Giving It Now: The Philanthropic Plan of Roger and Susan Hertog

Yesterday's foundation modelestablishing an endowed entity that husbands its resources and lives foreverhas been losing traction among today's donors, who'd rather give big now and then close up shop. Every time we turn around, we come across another philanthropist embracing the "giving while living" model made famous by Chuck Feeney, the billionaire whose foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, will cease making new grants next year. 

Related - Philanthrosaurus Rex: Why the Age of Big Foundations is Almost Over

The latest don't-leave-any-behind donor to catch our eye is Roger Hertog. 

"Philanthropy is not the Hertog family business... this isn't what I live my life for so that my kids could then take this on... in truth, I would love to spend this money in my lifetime," so explains Hertog, who made his money as one of the founding partners of Sanford C. Bernstein & Company (now AllianceBernstein). In an interview with Bridgespan, in addition to talking about his philanthropic spend down, Hertog also questions the very foundation model, and whether an original donor's wishes can be met by a surviving staff and board.

If you want to really control where your money goes, Hertog apparently believes, you've got to give it away yourself. I'm sure the late Henry Ford would second that idea. The perversion of "donor intent" is a key theme in conservative philanthropy circles and, as it happens, Hertog's politics lean right. 

Hertog and his wife Susan's philanthropic strategy has focused on making shrewd investments to achieve maximum impact with a plan on giving away all their money in their lifetimes. Of course, this isn't easy, especially when, as Hertog admits, there are more bad ideas than good ones. The Hertog Foundation is also very lean, with minimal staff, and with Hertog and Susan serving as co-directors.

This paradigm feels a lot like billionaire Herb Sandler's philanthropy, another spend-down donor who moves a lot of money with little infrastucture, whom we've written about before at IP. Or a number of other new donors on the scene who are reshaping philanthropy and getting a lot done by placing big bets with minimal staff. Most of these donors don't plan for their foundations to still be around decades from now, chugging into some distant future with professional philanthropoids at the helm. 

Related: Philanthrosaurus Rex: Why the Age of Big Foundations Is Almost Over  

So what exactly have Roger and Susan Hertog been doing with their money, and what can we expect down the line?

Well, first it might be useful to know a bit about them. The son of an auto mechanic and a homemaker, Hertog grew up in a working class Jewish family in the Bronx. Except for his parents and two aunts, Hertog lost his entire family in the Holocaust. This led Hertog to ask a number of questions, including why he was spared while so many other Jews were not. Hertog often spent time at the library reading, and later attended City College of New York, while working. He later took a job at Oppenheimer & Co where he met Sanford C. Bernstein. When Bernstein went out on his own, he reached out to Hertog who became one of the founding partners of Sanford C. Bernstein & Company in 1968 and served as the firm’s president until 2000.

Hertog got swept into philanthropy in the late 1990s, when Bernstein was diagnosed with lymphoma. Bernstein wanted Hertog to take the reins of his Tikvah Fund, which supports the "intellectual, religious, and political leaders of the Jewish people and the Jewish State." Tikvah was mostly known for its support of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, but under Hertog's leadership has expanded in many ways including funding a scholars program for teenage students, and a summer program at Princeton on “Jewish Thought and Enduring Human Questions.”

The Hertog Foundation, meanwhile, has given away around $10 million annually in recent years, mainly toward Jewish causes, conservative policy issues, education (both higher education, and school reform), and arts and culture. Here's a rundown of what this funder has been up to:

1. Hertog and Susan Are Major Donors of Conservative Policy Outfits

While Hertog has defined his conservatism in terms of "dress, respect for the system, respect for his parents, and deep abiding belief in the country," rather than in political terms, he's been a big backer of right-wing policy work. Hertog has served as chairman emeritus of the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute, as well as on the board of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He was also a backer of the right-leaning New York Sun newspaper. Hertog and Susan have given AEI at least $5 million since 2010, with a long trail of other grantees including the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the Alexander Hamilton Society, the Hudson Institute, the Claremont Institute, the Washington Institute, and the Institute for the Study of War.

2. Education is Also a Priority 

Hertog and Susan are involved in education philanthropy on several fronts. They are interested in charterswhat Wall Street donor isn't?and once commissioned a study of charter schools in New York to see whether there are smarter ways to invest in the charter movement.Recent money has gone to the Success Charter Network, and Families for Excellent Schools in New York.

In higher education, the couple has recently supported Brandeis University, Duke, and Johns Hopkins, among others. At least $3 million also recently went to Weill Cornell Medical College, with more modest sums going to Middlebury College's Adult Language Program, and to CUNY Research Foundation. At least $1 million went to Susan's alma mater Hunter College, as well, in 2014.

The couple's education philanthropy sometimes intersects with their interest in policy as well. There's the Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security at Columbia University, and the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative, a research program at Columbia University that uses historical analysis to confront problems in world politics.

Finally, while the Hertog Foundation states very clearly that it does not accept unsolicited proposals, the  foundation itself runs a number of different educational programs which are open to applicants. One is the Hertog Economic Policy Studies Summer Program, an intensive two-week program offered in conjunction with National Affairs magazine. Another foundation program is the Hertog War Studies Program which aims to educate advanced undergraduate students about the theory, practice, organization, and control of war and military forces. (To find out more about these programs click here.) 

3. The Hertogs Care About Libraries and History

Hertog once chaired the New York Historical Society, and in 2013, established the Hertog Fellowship, a two-year residency aimed at furthering the work of an eminent scholar through research. Millions have gone to the outfit over the years. The couple have also been major supporters of the New York Public Library system, and have given at least $70 million to that institution, including a multi-million dollar gift to build the Bronx Library Center. It's not often that we see major money get to New York's outer boroughs. Clearly this bookworm from the Bronx hasn't forgotten his formative years. As well, Susan is writer with an MFA from Columbia University.


Apart from the above interests, the Hertogs also recently gave at least $1 million to the Met, and more modest sums have gone to Lincoln Center. While the couple aren't major health philanthropists, a lot of their gifts in this area have gone to New York City outfits such as Weill Cornell. As well, in addition to funding the activities of the Tikvah Fund, the Hertogs have given to a wide array of Jewish outfits, mainly in New York City.

Related: Roger Hertog IP Profile