Jonathan M. Nelson

NET WORTH: $1.97 billion 

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Founder & CEO of Providence Equity Partners

FUNDING AREAS: Education, Health, Rhode Island Community

OVERVIEW: Jonathan Nelson is a Giving Pledge signatory who, a long time ago, privately committed to give away at least half of all his wealth. In his pledge letter, Nelson talks about "making sure that those with challenges either at their start or along the way get a helping hand." To that end, Nelson's philanthropy focuses on education, where he's given tens of millions to his alma mater, Brown. Nelson also has interests in health (he lost his first wife to cancer), the environment, and human services. So far, his philanthropy has largely focused on Rhode Island.

BACKGROUND: Native Rhode Islander and the state's richest man, billionaire Jonathan Nelson got his B.S. in economics from Brown University. Nelson took a job straight of college with Boston-based Wellman International and later got his M.B.A. from Harvard. He joined Narragansett Capital in 1983. In 1989, Nelson founded Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm that manages $40 billion in assets and holds stakes in Univision and Blackboard.


EDUCATION: Nelson is a major benefactor of his alma mater, Brown University. In 2004, he donated $10 million toward the construction of what is now the Jonathan Nelson Fitness Center. In 2011, Nelson funded two named professorships. Steady funds have flowed to Brown, with another $1.4 million going to the school in 2013 and $25 million going to the university in early 2016 for a new entrepreneur center. Nelson has also bankrolled the Ruth J. Simmons Scholarship Fund at Brown, which supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Apart from Brown, Nelson has also supported Harvard Business School and Rockefeller University. Nelson also gave large sums to the Gordon School and the Middlesex School, independent schools in Rhode Island. And he's supported outfits such as Year Up, and Girls Inc.

HEALTH: Nelson's work in this area is personal, as he lost his first wife to cancer. Nelson has steadily supported the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and support has also gone to the Melanoma Research Foundation, the American Cancer Society, South County Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital, among others.

RHODE ISLAND COMMUNITY: Nelson has an interest in conservation, particularly in Rhode Island. Recent support has gone to the Narrow River Preservation Association, to support a local river watershed in southern Rhode Island. Money has also gone to Save the Bay, to protect and restore the Narragansett Bay, and to the Rhode Island Zoological Society. Notably outside of Nelson's usual region, steady streams have flowed to the Nature Conservancy of Utah and Friends of Alta (also in Utah). Nelson also supports human services outfits such as Hospice Care of Rhode Island, and arts outfits such as the Newport Art Museum and the Newport Festivals Foundation.

LOOKING FORWARD: Nelson was born in 1956, and is still very much engaged in business. So far, his largest sums through the Jonathan M. Nelson Family Foundation have gone toward Brown, and have tended to stay in his home state. However, a handful of modest environment and arts grants to outfits out west might signal a more expansive operation down the line.


The Jonathan M. Nelson Family Foundation has no website, or a clear avenue for grantseekers to get in touch. However, an address is listed below 

Jonathan M. Nelson Family Foundation
50 Kennedy Pl., 18th Fl.
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 751-0588


Providence Equity Partners