Chicago native Suzanne Nora Johnson went to University of Southern California before attending Harvard Law School. Johnson worked in law for a while, including at Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, before pivoting over to Wall Street and joining Goldman Sachs. Johnson made partner in 1992, and in last decade served as vice chairman before retiring in 2007. It's unclear how much Johnson is currently worth, but she owned a 0.525 percent stake of the company before Goldman Sachs went public in 1999, according to The New York Times. She reportedly made $17 million alone in 2004, according to The Guardian.
Here at Inside Philanthropy, we've been writing about the emergence of uber-successful businesswomen and their impact on this new era of philanthropy. These names include billionaires Sara Blakely and Judy Faulkner, both of whom are also Giving Pledge signatories. While Johnson hasn't yet signed the Giving Pledge, nor does she appear to have billions to spare, she's certainly amassed quite a bit of wealth rising to the top of a mostly male industry.
Johnson has put some of this money towards philanthropy, and in the early 1990s established the Suzanne M. Nora Johnson and David G. Johnson Foundation with her husband, David Johnson. David has also been rather successful. Like his wife, David is also a Harvard Law graduate. He made partner at an international law firm and later served as senior executive vice president of MGM. David also co-founded Agility Capital, a venture fund, and in 2007 founded Act 4 Entertainment, a "Los Angeles-based filmed entertainment and new media content company created to motivate and inspire audiences across the world toward social action." I've written before about "filmanthropy" a growing number of philanthropic-minded filmmakers.
The Johnsons, through their foundation, have given in the neighborhood of $2 million annually, with grantmaking that reflects a wide variety of interest areas. The couple's grants have mainly gone to outfits in Los Angeles and on the East Coast. Unfortunately for grantseekers, the vehicle flies well under the radar and does not provide a clear avenue for getting in touch. Here are a few things to know, however.
1. The Couple Is Interested in Public Policy, Women's Equity, and Social Justice
Johnson and David both serve on a number of different boards. Johnson is a vice chair of the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. David, meanwhile, is the former chair of Public Counsel Law Center, the "nation’s largest public interest pro bono law firm," and founded the center's Impact Litigation Project, which "addresses economic justice through large-scale litigation."
The couple, through their foundation, have recently supported public policy outfits such as Pacific Council on International Policy, which is "committed to building the vast potential of the West Coast for impact on global issues, discourse, and policy," Council on Foreign Relations, and Brookings Institution. The couple has given particularly large grants towards the Brookings Institution, supporting its Global Leadership Council, Latin American Initiative, and Hamilton Project, which offers a "strategic vision and produces innovative policy proposals on how to create a growing economy that benefits more Americans." Close to $700,000 went to Brookings in the a recent year. In the previous year, close to $1 million went to the outfit.
A component of this philanthropy also involves women's equity. Past grantees include Legal Momentum, which "leads action for the legal rights of women," The Committee of 200 Foundation, whose aim is to "foster, celebrate and advance women's leadership in business," and Women's World Banking, which "aims to empower low-income women around the world through financial inclusion."
It makes sense that someone like Johnson would be particularly interested in the financial inclusion component of gender equity and once said that "if you are asking whether I think that there should be more women in top positions, not only in banking, but across the board, the answer is yes."
2. The Couple Also Supports Arts and Culture
David is also chair emeritus of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The couple, through their foundation, have supported arts and culture outfits such as Museum of Modern Art, Sundance Institute, MOCA, Americans for the Arts, Creative Capital, and Pentacle/Danceworks. The couple has also bankrolled media projects, such as providing funds for a documentary called Rolling which aired on THIRTEEN.
3. Education and Youth
Past grantees include Boston College, Catholic Education Foundation, University of Southern California, Center for Early Education, California, Harvard Law School, Columbia University, Yale School of Drama (where David sits on the advisory board), Harvard Law School, Children Uniting Nations, Dream Foundation, and Children Now, where David sits on the board.
4. The Couple Earmarks Sums For Health, Too
It doesn't appear that the couple has singled in on one health cause. Past grantmaking out of the Suzanne M. Nora Johnson and David G. Johnson Foundation includes outfits such as American Red Cross, The National MS Society, USC Noms Comprehensive Cancer Center, and RAND Health, a research division of public policy outfit RAND Corporation. It's worth mentioning that Johnson's board memberships include Pfizer.
5. Other Areas
The couple has recently supported human services outfits such as LA Family Housing, and St Joseph Center in Venice, California, whose mission is to "provide working poor families, as well as homeless men, women, and children of all ages with the inner resources and tools to become productive, stable and self-supporting members of the community. The couple also supports environmental and religious outfits.
The Johnsons are still quite young, but their civic engagement and history of philanthropy make them a power couple to watch for greater giving down the line.
Related: Suzanne Nora Johnson