John Van Gorder, Leon Lowenstein Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Education and medical research

CONTACT: jvangorder@lowensteinfdn.org, 212-319-0670

IP TAKE: Van Gorder and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation are low-profile players in education philanthropy, but they are interested in developing new education leaders.

PROFILE: John Van Gorder has been at the Leon Lowenstein Foundation since 1986. Van Gorder is an attorney by profession who received his JD from the Fordham University School of Law. His resume contains legal, philanthropic, and academic experience. Van Gorder was an associate with the law firm of Winne, Banta and Rizzi and a program officer for the J.M. Foundation. Before joining the Lowenstein Foundation, he was corporate secretary and program administrator of the Glenmede Trust Company, which administers the Pew Charitable Trusts. Van Gorder's interest in education is illustrated by his role as an adjunct professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Education.

A former chairman of M. Lowenstein Corporation, Leon Lowenstein established the foundation in 1941 and served as its chairman until he died in 1976. The foundation has more than $100 million in assets and gives to education and medical research projects.

Compared with many philanthropic organizations that fund education projects, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation maintains a low profile. It does not operate a website, and little information on previous grants is available. However, the available information indicates that Van Gorder and the foundation concentrate mainly on New York City-oriented education projects. But they also have supported nonprofits in other areas, including California and Massachusetts. Recipients have included non-profit education organizations and charter school networks. Van Gorder and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation have funded the Urban Education Exchange, the Strategic Education Research Partnership Institute, and the New Teacher Project (TNTP). Founded by former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Brookyln-based TNTP strives to recruit and train better teachers to work with disadvantaged students. The Leon Lowenstein Foundation also has funded the KIPP Foundation, which recruits and trains educational leaders to open and operate KIPP charter schools across the country.

In 2006, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation turned its attention to the problem of student debt, estimated to be in the trillions of dollars at the national level. The foundation financed a program designed to help graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business receive help with student loans in exchange for working in government agencies and non-profit organizations. New graduates, often burdened with high student loan debt, may be less likely to work at these organizations because the salaries they offer often are lower than those in the private sector.

Because of the limited available data, it's difficult to generalize about the education agenda of Van Gorder and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation. Available information suggests, however, that the foundation is mainly interested in projects that train new teachers and education leaders in both traditional public schools and charters. So despite the low profile they keep, Van Gorder and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation may be worth the effort for education nonprofits looking for funding. However, because of the lack of guidelines and limited information on past grants, reaching out to Van Gorder for guidance is a useful first step.