As Bloomberg Businessweek’s Nick Summers pointed out not long ago, charitable giving on the part of the country’s wealthiest people has not kept pace with the increase in their net worth since the financial crisis. Both the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which tracks the net worth of the 300 wealthiest folks around the world, and the Forbes 400, which tally’s the U.S.’s richest, showed hundreds of billions of dollars in increases in 2013—a mind-boggling performance due in part to the upward trajectory of the stock market. The charitable contributions made by the country’s biggest donors, Summers writes, increased by just 4 percent since 2012, according to a study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
One person who appears to be countering that trend is Ken Griffin, the founder of Chicago’s Citadel, who just announced that he’s donating $150 million to Harvard University, the largest single gift the school has ever received. Griffin famously started day-trading stocks and bonds from his dorm room at Harvard before starting Citadel in 1990. The firm has since grown into a multibillion-dollar group of hedge funds.
Griffin’s money will be targeted at providing financial aid to students who can’t afford to pay the roughly $60,000 it costs to attend the Ivy League school for a year, a price tag that puts it on par with a Maybach in terms of financial unattainability. The money will go toward establishing 200 “Griffin scholars” and provide matching funds to hundreds of other scholarships.
It’s the sort of gift that will generate headlines, part of a multiyear push on Griffin’s part to elevate his public profile and increase his influence—something he’s been thinking about since at least 2006, when he and his wife, Anne Dias Griffin, donated $19 million to the Art Institute of Chicago to build the museum’s modern wing (which now features Griffin Court). When I interviewed him in 2007, Griffin was busy building his art collection as rumors swirled that he was contemplating a run for political office (as a Republican).
In return for the massive gift, the New York Times reports, “Harvard will rename its college’s financial aid office and its director’s title after Mr. Griffin.”