Big Giving, Low Profile: The Philanthropy of William Bowes, Jr.

The Hewlett Foundation and the Packard Foundation topped a recent list by the Grantsmanship Center on the top giving foundations in California. These two foundations, of course, have name recognition across the country and even the world.

Go down the list, and you'll find Golden State funders like the Koret Foundation, which topped $600 million in assets recently, and gave away around $25 million.

Related - What to Know About the Koret Foundation's Bay Area Giving

Many larger foundations have extensive staff and a strong web presence that helps the public get a handle on them. Then there's the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, which, in a recent year, gave away a little under $40 million and held more than $350 million in assets. This foundation made the Grantsmanship Center's list, and yet this place barely has a web presence (its foundation's website is a single page), and its president, Bill Bowes, also flies under the radar.

In this new age of philanthropy, we're seeing many more large operations with lean staff. One name that comes to mind is Herb Sandler, another funder we've written about here.

Related - The Sandler Way: Where Big Philanthropy Meets the Art of Common Sense

Bowes, whose net worth at one point was estimated around $900 million, was born in the 1920s, and has been a venture capitalist in the Bay Area for some 50 years. His father was a businessman and his mother was a physician and one of the first women to graduate from the Stanford School of Medicine.

The William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation was established in 1991, and these days operates with a small staff that includes Mary L. Gregory, senior program officer, and Fiona Barrett, grants manager. Unfortunately, the foundation does not accept proposals. The only public guidelines, meanwhile, state that it "supports nonprofit organizations in several areas including (but not exclusively) medical research, access to college, the arts, and higher education."

Some serious money has gone out of the door over the years, which makes this a funder worth knowing about. Here's an overview:

1. Bowes Has Been A Strong Supporter of Higher Education

Bowes' gave alma mater Stanford at least $1.56 million in 2013, and  similar annual sums between 2008 and 2010. Bowes has bankrolled the Bio-X Graduate Fellowship Program, which offers Stanford Ph.D. candidates funding to pursue "interdisciplinary research and to work with multiple mentors." Bowes also supports Harvard. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is the site of the Bowes Acceleration Fund. Sums have also gone to Harvard Business School and Harvard Art Museum.

Bowes' philanthropy in this area, though, hasn't been limited to his alma maters. A more accurate throughline includes his committment to science and medical research. California Institute of Technology, for instance, received $5 million alone in 2012 to endow a leadership chair to "support innovative research projects with potential for scientific and societal impact." Bowes has granted at least $7 million to the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Bowes, by the way, sits on the board of overseers of the UCSF Foundation. Support has also gone to UC Berkeley, the site of the Bowes Research Fellows Program, University of Colorado, UC Santa Barbara, and University of Michigan, among others.

2. Medical Research is Another High Priority

Bowes has a major interest in cancer research. He gave the Canary Foundation, "a nonprofit dedicated to the goal of identifying cancer early through a simple blood test and then isolating it with imaging," $7.5 million alone in 2012. Sums have also gone to Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation in recent years.

We've already mentioned fellow Bay Area philanthropist Herb Sandler, one of whose interests is backing asthma research, in part because Sandler's late wife suffered from the disease. Well, the Bowes Foundation has given to the Sandler Foundation to support asthma work.

Apart from cancer and asthma research, Bowes also supports Gladstone Institutes, a Bay Area outfit which "devises multi-pronged solutions for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and other disorders of the nervous system." He has given sums to Peer Health Exchange and Quantum Leap Healthcare Collaborative, whose mission is to accelerate "transfer of high-impact research in clinical processes and systems technology into widespread adoption so that patients and physicians can benefit from the research as soon as possible."

Bowes also supports science research institutes such as B612 Foundation, a "nonprofit dedicated to planetary defense against asteroids and other near-Earth object impacts," and the Institute for Systems Biology.

3. He's Given A Steady Stream Of Money to Bay Area Arts and Culture Outfits

Recently, Bowes has supported outfits such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the California Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Jazz Organization, the San Francisco Boys Chorus, The Exploratorium (where he once served as board chairman), and Grace Cathedral.

4. Bowes Gives to K-12 Education and Youth Efforts

The Bowes Foundation hasn't just given to colleges and universities. Bowes is also interested in youth, having supported outfits such as Teach for America, Teach for All, KIPP Bay Area Schools (at least $1 million in 2013), College Spring, and Real Options for City Kids, among others. A component of this philanthropy also involves science and entrepreneurship, and the foundation has funded outfits such as the Bizworld Foundation, which helps "teach elementary and middle school children across the U.S. and in 100 countries around the world how to run a business through entrepreneurship programs," and the We Teach Science Foundation.

5. Assorted Sums Have Gone to Environmental Outifts

Bowes supports the Environmental Defense Fund, where he sits on the board. The outfit received at least $3 million alone in 2013 between its New York and San Francisco locations. Recent money toward the Environmental Defense Fund has involved protecting the oceans, so Bowes appears to be yet another funder interested in this area.

Related - The Latest Billionaire To Dive Into Saving the Oceans


Finally, Bowes has given money to the International Rescue Committee and the Tides Foundation, which provides "donor-advised grants to nonprofits working toward social change in the U.S. and abroad." He's also supported policy shops such as the Cato Institute, the Commonwealth Club, and the Independent Institute.