NET WORTH: $1.8 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Founder and CEO, Providence Equity Partners
FUNDING AREAS: Education, Health, Rhode Island Community
OVERVIEW: Jonathan Nelson is a Giving Pledge signatory who long ago privately committed to giving away at least half of his wealth. Nelson's philanthropy prioritizes education, health, the environment, and human services. So far, his philanthropy has largely centered on Rhode Island.
BACKGROUND: Jonathan Nelson, a native Rhode Islander and the state's richest man, 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, and in 2011, funded two named professorships. He gave another $1.4 million to the school in 2013 and $25 million 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 supported Harvard Business School and Rockefeller University. He also gave large sums to the Gordon School and the Middlesex School, independent schools in Rhode Island, and he has 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 been a steady supporter of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as well as 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. He has recently supported the Narrow River Preservation Association, to support a local river watershed in southern Rhode Island. He has given money 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, he has shown support for the Nature Conservancy in 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: So far, the majority of the Jonathan M. Nelson Family Foundation’s funding has gone toward Brown, and has otherwise 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 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