How a Wall Streeter Became Keen on Venture Philanthropy

We've written a lot lately about Goldman Sachs alumni who've turned to philanthropy. There are a bunch of them, and among the "Goldman givers" who really stands out is Robert Kaplan.

Once vice chairman of the fabled (and controversial) Wall Street firm, Kaplan returned to Harvard Business School, his alma mater, last decade and became senior associate dean and professor of management practice. At Harvard, Kaplan was involved in mentoring student ventures like Prize4Life, whose mission is to accelerate discovery of a cure and treatments for ALS. 

Related: Goldman Givers: Seven Things To Know About Donors from Goldman Sachs

In 2015, Robert Kaplan left Harvard to take on yet another role in his post-Goldman Sachs career: president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Still, he's remained focused on fostering young leaders. Kaplan is the author of two books on leadership: What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential, and What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential.

More importantly, for our purposes here, Kaplan is co-chair of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation (DRK), an outfit founded by venture capitalists William Draper III and Robin Richards Donohoe in 2002. In 2010, the pair partnered with Kaplan and a group of 14 others to scale up operations. DRK chooses a few select high-impact startup nonprofits each year, giving them funds to develop a model and show their promise.

We've written about DRK before, explaining its early-state focus:

By getting involved early, it’s possible to have a large influence on the direction a new nonprofit is taking, and this is when DRK’s assistance can have the most impact... Funding from DRK is what might be called “smart money” in the startup world. The support the foundation offers is very hands-on and useful. In fact, DRK expressly eschews a model of funding that involves providing money and checking in periodically. 

Not only does DRK provide funds, but Kaplan and others provide mentorship, even taking a board seat for three years. One DRK startup is Watsi, "the first global crowdfunding platform for healthcare, enabling anyone to directly fund low-cost, high-impact medical care for people in need."

Related: This Venture Funder Likes to Get In Early

Kaplan explains that, at its best, DRK is actually a "leadership development learning organization." This might explain how Kaplan waded into venture philanthropy in the first place, a purview often more associated with those in the tech sector, and came to see his work with DRK as an extension of some of the work he did at Harvard.

Kaplan moves his own philanthropy through the Robert S. Kaplan Foundation, an under-the-radar vehicle. Recent 990s, though, show steady support of DRK, with Kaplan giving $3.5 million to the outfit in the three most recent fiscal years reported. Through his foundation, Kaplan has also given recent grants to Social Finance, "a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing capital to drive social progress," and Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), which encourages "inner-city revitalization." He's also supported outfits that work on a global level, including Clinton Health Access Initiative, which tackles HIV/AIDS in the developing world, and The Global Fairness Initiative, which "promotes a more equitable, sustainable approach to economic development for the world’s working poor by advancing fair wages, equal access to markets, and balanced public policy to generate opportunity and end the cycle of poverty."

Kaplan also serves as chair of Project ALS, and was friends with theater producer and Project ALS founder Jenifer Estess, who passed away from the disease. Kaplan has steadily supported the outfit. Tax records also reveal past support of Prize4Life, the outfit Kaplan mentored at Harvard.

Kaplan is only in his late 50s, and still very much engaged in business but in a recent year his foundation gave away around $2.4 million. His philanthropy, particularly his work with DRK, should be watched carefully. For a complete look at this funder's philanthropy, read our profile of Robert Kaplan below.