NET WORTH: $3 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Goldman Sachs, Omega Advisors Inc.
FUNDING AREAS: Jewish Charities, Community Development, Education
OVERVIEW: Leon Cooperman has pledged to give away at least half of his wealth to charity, and is a strong supporter of Jewish Charities, as well as Columbia Business School, though they are also active in health research, and dabble in other areas. There are signs that the Coopermans have been ramping up their giving in recent years--the Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation now holds nearly $265 million in assets, up from $150 million just a couple years ago.
BACKGROUND: Leon Cooperman grew up in a Jewish family as the son of a plumber in the South Bronx. He attended public school, including Hunter College, before enrolling in Columbia Business School. After graduating business school, he worked for Goldman Sachs for 25 years, but left in 1991 to found Omega Advisors.
JEWISH COMMUNITY: The Coopermans were among the first American philanthropists to endow Birthright Israel, an organization that sponsors trips to the homeland for Jewish youth, though their donations to this organization have been modest compared to some of their other gifts. The Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future, which is held by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, or JCF, is one of the largest, and was begun by the Coopermans and others, including their daughter-in-law, Jodi Cooperman. In 2012, they named JCF as the beneficiary of a $20 million life insurance policy. In 2010, they established the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future with a $5 million endowment, because, as Cooperman has said, “Through intermarriage and rapid assimilation, we’re disappearing. We’re trying to make our effort to help either slow that down or reverse it.” The Coopermans were the first to fund Birthright Israel, an organization that sponsors trips to the homeland for Jewish youth. They've also given substantial funding to organizations like the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Museum of New York, and the Jewish Federations of North America.
EDUCATION: The Coopermans have a long history of supporting their alma maters. In 1995, they endowed the Leon Cooperman Professorship of Finance and Economics at Columbia Business School. They have also created need-based scholarships at both Hunter College, and Columbia Business School, and in 2011, gave $25 million for the expansion of the Columbia Business School campus. In 2013, Cooperman committed $25 million to Hunter College.
NY AND NJ COMMUNITIES: Many of the Coopermans' donations extend beyond the Jewish community, and into their local community at large. Cooperman is Chairman Emeritus of the St. Barnabas Development Foundation. In 2014, St. Barnabas Hospital received $25 million and they have given healthy sums to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and the New Community Foundation in Newark, NJ. In New York, the Wall St. backed poverty fighting mainstay, the Robin Hood Foundation, has received steady support, generally in annual grants of $200,000-$250,000. They've started the Cooperman College Scholars, a program that looks to assist motivated but cash strapped students in Essex County, New Jerse — the first cohort of which received $25 million from Cooperman for college. They also make dozens of smaller donations each year to a variety of community organizations, including theater groups, the NYC Police Foundation, and more recently to ECLC, an organization that strives to provide "Education, Careers & Lifelong Community” for those with special needs, to whom they pledged $250,000.
HEALTH: Cooperman sits on the board of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, and has also given to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. A number of area hospitals have also received donations, and some outside New York and New Jersey have received donations as well.
LOOKING FORWARD: It is easy to predict that the bulk of the Coopermans’ wealth will go to organizations—and, quite possibly, one organization (the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Metrowest)—that promotes Jewish identity and culture. There's also Cooperman's notorious 2011 letter chastising President Obama, whom he accused of espousing “class warfare” through “the vernacular of political militancy.” While the letter seems to ignore the class warfare and vernacular of political militancy that comes equally, and often unchallenged, from the other side, it does show an interest in economic policy in particular, which could end up manifesting itself in the form of grants to policy and advocacy organizations, or programs for financial education and job training.
Toby Cooperman, Director, Cooperman Family Foundation, c/o Gittelman & Co., P.O. Box 2369, Clifton, NJ 07015. (973) 778-8885
Fund for a Jewish Future, 901 Route 10, Whippany, NJ 07981, (973) 929-3000