William and Susan Oberndorf

NET WORTH: $26 million

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Cofounder, SPO Partners & Co; Oberndorf Enterprises

FUNDING AREAS: Education, Health, Environment, Arts & Culture, Policy, Bay Area Community.

OVERVIEW: William Oberndorf and his wife Susan conduct their philanthropy through the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation. Their grantmaking centers around the Bay Area. Oberndorf is a big backer of education reform, and in the early 1990s, he helped establish the American Education Reform Foundation. The couple also has interests in health, policy, among other areas. 

BACKGROUND: Raised in Cleveland, William Oberndorf graduated from Williams College in 1975 and received an M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1978. Oberndorf has been a value investor for over 30 years, operating in a broad range of businesses. He cofounded the Mill Valley, CA, investment firm SPO Advisory Corp. with two former Stanford classmates. Oberndorf recently retired from SPO and now manages Oberndorf Enterprises. 


EDUCATION: A major component of the couple's philanthropy has focused on education reform. Oberndorf helped found American Education Reform Foundation, whose purpose is to "promote, through legislative action, the granting of publicly funded scholarships that will allow primarily low-income parents to opt out of the public school system if it is not working for their children." Oberndorf also serves as chairman emeritus and board member of the Alliance for School Choice, an organization he co-founded.

The couple's recent education philanthropy has funded quite a number of outfits, including Breakthrough Collaborative which "puts low-income middle school students on the path to college and inspires high school and college students to become educators," buildOn, "an international nonprofit organization that runs youth service afterschool programs in United States high schools, and builds schools in developing countries," and the BASIC Fund,  a privately funded organization providing partial-tuition scholarships to low-income families across the Bay Area.

Gifts have also gone to KIPP Bay Area Schools, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, SF School Choice Alliance, Gateway Public Schools, Center for Education Reform, and more. Big money has gone to The Thatcher School in Ojai, CA, and to Oberndorf's high school, University School, in the Cleveland area.

Apart from K-12 education, funds have also gone to Marquette University, Williams College, and various outfits associated with the University of San Francisco, including the University of California San Francisco Foundation, of which Oberndorf is chairman. A steady stream of money has also gone to Stanford, from which both Oberndorf and Susan graduated. 

HEALTH: The couple recently gave $25 million to UCSF to advance basic research in psychiatry and the behavioral sciences. The gift builds on a previous $5 million gift to fund a professorship in psychiatry. The couple have also recently supported outfits such as Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Gladstone Institutes, "an independent and nonprofit biomedical research organization whose focus is to better understand, prevent, treat and cure cardiovascular, viral and neurological conditions," UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, Stanford School of Medicine, and Cancer Prevention Institute of California. Cancer appears to be a particular interest of the couple; it is worth mentioning that SPO co-founders William J. Patterson passed away from a brain tumor.

ENVIRONMENT: Recent grantmaking has involved outfits such as Environmental Defense Fund, California Trout, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Lange Foundation, "a nonprofit organization in Southern California dedicated to saving impounded companion animals."

POLICY: Recent grants have included outfits such as Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy research institution dedicated to analysis and policy impact, the Institute for Justice, "a U.S. libertarian public interest law firm," Pacific Research Institute, "a nonprofit advocated for personal responsibility and individual liberty in national and state issues," Hoover Institution, and Ploughshares Fund.

ARTS & CULTURE: Large sums have gone to California Academy of Sciences, which was once chaired by Oberndorf's business partner William J. Patterson. Other recent grantees include San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

BAY AREA COMMUNITY: The couple has a big interest in the Bay Area and funds a number of outfits supporting the Bay Area community. Recent money has gone to San Francisco 49ers Foundation, San Francisco Food Bank, San Francisco Free Clinic, San Francisco Parks Alliance, San Francisco YMCA, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Meals On Wheels of San Francisco, and the Tipping Point Community, a "nonprofit that fights poverty in the Bay Area." 

LOOKING FORWARD: It is unclear how much money Oberndorf has left waiting in the wings but expect money to continue streaming to the couple's established interest areas, particularly the education reform space.


The Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation does not provide a clear avenue of contact, but below is an address:

Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation

505 Sansome St., Ste. 1950

San Francisco, CA 94111