Sam and Helen Zell

NET WORTH: $5.6 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Equity Group Investments (EGI)

JEWISH FUNDING AREAS: Education & Youth, Israel 

OVERVIEW: Sam Zell, his wife Helen, and family move their philanthropy through the Zell Family Foundation. The foundation gave away some $22 million in a recent year. The Zells' support of the Jewish community includes the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at IDC Herzliya, a university in Israel. The family is also interested in Holocaust remembrance and support for Jews in the former Soviet Union. 

BACKGROUND: Sam Zell graduated from University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree and a J.D. In 1976, he founded Equity Group Investments (EGI). The company and its partners amassed the country’s largest collection of U.S. office space, mostly by identifying opportunities that other investors had overlooked. He is also known for his 2007 purchase of the Tribune Company, which is regarded has his “biggest financial miscalculation.”

FUNDING PROFILE: The Zell Foundation was founded and is currently run by billionaire entrepreneur Sam Zell and his wife, Helen, the foundation’s executive director. The charity is rather active but keeps a low profile and a minimal web presence. The foundation does not appear to accept unsolicited proposals. In a recent tax year, the foundation gave away some $22 million and held around $142 million in assets. Zell's grantmaking strongly involves alma mater University of Michigan. Other interests include entrepreneurship, education, and performing arts. 

Each year, the foundation also supports a select number of Jewish organizations. The throughline here is likely personal; Zell's parents, Bernard and Rochelle Zell, fled Poland in the late 1930s, eventually settling in the Midwest where they became prominent figures in the local Jewish community. The Chicago area is home to the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School and the Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, both of which Zell and Helen steadily support via the family foundation. Other education and youth grantees have included the National Ramah Commission, University of Michigan Hillel, Jewish Student Connection, and Birthright Israel. The Zells have also steadily supported the Boulder JCC Preschool Program.

The Zells also strongly fund American Friends of IDC, which supports the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, "Israel’s first non-government funded university." The institution is home to the Zell Entrepreneurship Program, which "gives students an opportunity to implement advanced entrepreneurial studies in the creation of real business ventures." Entrepreneurship is of particular interest to this funder, and Zell has funded similar efforts at his alma mater. 

The family also has supported Holocaust remembrance, sending funds to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, as well as the Simon Weisenthal Center. Religious organizations like Jewish Theological Seminary and Wood River Jewish Community, have been supported too. 

Another important grantee is Yad Yisroel, which received a $3.5 million gift in a single year last decade. Yad Yisroel is "dedicated to the revival of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, as well as assisting former Soviet Jewry wherever they may be." 

LOOKING FORWARD: The Zells seem to give to a similar batch of grantees annually, making it tough for newcomers to get this funder's attention. However, with billions on hand, the Zells should stay on grantseekers' radar.  


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The Zell Family Foundation does not provide a clear avenue of contact but below is address and phone: 

Zell Family Foundation

2 N. Riverside Plz., Ste. 600
Chicago, IL  60606
Telephone: (312) 466-3852


Equity Group Investments (EGI)