NET WORTH: Unknown
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Wilson & Associates
FUNDING AREAS: Education, Environment, Arts & Culture
OVERVIEW: Robert W. Wilson, who died in 2012, gave much of his wealth to charitable causes during his lifetime. It is estimated that his giving topped $600 million. The main recipients of his philanthropy were environmental causes, Catholic education and the American Civil Liberties Union.
BACKGROUND: Wilson grew up in Detroit and went to Amherst College. He pursued a law degree at the University of Michigan but left his studies to work as a securities analyst. In 1969, he founded Wilson & Associates, a hedge fund that specialized in short sells and growth-stock investments. In 1986, he retired with $225 million, though his fortune continued to grow from his investments, making him worth over $800 million by 2000.
EDUCATION: A great deal of Wilson’s education philanthropy was directed toward Catholic schools in New York City. An openly-gay atheist, Wilson believed that the Archdiocese of New York, which oversees the city’s Catholic schools, better served urban students than did the New York City Department of Education, which runs New York City’s public schools. His charitable donations to the archdiocese totaled approximately $30 million. Wilson also supported the New York Public Library because he felt that libraries were instrumental in helping underserved children in New York.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION: During his lifetime, Wilson gave more than $400 million to environmental causes. In the early 2000s, he created challenge grants of $100 million each to the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Monuments Fund. He also supported smaller organizations, including the international conservation effort Rare and the New York-based American Bird Conservancy.
ARTS & CULTURE: Wilson gave generously to many arts organizations in New York City. An avid art collector, he was a member of the board of trustees of the Whitney Museum of American Art and bequeathed most of his art collection to the Whitney. He was also a member of the board f trustees of the New York City Opera.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Wilson was a member and supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union and an advocate of criminal justice reform.
LOOKING FORWARD: In the year before his death, Wilson put a substantial part of his fortune into a charitable trust. It is likely that this trust will ensure a small but steady stream of revenue for the organizations and causes Wilson was known to support.
Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust
520 83rd Street, Suite 1R
Brooklyn, NY 11209