NET WORTH: $4.8 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Inherited, investments
FUNDING AREAS: New York, conservation, mental health/substance abuse
OVERVIEW: Dirk Ziff didn’t really start digging into philanthropy until he was in his mid-30s, but over the past few decades, he’s made substantial contributions to New York-based organizations, environmental causes, and substance abuse organizations. In 2000, he established the Natasha and Dirk Ziff Foundation. The foundation is relatively small, giving out a little over $1 million annually in some recent years. Ziff and his wife have pretty wide interests.
BACKGROUND: Dirk Ziff is the older brother of Daniel and Robert Ziff. As heirs apparent of the family business, Ziff Davis Media, Dirk Ziff could have slipped into his father’s shoes and picked up where he left off. But that’s not the way Dirk Ziff’s story goes. He and his brothers decided that they did not want to follow the patriarchal path laid out before them and instead, chose to venture out on their own. At 26, Dirk Ziff pitched a proposal to his father and brothers that would give him control of over $500 million of the family’s money, which Dirk would invest. They agreed and the brothers established Ziff Brothers Investments (ZBI), with Dirk and Robert at the helm. A little over 20 years after establishing Ziff Brothers Investments, the brothers decided to close the doors of their multibillion-dollar hedge fund, winding it down in recent years.
NEW YORK: Like his brothers, Dirk Ziff has contributed heavily to New York-based organizations, especially the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts. Since 1999, Ziff has given Lincoln Center over $3 million. The biggest recipient of his largesse has been his first alma mater, Trinity School, to which Ziff has donated over $7 million. He initially gave the school $100,000 back in 1997, and over the years his donations have ranged widely between a low of $3,000 to a high of $2 million. More recently, Ziff has given the school $1 million or more on an annual basis. The Ziff Foundation has also heavily supported the Brearley School.
Next up on Dirk Ziff’s favored New York organizations is the Educational Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), the parent company of WNET. Ziff has given to EBC, WNET, and WNET family company, THIRTEEN.
Other New York organizations that have received donations from Dirk Ziff—though often on a smaller scale as compared to Lincoln Center and EBC—include New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York, the New York Blood Center and Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Gay Men's Health Crisis in particular has received a modest but constant stream of money from Ziff. He has also donated over the years to Common Grounds, which addresses chronic homelessness in major cities around the nation, including New York.
MARTHA'S AREA VINEYARD: Ziff and his wife Natasha vacation in Martha's Vineyard and there's another significant stream that goes to Massachusetts-based organizations. He's been a consistent funder of the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival and made a 5-year $500,000 commitment to the festival back in 2008. Natasha serves on the advisory board of the film festival and seems to have an interest in film. She's also director of Sea the World Productions, a nonprofit film organization which has received big support from the couple. Expect Natasha to guide this area of the couple's philanthropy.
CONSERVATION: Dirk Ziff’s gifts toward conservation efforts is relatively narrow with the biggest recipient being the National Audubon Society. Ziff has been making donations to the bird and wildlife conservation organization since 1996. Ziff has made smaller donations to the Peregrine Fund and to NRDC. In Massachusetts, Ziff has also given to the Farm Institute in Martha's Vineyard, which offers educational programs in land preservation, the history of Martha's Vineyard farming, and nutritional awareness. He's also given to the Westchester Land Trust, the Central Park Conservancy, and the Urban Ecology Institute at Boston College.
MENTAL HEALTH/SUBSTANCE ABUSE: In 2008, Ziff gave the Caron Foundation $1 million toward its capital campaign and established the Ziff Family Self Development Endowment Fund, designed to provide scholarships for operational expenses at the Breakthrough at Caron Program. Caron, now known as the Caron Treatment Centers, primarily provides long-term alcohol and drug addiction treatment for people in all age groups from adolescents to older adults. In 2010, Ziff also gave the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University a $10,000 gift in support of its mental health and crisis intervention programs.
LOOKING FORWARD: Dirk Ziff’s charitable donations have remained fairly consistent over the past few decades, with some variations. It remains to be seen whether he and wife will ramp up and professionalize their giving. Certainly they have the means to build a major philanthropic operation if they so choose. As things stand now, their foundation has no publicly identifiable staff, no website, and no way for grantseekers to submit applications for funding.
The Natasha & Dirk Ziff Foundation
350 Park Ave., 4th Fl.
New York, NY United States 10022-6022