic assets of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Rattner and his wife, Maureen White, are also active givers themselves, with charitable involvements that go back at least to the 1980s, when they set up a foundation. 

Rattner's background has translated into philanthropy that strongly prioritizes public policy. In a recent conversation, he had high praise for a niche funding area that isn't always favored by funders. As he puts it, “Giving to public policy organizations like think tanks isn’t the sexiest or most popular destination for philanthropy for many people, but remember that even a small positive change in what the government does can have more impact than many other kinds of philanthropy.” He added that ushering good ideas into the public sphere can have a huge positive impact, and staving off bad policy also has important ramifications. 

Rattner is an honorary trustee at the Brookings Institution, the august D.C. think tank, which he has long supported. He previously served on the board of the New America Foundation, another top Beltway policy shop. He and Maureen are also top Democratic donors, steadily supporting the Clintons through the years. Maureen herself served as national finance co-chair of the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign 2008 and as national finance chair of the DNC prior to that.

While Rattner's philanthropic interests are largely reflected through public policy, he tells me that Maureen often takes the lead on the couple's international work, including issues like women's health, aiding refugees and in general supporting NGOs that make life better for people in the developing world. Maureen, a graduate of Mount Holyoke and the London School of Economics, is currently a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. Maureen's work in the space also includes working at the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Got all that?

Recent grantmaking through the couple's Rattner Family Foundation includes supporting places like the International Rescue Committee (Maureen is on the board), the Center for Global Development (Maureen is a board member), the Council on Foreign Relations, Refugees International, and the RFK Foundation for Justice & Human Rights. 

Apart from public policy, Rattner also supports his alma mater, Brown University, where he served on the board for more than two decades. Rattner and Maureen also support arts and healthcare institutions, largely along the I-95 Corridor. Grantmaking here generally tracks with where the family takes up residence. In Martha's Vineyard, for instance, they've supported a hospital. They've also supported outfits in Northern Westchester County, where they have a home. 

Overall, the Rattner Family Foundation keeps a low profile, and Rattner tells me that he and Maureen are proactive in reaching out to organizations with which to partner. 

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