Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney

NET WORTH: $2.2 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Lehman Brothers, Blackstone

FUNDING AREAS: Economic Policy and Advocacy, Good Governance, Volunteerism

OVERVIEW: A well-known fiscal conservative, Peter Peterson and his wife Joan focus their giving almost exclusively on economic policy research and advocacy. The foundation tends to give in relatively large sums, rarely granting less than $50,000 and usually coming in around the $250,000 range. Gifts of more than $1 million are not infrequent, either. These awards tend to go to established think tanks from across the ideological spectrum, though Peterson is most focused on bipartisan and nonpartisan organizations.

BACKGROUND: Peter G. Peterson studied at Northwestern and the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. In 1973, he left his government job and became president of Lehman Brothers, a position he held for more than a decade before cofounding Blackstone Group, which ended up making him $1.9 billion when it went public in 2007. The same year he founded Blackstone, he also became chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he served until 2007.


ECONOMIC POLICY: "For the first time in my memory, the majority of the American people join me in believing that, on our current course, our children will not do as well as we have," Peterson said when determining where he most wanted to exert his philanthropic influence. "For years, I have been saying that the American government, and America itself, has to change its spending and borrowing policies."

Although Peterson is a longtime fiscal conservative, he seems to be more progressive-leaning than one might initially think. He's strongly supported American Enterprise Institute, while on the progressive side, he's supported places like New America Foundation and Center for American Progress. The bulk of his work is done in the middle, however, and most notably through the Concord Coalition, which he helped found. He's also given significant amounts to organizations such as the Public Agenda Foundation and the Committee for Economic Development, and he created the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics.

ADVOCACY AND VOLUNTEERISM: Much of Peterson's work is focused on building grassroots organizations that can tackle problems from different angles. For example, he's supported America Speaks, and to help with its mission of empowering millennials to create and implement solutions to social problems. He's also supported America's Promise Alliance, which focuses on volunteer action for children and youth; Be the Change; ServiceNation; and the Clinton Global Initiative. 

EDUCATION: Peterson has strongly supported Columbia University Teacher's College. He's also donated to places like National Academy of Public Administration Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and to Emory's Institute of Advanced Policy Solutions, giving the impression that his giving in education is mostly an extension of his focus on economic and governance.

PUBLIC MEDIA: Peterson has supported New York City's public media channel WNET 13 and ProPublica.

LOOKING FORWARD: With all the focus on policy regarding deficit, debt, and entitlements, there's a pretty good chance that Peterson could end up becoming a major player in more basic governmental reforms, such as campaign finance. There's also the potential that microfinance and financial education nonprofits could gain his support, as well as advocacy organizations that help people organize, become more involved in the creation of public policy, and create social movements. Also look for more giving in the public media sphere.