David Gelbaum


SOURCE of WEALTH: Environmental Technology Investments

FUNDING AREAS: Environment, Veterans, Civil Rights, Education

OVERVIEW: Gelbaum was recently unmasked as one of a trio of anonymous donors from finance that have engaged in mega giving through Wellspring Advisors. Though no one seems to know how much David Gelbaum is worth, or how much he's given so far, exactly, the numbers are huge and he's signed the Giving Pledge. Now the bad news: Gelbaum is said to be "done with philanthropy. He’s already given away most of his fortune and lost much of the rest."

BACKGROUND: Gelbaum studied at several colleges in California before graduating from UC Irvine with a degree in mathematics. He then worked for several investment firms where he made his fortune using quantitative modeling for stock price returns and derivative securities. He then founded Quercus Trust to handle his investments, and since 2002, has put about $500 million into companies that are involved with nearly every aspect of the green economy, including renewable energy, smart electric grids, sustainable agriculture and electric cars. Most of his time is currently spent as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Entech Solar, a company he co-founded with Mark O'Neill.


ENVIRONMENT: David is a co-founder of the Wildlands Conservancy, a land trust that has acquired and preserved 1,200 square miles of land in California. He has donated around $250 million for the acquisition and conservation of these lands, and another $200 million to the Sierra Club. Their main focus, they said, was “providing outdoor opportunities for children who weren’t getting them.” To this end, the Conservancy provides free camping and day use for anyone who wants to visit, and free outdoor education for thousands of schoolchildren. They also work to educate the public about threats to wild lands. 

VETERANS: The Gelbaums have a deep respect for the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in our military, and have recognized that “the transition from military service back to civilian life is a gaping hole through which some of our best, brightest, and most highly-trained are falling.” To fill this hole, help veterans deal with psychological and physical trauma, and create opportunities for veterans in the communities they live, the Gelbaums created the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund (IADIF), which engaged in “strategic and sometimes risky grantmaking,” making more than $243 million in grants to 53 non-profits from 2006 to 2010, but is not actively making new grants. Part of their donation to the Sierra Club was for the Military Families Outdoors Initiative.

CIVIL RIGHTS: The Gelbaums have given $93 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, and have also worked with the NAACP on issues such as immigrants’ rights, prisoners’ rights, and the War on Drugs. They have also been advocates for human rights issues in places such as Darfur and Israel.

EDUCATION: Save Our Youth in Costa Mesa, CA, has been the major recipient of the Gelbaums’ philanthropy in education. The group’s strategy took low-income kids and helped them through high school, paying them based on their grades, and setting aside a portion of that money for college scholarships. The philosophy behind this program was that these kids were expected to work to help support their families, and may have otherwise had to drop out of school. Instead, they are able to earn money and get an education that they may not have had access to.

LOOKING FORWARD: As we said at the start, Gelbaum is said to be "done" with philanthropy and tapped out. On the other hand, he's still young enough to make more money, so who knows.