Note: This article was originally published on January 19, 2022.
As the rich get richer and wealth consolidates in the form of an entire class of billionaires, the children of the uber-wealthy are becoming more than just passing tabloid curiosities. They are the inevitable beneficiaries of an unprecedented accumulation of wealth, and what they choose to do with it will shape the landscape of philanthropy for decades to come.
In 2020, Inside Philanthropy put together its first list of emerging heirs in philanthropy, with a focus on heirs to billionaire fortunes who are already at least somewhat active and influential in philanthropy. We have been thinking a lot about this topic since, and realized that the list—which included 15 philanthropists—needed to be significantly expanded in order to capture this expansive and highly varied category of giving. For example, there are a number of younger heirs just setting out in the world of philanthropy, as well as many who are further along in their giving but aren’t well-known—even as they oversee substantial grantmaking. And finally, we can’t forget the old-money members of this elite club, the descendants of long-gone wealth creators who are quietly stewarding family foundations that often have multi-generational boards.
Just to be clear: We don’t think it’s a great thing that so much philanthropic capital is controlled by people who happened to be born into the right families. The way these heirs exercise power—choosing which nonprofits thrive and shaping policy arenas—feels at odds with the ideals of democracy. While that same critique can be made of a lot of large-scale philanthropy, the giving power that flows mainly from dynastic privilege is especially troubling. This isn’t how things are supposed to work in America, and the fact that there are so many heirs now wielding power through philanthropy tells us something disturbing about our nation’s deepening inequality. It’s not just that much more wealth is concentrated at the top of the income ladder; much more influence is, too.
Yet this picture of aristocratic influence starts to look more complicated—and perhaps less malevolent—when we zoom in on what heirs in philanthropy are actually doing. For starters, a growing number are calling out the problematic nature of their own power and actively looking to change how giving is done. Many heirs can also be found at the forefront of grantmaking that seeks to challenge inequality and strengthen democracy. That the children and grandchildren of business leaders tend to be more liberal than their forebears is hardly news. What’s striking today is just how much wealth is now being channeled into social justice and climate organizations by heirs who see themselves as part of the progressive movement.
A final point to keep in mind is that the only reason many heirs in philanthropy have the power that they do is because their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents put aside substantial family wealth for charitable purposes. That choice is still not the norm among the wealthy. Most large fortunes in America don’t endow foundations; they are used to fund private consumption for generations to come. So when we fret about how much influence heirs wield through philanthropy, it’s worth considering the alternative—and far more common—scenario of rich families caring about no one but themselves.
In short, the giving power of heirs exemplifies both the perils and promise of philanthropy. It’s not OK that a small elite has so much wealth and power. That has to change. In the meantime, it’s easy to find hope in the many things that foundations and donors are doing to try to make the world a better place.
The heirs on this list are divided into five categories. These categories are not definitive and some heirs could easily fit within more than one of them. But they offer a way to visualize the wide breadth of American heirs engaged in philanthropy today:
Stewards, who are carrying on a tradition of multi-generational family philanthropy—in some cases, going back more than a century.
Reinventors, who have taken the reins of their family’s philanthropic project, but are approaching it in different ways than their parents.
Builders, who are tapping their parents’ wealth to create and run their own foundations, or who’ve greatly expanded on the giving path started by their parents.
Activists, who are not just using family wealth to back progressive causes, but often questioning the legitimacy of both philanthropy and inherited wealth.
Successors, who are helping manage family giving with their still-active parents in preparation for eventually taking over.
In assembling this list, we also sought to include those heirs who are exercising the most power with their giving—in other words, it’s not based strictly on dollar amounts. As we explained in our first IP Power List published earlier this year, we define power as “the ability to make things happen.” The criteria used to create that list and this one are the same. People included either have wealth themselves, have control over the wealth of institutions, or have influence over how philanthropic wealth is used. And because power is always shifting, including across generations, we also spotlight people who are in position to control great wealth in the future.
Now, let’s get on to our list.
Modern philanthropy began in the United States more than a century ago and gained momentum through the 20th century as wealthy business leaders established foundations that were often designed to exist in perpetuity. Today, some of these foundations remain under the total or partial control of the heirs of long-gone tycoons, a vivid example of the charitable sector serving as a vehicle of dynastic power. Heirs who work as engaged practitioners carrying out multi-generation family philanthropy that follows historical form and function include:
The Andruses: The Andrus family has kept a strong grip on the Surdna Foundation since its founding over a century ago by John Emory Andrus. None of Andrus’ descendants on the Surdna board bear his name, but they have the final say over $50 million in annual giving. Carra Cote-Ackah, a fifth-generation Andrus, currently serves as chair, overseeing the foundation alongside other family members that include Kelly D. Nowlin, who’s deeply plugged into the philanthrosphere through board seats on Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP).
The Cummingses: While the Nathan Cummings Foundation only gives out around $30 million a year, this family-controlled grantmaker has long magnified its influence by focusing on trending issues—most recently, climate and inequality. Its current board chair, Jaimie Mayer, is a fourth-generation Cummings who’s embraced a commitment to impact investing. A number of family members have long been deeply involved in the foundation, including previous board chair Ruth Cummings and James K. Cummings.
The Disneys: Over a dozen Disneys sit on the board of the Roy + Patricia Disney Family Foundation, which is the main giving vehicle of this storied entertainment family, currently led by Susan Disney Lord.
The Gettys: The heirs to the oil fortune created by John Paul Getty, once the richest American, keep a low profile and do not actually have control of the biggest Getty philanthropy, the $15 billion Getty Trust in Los Angeles. But those with significant assets and giving power include Anne Earhart, whose Marisla Foundation makes nearly $40 million in grants annually, with a major focus on environmental issues, and Gordon Getty, whose San Francisco-based family foundation makes more than $15 million in grants annually.
The Gunds: Outside of Cleveland, you don’t hear much about the George Gund Foundation, but it’s a top philanthropic player in that city, making over $30 million in grants annually. Its board is currently chaired by Catherine Gund, the granddaughter of George Gund and the daughter of Agnes Gund—who recently used $100 million from the sale of artwork to become a major donor to criminal justice reform.
The Hiltons: The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which now has assets of around $7.5 billion, has become more professionalized in recent years. But it’s still family-controlled, with Hawley Hilton McAuliffe and Linda Hilton serving as board chair and vice chair, respectively.
The Mellons: While this Gilded Age family no longer controls the biggest foundation that bears its name, a posse of Mellons does run the Richard King Mellon Foundation, which has over $3 billion in assets and focuses on Southwestern Pennsylvania. Richard A. Mellon, the grandson of Richard King, is board chair and CEO.
The Packards: The $9 billion David and Lucile Packard Foundation is such a large and well-established operation that it can be easy to forget that it’s a family operation. David and Lucile’s three daughters—Julie Packard, Nancy Packard Burnett and Susan Packard Orr—along with other family members, have long been deeply involved in running the foundation.
The Rockefellers: John D. Rockefeller, a controversial pioneer of “big philanthropy,” died nearly 85 years ago, but an array of his descendants remain major players in the sector, including: David Rockefeller Jr. and Valerie Rockefeller, who sits on the board of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the largest philanthropy still controlled by the family. Other Rockefellers we watch closely include Michael Quattrone, a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Peggy Dulany, who founded and chairs Synergos, an important hub for the global philanthropy of wealthy families; and Peter O’Neill, who’s active in a range of family philanthropy activities.
The Scrippses: The Scripps family still controls billions in assets more than 140 years after E.W. Scripps started a media empire in 1878 (thanks to some clever tax avoidance). And thanks to over a century of giving, the family’s name adorns a long list of institutions in Southern California. Just last fall, Bill and Kathy Scripps, along with Ed and Christy Scripps, gave $6 million to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. The Scripps Family Impact Fund is one hub of current giving, bringing together fourth- and fifth-generation family members.
The Waltons: Even as the younger members of the Walton clan take the helm of the family giving and chart their own new philanthropies (see below), Sam Walton’s children—now in their 70s—control the bulk of Walton wealth. Rob, Jim and Alice Walton are collectively worth nearly $200 billion and each has made large-scale gifts in recents years.
It’s become a familiar story in contemporary philanthropy: A wealthy couple embraces giving and creates a family foundation that operates in largely conventional ways, allocating gifts to local charities, universities and cultural institutions. But then their children step up to leadership roles in family philanthropy and blaze a different path—embracing more sophisticated methodologies to guide grantmaking and exploring strategies like impact investing. Heirs who are reinventing their family’s philanthropy include:
David Wallace Douglas: Douglas—the grandson of Iowa legend Henry A. Wallace—has parlayed the modest assets of the Wallace Genetic Foundation into a long string of high-impact advocacy projects, mainly around global water issues, working “inside the beltway” but “under the radar.”
Dena Kimball: The foundation of billionaire Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank is undergoing big changes, including new investments in progressive organizations. Blank’s children, most notably Dena, are helping to guide this change as board directors. Kimball is also executive director of the Kendeda Fund, started by her mother, Diana Blank.
Katherine Lorenz: In recent years, Lorenz has worked to transform the family foundation created by her grandparents George and Cynthia Mitchell into a sophisticated grantmaker, working with her many siblings.
Carrie Walton Penner: With her keen interest in philanthropy, expertise in education, and connections through the social sector, Walton Penner has long struck us as the most important member of a third generation of Waltons that’s been reinventing the family’s giving in recent years.
Art Pope: While his mother used the family’s retail fortune to fund schools, hospitals and museums, her youngest son had other ideas for the family foundation. Pope has given millions to conservative causes in a decades-long effort to push North Carolina to the right.
Stacy Schusterman: Schusterman has played a key role over the past decade in transforming the work of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropies, which she now chairs (Lynn is chair emerita). Stacy pushed to expand its K-12 grantmaking nationally and to center race and equity concerns in its work, leading to new funding of work on criminal justice, voting rights and more.
Lisa Sobrato Sonsini: Sobrato Philanthropies is one of the Bay Area’s most important local funders, tapping a Silicon Valley real estate fortune. Sonsini, who established the family’s foundation in 1996, has been a driving force in expanding Sobrato giving. We’re also keeping an eye on John Matthew Sobrato.
Emily Tow: When the Tow Foundation was first established in 1988, its giving was largely unstructured. But since taking the helm in 1995, Emily Tow has worked to meld it into a focused and deliberate grantmaker, most notably to advance criminal justice reform.
Some of today’s most important grantmakers have been built from the ground up by heirs—either tapping inheritances or drawing on large infusions of wealth from still-living parents. In still other cases, heirs have greatly scaled up family foundations after their parents have died or ceded leadership.
Howard, Susie and Peter Buffett: Warren Buffett’s three children are giving away more than $1 billion a year through four family foundations, including the world’s top funder of reproductive rights, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.
Shana Dall’Osto: The daughter of Judith Faulkner, one of America’s richest self-made women, Dall’Osto is working to scale up the Roots and Wings Foundation, with the goal of giving away 97% of a family fortune estimated at $6.4 billion.
Heather Templeton Dill: Since taking over the $4 billion John Templeton Foundation in 2015, Dill has built up the work of a quirky grantmaker that explores “the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind.”
Rebekah Mercer: The Trump-backing Mercer family has kept a lower profile lately, but Rebekah continues to deploy her father Robert Mercer’s hedge fund fortune to back right-wing causes through millions in both electoral and philanthropic donations.
Abby Spencer Moffat: Moffatt manages the “Biggest Pot of Conservative Money You’ve Never Heard Of” as CEO of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, which is named after her mother (who serves as chair) and endowed with over $1.5 billion. She’s built the foundation up to become one of the right’s leading funders.
James Murdoch: Even before he exited the family business for good, Murdoch was working with his wife Kathryn to expand their giving through the Quadrivium Foundation, which made $25 million in grants in 2019.
The Pritzkers: There seems to be no shortage of Pritzker heirs with ambitious philanthropies—including Nicholas Pritzker, who runs the Libra Foundation with his wife Susan (see below) and J.B. Pritzker, who has worked with his wife M.J. to become one of the leading funders of early childhood learning. And let’s not forget about Lt. Col. Jennifer Pritzker, who’s carved out a unique niche as a funder of military-related causes; Rachel Pritzker, who runs a small operation focused on innovative problem-solving; or Liesel Pritzker Simmons, who co-founded the IDP Foundation with her mother Irene.
Jennifer Rainin: Since her inventor father died in 2007, leaving behind a substantial fortune, Rainin has built up the Kenneth Rainin Foundation into a sophisticated grantmaker with local and national programs, including for early childhood education.
Nat and Liz Simons: The children of top hedge funder Jim Simons have both built their own major philanthropies. With his wife, Laura Baxter-Simons, Nat is behind Sea Change, one of the country’s largest climate funders. Liz works with her husband Mark Heising to run a foundation that backs climate, too, along with science and early ed.
Jon and Pat Stryker: An heir to a medical devices fortune along with his two sisters, Jon, working with husband Slobodan Randjelovic, has built the Arcus Foundation into the largest funder of LGBTQ rights in the world. Pat, meanwhile, runs the Bohemian Foundation, which supports a range of causes, including strengthening U.S. democracy.
Laurie Tisch: While a bunch of Tisches are involved in philanthropy, tapping a complicated family fortune, it’s Laurie who has most caught our attention as she’s built her Illumination Fund into an innovative New York City funder in areas like health and the arts.
Alice Walton: We’ve called her “the most important arts philanthropist in America” for a reason: Alice Walton has poured a fortune into building Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and related grantmaking programs with the goal of making access to world-class art—and especially American art—more accessible.
Lukas Walton: Among third-generation Waltons, nobody seems more ambitious about building their own independent philanthropy than Lukas, who recently unveiled Builders Vision, a 60-plus-person organization that combines grantmaking with impact investing.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, the heirs to some of America’s most well-known fortunes embraced the left and used their wealth to advance progressive causes—creating new institutions like the Tides Foundation and North Star Fund, and moving existing foundations leftward, like the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Most of these givers are still active today and have been joined over time by a growing cohort of progressive heirs who’ve built their own networks and institutions.
These days, activist heirs are some of the edgiest leaders in the sector, troubled by the fact that they were born with such affluence, and more than happy to attack wealth accumulation and capitalism. As such, they often focus on systems transformation and question the legitimacy of inherited wealth and philanthropy itself. Activist heirs don’t always have the largest fortunes, but are important change agents in the sector.
Patricia Bauman: After her real estate investor father died in 1987 and left a fortune to the family foundation, Bauman set to work establishing it as a stalwart funder of progressive causes—a role that it continues to play, making around $6 million a year in grants.
Robin Beck: The Max and Anna Levinson Foundation, which was started in 1955 by a Philadelphia businessman, is well-known in progressive circles. And so is Beck, who took the helm of this family foundation in 2019 after years of activist and nonprofit work.
Audrey Cappell: She is the edgiest donor (so far) in the philanthropically prolific Simons clan. Cappell created the Foundation for a Just Society in 2011 to “advance the human rights of marginalized women, girls and LGBTQI people globally,” exclusively backing groups with a vision for long-term, structural change.
Abigail Disney: Even as she’s pitched in at the main Disney family foundation (see above), Disney has charted her own path as a progressive philanthropist, co-founding the Daphne Foundation in 1991 with her husband Pierre Hauser to back causes on the left. Disney has also been an outspoken critic of extreme wealth inequality and an advocate of higher taxes on the rich.
Farhad Ebrahimi: Son of former tech CEO Fred Ebrahimi, Farhad Ebrahimi is head of the Chorus Foundation, a climate justice funder and early adopter of progressive grantmaking practices. Much of Ebrahimi’s influence derives from his role as a critic of philanthropy and donor organizer, serving as a strong philanthropic ally to the activist community.
The Hill-Snowdon Family: It’s hard to pick a single family member to credit for the remarkable evolution of this small foundation over the past quarter-century into a key funder of racial justice and organizing work.
Leah Hunt-Hendrix: Granddaughter of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, progressive donor organizer Leah Hunt-Hendrix is always looking for new ways to shake things up. She’s co-founder of Solidaire donor circle, co-founder of Trump-era vehicle the Emergent Fund, and most recently co-founded Way to Win and Way to Rise, which combine c4, c3 and PAC giving.
Regan Pritzker: She’s been heavily involved at Libra, but not too long ago, Pritzker and husband Chris Olin launched their own Kataly Foundation, which is looking to push boundaries even further. Led by CEO Nwamaka Agbo, the foundation seeks to distribute wealth to community-owned and -governed organizations, with a focus on racial justice.
The Wallaces: Sometimes, radical heirs are carrying on a family tradition of left-wing politics. That’s the case with Scott Wallace and Scott Fitzmorris, heirs to Henry A. Wallace, who served as vice president under FDR and ran for president with the Progressive Party in 1948. Wallace Global Fund, which they co-chair, is a major funder of progressive activism and social movements.
Susan Sandler: While the foundation created by her parents, Herb and Marion, continues to give big for progressive policy work and biomedical research, Susan is piloting her own grantmaking fund to support grassroots organizing with her husband Steve, an influential progressive strategist.
Adelaide Park Gomer and Alicia Wittink: Heirs to media mogul Roy H. Park Sr., this mother-daughter team lead the Park Foundation, which is one of the nation’s most progressive funders of environmental work, along with social justice causes.
Many heirs spend years engaging in family philanthropy alongside their still-active parents, in preparation for eventually taking on a leadership role. While we have a good fix on which heirs stand to assume control of large philanthropic operations one day, it’s often hard to know exactly what they believe or where they will take their family’s giving down the line.
The Annenbergs: The foundation run by Wallis Annenberg is one of the biggest funders in Los Angeles. While Wallis calls the shots for now as chair and CEO, her three children—Charles Annenberg Weingarten, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten and Lauren Bon—are the only other board members of a grantmaker that last reported assets of $1.5 billion.
Jessica Bibliowicz: Unlike many Giving Pledge signatories, Sanford and Joan Weill have made real headway in giving away their money. If there’s any left when they pass, Bibliowicz stands ready to take the torch, drawing on years of board service on some of New York’s largest nonprofit institutions.
Emma and Georgina Bloomberg: Mike Bloomberg may be a big believer in “giving while living,” but he’s likely to leave behind many billions, with his two daughters playing a key role in giving it away. Both sit on the board of Bloomberg Family Foundation, which last reported assets of $9 billion, in addition to co-chairing their own small foundation.
Robin Bruce: We don’t know how much wealth Giving Pledge signatory David Weekley has amassed as a Texas homebuilder. What we do know is that his daughter Robin leads the day-to-day work of the family foundation—which we expect to expand its giving in coming years.
Alex Soros and Andrea Soros Colombel: George Soros’ youngest son seems best positioned to become the key family leader within Open Society Foundations after his father is gone. But Andrea also sits on the board (and is said by some to be the far steadier leader among the two).
Laurie Franz: Long before her parents, Robert and Jane Toll, signed the Giving Pledge in 2019, Laurie was already working with her four siblings to create the Five Together Foundation. It’s still small, but the family’s homebuilding fortune is substantial. Stay tuned.
Emily, Leah, and Philip Kaiser: All three of George Kaiser’s kids sit on the family foundation’s board, which may one day absorb most of a fortune estimated at more than $10 billion.
Sophie Schmidt: Like a lot of billionaires, Eric and Wendy Schmidt are getting richer faster than they’re giving it away—which means that their daughter Sophie may end up giving away a lot of money one day. Meanwhile, she’s on the family foundation board and runs a global journalism nonprofit she started, focused on the impact of technology.
Matt Dalio: Among the three sons of Ray and Barbara Dalio, Matt has shown the most interest in a growing family philanthropy that is backstopped by a $20 billion hedge fund fortune.
Chase and Elizabeth Koch: While Chase has worked closely with his father, Charles, in both business and philanthropy, and is likely to be a key figure in Kochland for a long time to come, Elizabeth—a writer and literary publisher with her own philanthropic pursuits—is worth watching, too.
Michael Peterson: Even before his father died in 2018, leaving behind a private equity fortune, Michael was the day-to-day leader of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which last reported assets of more than $800 million and focuses on the fiscal challenges facing America.
Vasser Seydel and John Rutherford Seydel III: Since he was among the earliest signers of the Giving Pledge, it’s fair to expect that much of Ted Turner’s reported $2.5 billion wealth will go to philanthropy—which would likely mean a big bump up in grantmaking by the Turner Foundation. Vasser and John are the third-generation family members we’re watching most closely.
Caitlin Heising: The Heising-Simons Foundation, which made $127 million in grants in 2020, only has three board members, and Caitlin is one of them, along with her mother and father. She has a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and deep involvements in the social sector—not to mention a grandfather who’s pledged most of his $24 billion hedge fortune to philanthropy.
Nika Soon-Shiong: It’s still too early to say how the daughter of L.A. billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong might help shape her family’s philanthropy. But she’s been drawing attention in her role as executive director of the Fund for Guaranteed Income, as well as co-director of the Compton Pledge, a guaranteed income initiative in one of L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods.
Amy Wyss: The daughter of Swiss philanthropist Hans Wyss is a billionaire in her own right. And while we don't know what role she may play in her father’s foundation, which last reported assets north of $2 billion, we do know that she has endowed her own LOR Foundation with over $300 million for work on rural community development in the American West.
Katherine Don and Tate Williams contributed to this report.
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