Richard & Nancy Kinder
Richard & Nancy Kinder
Amount donated: $260m
Philanthropic Causes: education, green spaces, quality of living
Region of philanthropic focus: Houston, USA
Ranking: #33 Forbes’ America’s Biggest Givers 2014
Net Worth: estimated by Forbes as $6.3bn in 2016
Source of wealth: energy infrastructure
Houston based energy infrastructure magnate Rich Kinder hasn’t always had financial muscle to throw around. After graduating from the University of Missouri with a doctorate in jurisprudence he invested in a hotel that bled his finances dry and forced him to declare bankruptcy. Since that brush with misfortune, though, Kinder has been blessed with a remarkable sense of timing.
He reluctantly returned to law to take up an opening as Florida Gas Transmission’s lawyer, the corporation that soon became Enron. There, Kinder was poised to take over as its CEO in 1997 before Ken Lay reneged on an agreement they’d made, leading to Kinder’s resignation.
Scandal avoided, Kinder teamed up with William V Morgan to start Kinder Morgan, a traditional energy infrastructure provider that gobbled up competitors via an ambitious programme of mergers and acquisitions to become the largest infrastructure provider in the USA, with 84,000 miles of pipeline. When asked to explain this success, Kinder has
simply said in the past that “we were tightwads.” Perhaps, but the same accusation certainly can’t be levelled at him now that his philanthropic Kinder Foundation has given over $260m away.
The foundation began life in 1997, the joint enterprise of Rich and his wife Nancy, who is its President. Of the formation Rich has said, “We set out to analyse what we wanted to do… I’m a figurehead and Nancy really runs the organisation… We decided to take a rifle gun approach and not a shotgun approach, so we decided to concentrate on education, urban green space, and quality of life.”
Rich has previously explained that their commitment to education was partially informed by his mother’s career as a teacher, and quoted Mao Tse-Tung when explaining their approach; “‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ – some things will work, some won’t.” It’s a philosophy which led to their 2009 gift of $1m to the Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School, a cross-faith school established for students exclusively from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2014 this was followed up by a $25m endowment to found the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at University of Missouri to further the study of American constitutional and democratic traditions.
Their commitment to education met their passion for urban green spaces in 2010 via a $15million grant to Rice University to found the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. It is in fact this area that many of the foundation’s most notable gifts have been directed at. For example, they gave $50m to the Discovery Green project in central Houston, which reclaimed a number of decrepit car parks to create a stunning green space which now welcomes one million visitors every year. Additionally, they’ve contributed $50m to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership which aims to create 150 idyllic miles of running and biking trails around Houston.
Rich and Nancy are also dedicated to improving the quality of life of all Houston’s residents, as can be seen by their giving of $1m to The Houston Food Bank Project in 2009 to help provide the systems required to get food to those most in need in the city. They’ve also
contributed to city life significantly by a $50m investment in the city’s Museum of Fine Art to help them build a new wing needed to display their world-class collection.
Of that gift, Rich has said that it’s important to show that “Houston is more than just a business and convention centre.” Indeed, he has previously said that the one constant linking all their giving together is their desire to help Houston emerge as a liveable city in order to attract the best talent for the city’s businesses.
What’s more, the money that the Kinder Foundation has so far gifted represents just a fraction of what they intend to give; in 2011 Rich and Nancy signed the Giving Pledge, voluntarily pledging to give away an enormous 95% of their $6.3bn wealth. Whether that’s invested in arts, green spaces, or education; it’s clear that both Houston’s residents and businesses are lucky to have him.