The Goldman Siblings: How a Billionaire Real Estate Family Gives

photo:  Songquan Deng/shutterstock

photo:  Songquan Deng/shutterstock

When you hear the name Goldman in New York City, you likely first think of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank and financial services giant founded just after the Civil War by Marcus Goldman, who later enlisted his son-in-law Samuel Sachs. The company and its leaders have been prominent in American life across three centuries, and I've examined a number of Goldman partners who have also engaged in philanthropy at a significant level.

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Then there's the late Sol Goldman, the son of a Brooklyn grocer who rose to become the Big Apple's largest landlord in his day. Sol and his business partner, Alex DiLorenzo Jr., began with foreclosed buildings in Brooklyn before expanding into Manhattan in the 1950s and eventually owning the likes of the Chrysler Building. Today, Solil Management owns at least 400 properties in the city and is co-chaired by Sol's children, siblings Jane and Allan Goldman. Jane and Allan's other sisters, Amy Fowler Goldman, 64, and Diane Kemper, 72, also co-own Solil Management.

Oh, and these Goldman siblings are collectively worth around $3 billion. 

Like many wealthy families, the Goldman siblings not only steer the next generation of the family business, but also continue the clan's philanthropic legacy. For that piece of the story, we can't just mention patriarch Sol without also talking about matriarch Lillian Goldman, whose name adorns several institutions. A native New Yorker, Lillian championed education and other causes in the city and beyond. Lillian's eight-figure gift to Yale Law School was driven in part by her interest in women's education and the school's early readiness to admit women and minority students. Sol passed on in 1987, and Lillian died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. 

The Goldman siblings move their philanthropy through several vehicles, including two charitable trusts that were set up in Sol and Lillian’s names. Established in 1988, the Sol Goldman Charitable Trust held some $105 million in assets in a recent fiscal year, and gave away around $4.1 million. Its trustees include Jane Goldman, Allan Goldman, and Jane's husband, Benjamin Lewis, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. The Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, meanwhile, held around $12 million in assets and gave away close to $5.3 million recently. Amy Goldman Fowler, Diane's daughter Robin, and Amy's husband Cary Fowler are among the charity's trustees.

Overall, the Goldman siblings have been moving money steadily out of the door for years, and support a range of causes. Getting a handle on just what this influential family is into should be useful for grantseekers, particularly organizations working in the New York City area. Here's our rundown of what the billionaire family is into:

1. The Family Supports Education, Particularly Higher Education

I've already written about the Goldman family's strong ties to Yale University, where the family also has a $10 million endowed professorship. Yale is also home to the Sol and Lillian Goldman Family Advocacy for Children and Youth Clinic, which opened in 2003. The Goldmans have endowed professorships in other parts of the university as well. Several family members are Yale alumni. Via their charities, the Goldmans have also supported places like NYU, Stuyvesant High School, Dwight Englewood School, Vanderbilt University, Tulane University, Bowdoin College, Achievement First, Rhodes College (Cary chairs the board) and UCSB. 

2. The Goldmans' Health Philanthropy Is Often Personal

Besides Lillian, cancer has touched other members of the Goldman family. Cary is a cancer survivor. The Goldmans also have a few doctors in their family. In 2005, the Sol Goldman Charitable Trust endowed the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins University with a $10 million gift. It's also worth noting that Allan Goldman has Parkinson's disease, and the family has supported places like the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson's Disease Foundation. The family also has an interest in mental health, and Columbia University is home to the Diane Goldman Kemper Family Professor of Epidemiology in Psychiatry held by Myrna Weissman, whose current research is on understanding the rates and risks of mood and anxiety disorders using methods of epidemiology, genetics, neuroimaging and the "application of these findings to develop and test empirically based treatments and prevention intervention."

The Goldmans, via their charities, have also supported Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, Norwell Health, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, among other institutions.

3. Conservation is Another Interest

Amy not only steers the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, but also a smaller vehicle called the Amy P. Goldman Foundation, which gave away a much more modest $75,000 in a recent fiscal year. Amy once worked day to day at Solil Management, but these days, lives on a 200-acre farm in Rhinebeck in Dutchess County, New York, not too far from Hyde Park of Roosevelt fame. Amy is a gardener, author and artist who advocates for seed saving, plant breeding and heirloom fruits and vegetables. She's behind books like Heirloom Harvest, and her website states that her mission is to "celebrate and catalogue the magnificent diversity of standard, open-pollinated varieties, and to promote their conservation." 

Cary Fowler, an agriculturalist, is also engaged in this space. Trained as a sociologist, he went on to become a high-profile advocate for protecting the genetic diversity of the world’s crops, and in the 1990s, helped the United Nations produce an influential assessment of the world’s crop diversity. Cary is considered the "father" of the so-called Svalbard Global Seed Vault, dubbed a doomsday vault for seeds. The Seed Vault is said to provide ultimate security for more than 850,000 unique crop varieties, the raw material for all future plant breeding and crop improvement efforts.

Given this, well, lush background, not only has this set of Goldmans supported more well-known and conventional outfits like like New York Botanical Garden, where Amy is a vice chair, but they've also supported places like the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, and Seed Savers Exchange, a "non-profit organization based near Decorah, Iowa, that preserves heirloom plant varieties through regeneration, distribution and seed exchange."

It's worth noting that a component of the family's philanthropy also involves social justice organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Immigration Law Center, and other progressive organizations. Tennessee native Cary, by the way, was once active in civil rights demonstrations, was present at MLK's last speech, and was a conscientious objector during Vietnam.


There are other causes here worth mentioning. The Goldman family also gives steady support to select Jewish organizations. And they've lent support to human services and the arts. The 92nd Street Y is one important grantee, with which Lillian was strongly involved in life.

All in all, this billionaire real estate family is running a robust philanthropic operation, with a lot of this work flying under the radar. Down the line, we'll also have to keep an eye on the next generation of Goldman family philanthropy.