Amount donated: Total lifetime giving of $700m (2014).
Philanthropic causes: Investigative journalism, civil liberties groups, scientific research, environment, human rights.
Region of philanthropic focus: Throughout the U.S.
Ranking: #31 (Forbes – America’s Top 50 Givers).
Net worth: $800m according to therichest.com
Source of wealth: Banking.
Herbert Sandler is a billion-dollar philanthropist and is considered to be one of the biggest charitable givers in the U.S. After getting out of the banking industry in 2006, Herbert and wife Marion Sandler have focussed all their efforts on philanthropic endeavours, setting up a number of charities and funding many charitable projects and research opportunities throughout the U.S.
Herbert Sandler was born into economic hardship in a deprived and crime-riddled area of New York. He worked his way through college, and after graduating from Columbia Law School, Sandler’s career took off in 1963 when he founded the Golden West Financial Corporation, a savings and loan holding company and the predecessor to World Savings Bank. The company was a money making machine from the start and was frequently included in Fortune magazine’s annual list of the United States’ most admired companies. Herbert Sandler survived the credit crisis intact having pocketed the vast sum of $2.4bn from his share of the sale of his bank to the financial services company, Wachovia in 2006. At the time of its sale, Golden West Financial Corporation had assets in excess of $125bn and was considered to be one of the largest financial institutions in the U.S.
Whilst working in the financial services industry, the Sandlers had been active in philanthropy. In 1991 they formed the Sandler Foundation with the aim of improving the rights and prospects for
those individuals who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in U.S. society. Upon exiting the finance industry, Herbert Sandler gave more than half of his share of the sale price of his company, $1.3bn, directly to his Sandler Family Supporting Foundation in San Francisco – the second largest American charitable contribution in 2006. Since then the Sandlers have embarked on a large-scale giving spree, and through their foundation, have donated approximately $700m to a range of different charitable causes. Marion Sandler, herself a successful businesswomen and the driving force behind much of the Sandler’s mega giving, passed away in 2012, but Herbert and their two children show no signs of letting up and plan on continuing to put their acquired banking fortune to good use.
ProPublica, an investigative newsroom, was launched in 2007 and is quite possibly one of the Sandler’s most well-renowned accomplishments. The Sandler Foundation helped fund the project, the first-of-its-kind non-profit news platform devoted to producing investigative news in the public’s interest. The newsroom was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2010 and 2011, the first instances that the Pulitzer had been awarded to an online news agency.
The Sandlers also support a range of other causes and fund groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and scientific research into illnesses. especially those that affect low-income members of society.
Asthma research is one of their main areas of interest, not only because it affects 300 million people worldwide each year, many of which are children and come from low-income families, but also because Marion Sandler struggled with the debilitating lung disease for the majority of her life. Their focus has been to invest time and money over a long time horizon, a philanthropic strategy that they’ve adopted for all of their projects. Their outside-the-box-thinking has led them to seek non-asthma scientists to get involved with research projects: “the same type of people continue to work on asthma without interjection from specialists and experts in other fields” Hebert Sandler has said. “The answer lies in injecting fresh ideas into the field of asthma by finding a way to attract those who’d—until then at least—had no interest.”
The Sandler Foundation founded the American Asthma Foundation and donates millions to other research centres and universities across the U.S. Most recently, the Sandler Foundation gifted $20m to the University of California San Francisco, to support the university’s research into neurological diseases.
Herbert Sandler’s unique brand of philanthropy has broken from tradition, has got his foundation’s activities noticed and has importantly led to some significant breakthroughs. He’s proud of his success and will continue supporting charitable causes. “Anybody can give money, but if you have the ability to improve the output of the organization and to make them more effective, that’s really exciting.”