The 2020 Philanthropy Power 50: 6-50

Celebrating philanthropic leaders.
Poring Studio/Shutterstock
Celebrating philanthropic leaders.

The 2020 Philanthropy Power 50: 6-50

The 50 most influential philanthropists in New York.
February 9, 2020
6. Patrick Gaspard
Open Society Foundations

Patrick Gaspard’s roots are in New York City, but his career has taken him around the world. He has served as the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, the White House director of political affairs under then-President Barack Obama and the executive director of the Democratic National Committee. For more than two years, he has led the global Open Society Foundations, which funds several universities and social justice nonprofits in New York.

7. Stephanie Cuskley
Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

Stephanie Cuskley has led the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust – the fifth largest foundation in the New York City area – since November 2015. She got her start in finance before dipping into the nonprofit sector leading NPower, which provides technological support to community organizations. Cuskley now oversees about $12.5 million in grants supporting New York City institutions, especially those promoting health and the environment.

8. Florence A. Davis
Director and President
The Starr Foundation

Florence A. Davis spent years working in law and finance before heading The Starr Foundation, having served as vice president and general counsel of American International Group Inc. She now oversees a foundation with $1.5 billion in assets, which gives two-thirds of its funding to organizations in New York state. The Starr Foundation made waves last year when it made a major contribution that helped Weill Cornell Medicine eliminate medical school debt for qualifying students.

9. Barbara Picower
President and Chair
The JPB Foundation

Barbara Picower created the New York City-based JPB Foundation several years after it was revealed that her late husband greatly benefited from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. And it quickly became one of the largest foundations in the country, managing $4.3 billion in assets. It funds organizations addressing poverty, advancing medical research and aiding the environment, including New York institutions such as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Harlem Children’s Zone.

10. David O. Egner
President and CEO
Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation

As president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, David O. Egner is in charge of giving away its $1.2 billion in funds by 2035. The Michigan-based foundation dedicates much of its support to Western New York, with about $300 million spent or promised to the region. Its gifts have aimed to transform parks and trails in Western New York as well as boost youth physical fitness and support caregivers.

11. David M. Okorn
Executive Director
Long Island Community Foundation

The Long Island Community Foundation is a division of the New York Community Trust focused on Suffolk and Nassau counties. David M. Okorn is in charge of its funding initiatives, the 2020 census being a major one, while managing $46 million in assets. Before joining the foundation more than 10 years ago, he served as the senior vice president of development and external relations at Abilities, a nonprofit helping people with disabilities.

12. Stephen Heintz
President and CEO
Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Stephen Heintz made waves in the national media in 2014 when he announced that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund would divest from fossil fuel companies. That responsiveness to changes within the philanthropic sector also led him to outline a commitment to fund organizations that have a diverse leadership. Before joining the $1.1 billion family foundation, Heintz was the co-founder and president of the left-leaning think tank Demos.

13. Richard M. Smith
The Pinkerton Foundation

While Richard M. Smith was the editor-in-chief and CEO of Newsweek, and a Pinkerton Foundation board member in the late 1990s, he said the organization’s director had “the best job in the world.” And after serving on its board for 15 years, Smith became the foundation’s president in 2011. Although the $689 million foundation likes to fly under the radar, it remains an active funder of programs for low-income youth and families in New York City.

14. Alexandra M. Cohen
Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation

Alexandra M. Cohen serves as president of the foundation that she and her hedge fund billionaire husband, Steven, co-founded nearly 20 years ago. The Connecticut-based foundation distributes plenty of resources to organizations in New York City, where Alexandra Cohen grew up. Poverty, health, education and the arts are among its top priorities, funding institutions like Achievement First and Good Shepherd Services. She was one of Inside Philanthropy’s 50 most powerful women in 2016.

15. Elizabeth Alexander
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Before heading The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Elizabeth Alexander helped design the Art for Justice Fund that has dedicated $100 million to fight mass incarceration. Now finishing her second year leading the fourth-largest foundation in New York City, Alexander managed $316.8 million in grantmaking in 2018. The foundation sends much of its resources to arts organizations, universities and other philanthropic institutions in the New York City area.

16. Don Chen
President and CEO
Surdna Foundation

Don Chen may only be in his second year leading the Surdna Foundation, but his familiarity with the organization goes back more than 20 years, when he was receiving money from the foundation. As president and CEO of the 103-year-old organization, Chen oversees funding promoting social justice throughout the U.S. Its grants in New York support everything from funding initiatives for artists of color to advocacy for clean energy in the state.

17. Stanley Druckenmiller
Druckenmiller Foundation

The Chronicle of Philanthropy dubbed Stanley Druckenmiller the most charitable man in America in 2009. And the investor and hedge fund manager has kept up his giving through his nearly $1.3 billion family foundation, which often focuses its giving on New York City. Druckenmiller chairs the board of the Harlem Children’s Zone, one of many local educational institutions that his foundation supports. Health, poverty and arts initiatives are also among the foundation’s priorities.

18. Rajiv Shah
The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation has long been a major philanthropic institution addressing global issues. And since 2017, Rajiv Shah has been trying to transform the foundation’s work by boosting its use of technology and data to promote health, food and climate initiatives worldwide. Shah’s focus is certainly on international affairs, but The Rockefeller Foundation has also given tens of millions of dollars to New York-based institutions over the past decade.

19. Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker
President and CEO
Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker has led the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo for more than a decade, overseeing nearly $500 million in assets while supporting individuals and community groups throughout Western New York. Dedecker, who has also chaired the Foundation Center, a New York City philanthropic information resource, previously earned her a place on the White House Council on Service and Civic Participation.

20. Ray Dalio
Dalio Philanthropies

Ray Dalio is best known for founding one of the world’s largest hedge funds and being one of the wealthiest men in the world. And when he engages in philanthropy, much of his giving is done through his Connecticut-based family foundation, which has awarded more than $5 billion since being founded in 2003. Organizations in New York are often recipients of its generosity, especially local charter schools, universities and arts institutions.

21. Vartan Gregorian
Carnegie Corporation of New York

For more than two decades, Vartan Gregorian has been at the helm of Carnegie Corporation of New York. His professional experience has extended beyond philanthropy – Gregorian has served as president of Brown University and also ran the New York Public Library. Though the $3.5 billion foundation’s work is limited in New York, it does provide funds to higher education institutions in the region, among other groups.

22. Julian H. Robertson Jr.
The Robertson Foundation

The Robertson Foundation is one of three foundations Julian Robertson has established (his Tiger Foundation is in a separate entry on this list), all created before the retired hedge fund manager signed the Giving Pledge, which encourages the extremely wealthy to give away at least half their wealth to philanthropy. The Robertson Foundation commits much of its resources to the New York City area, helping fund institutions like Success Academy Charter Schools and the Central Park Conservancy.

23. Doug Bauer
Executive Director
Clark Foundation

More than 80 education, employment and social services nonprofits rely on the Clark Foundation, which is known for supporting organizations’ general operating costs. Doug Bauer – who is also senior vice president of the investment management firm The Clark Estates – heads the foundation’s grantmaking in New York City and Cooperstown, New York. He is a board member of The Melalucca Foundation, National Council of Nonprofits and Partners for Health Foundation.

24. Jennifer Leonard
President and CEO
Rochester Area Community Foundation

Since Jennifer Leonard took over the Rochester Area Community Foundation 27 years ago, she has made her mark on one of New York’s largest cities while the foundation has grown fifteenfold. That expansion allowed it to grant $36.7 million in scholarships and grants last year across an eight-county region. She is also a member of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative’s steering committee.

25. David Sandman
President and CEO
New York State Health Foundation

In a state with diverse medical needs, David Sandman and his foundation play a key role in funding innovative health care initiatives. The New York State Health Foundation supports everything from creating a full-service grocery store in Syracuse to universal free lunch in New York City public schools. Before taking the reins at the foundation, Sandman was the executive director of the state’s health care delivery commission.

26. Ana Oliveira
President and CEO
The New York Women's Foundation

The New York Women’s Foundation has been quick to collaborate with philanthropic partners to fund pressing issues in light of the #MeToo movement and efforts to close the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City. Much of that can be credited to Ana Oliveira, who has helped the foundation more than quintuple its grantmaking since 2006. In 2018, it awarded more than $11 million in grants to 175 community-based organizations.

27. Deborah T. Velazquez
Altman Foundation

Deborah T. Velazquez has been with the Altman Foundation since 2008, though she only began leading its philanthropic efforts at the beginning of 2019. She oversees the foundation’s extensive grantmaking in New York City, which spans education, health and other initiatives. Before joining the 107-year-old foundation, Velazquez worked at the Emmanuel Community Development Corp., Bridge Street Development Corp. and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

28. Cecilia Clarke
President and CEO
Brooklyn Community Foundation

Much of the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s grantmaking focus has been driven by a community engagement project that Cecilia Clarke launched in 2014, with input from nearly 1,000 Brooklynites. Clarke now oversees funding programs for youths, immigrants and seniors. Before joining the foundation in 2013, she was the founder and executive director of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, an educational program for young women in New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

29. Joan Weill
The Weill Family Foundation

Joan Weill and her husband, Sanford – who earned his wealth leading Citigroup – are longtime philanthropists. And much of their giving goes to famed New York institutions, such as Carnegie Hall. The couple are among the top donors to Cornell University, with its medical school named in their honor. One of their latest contributions to Weill Cornell Medicine has allowed it to offer all students eligible for financial aid the ability to attend tuition-free.

30. Gregory Mustaciuolo
Mother Cabrini Health Foundation

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation is quite new to the philanthropic world, as it has been in operation for just under a year. But with $3.2 billion in assets, MonsignorGregory Mustaciuolo is in charge of a grantmaking powerhouse. It was born out of the Bishops of the Catholic Dioceses of New York selling Fidelis Care in 2018 and is slated to dole out up to $150 million in grants annually to health initiatives in New York state.

31. Julie Sandorf
Charles H. Revson Foundation

Julie Sandorf is a champion of local journalism, directing the Charles H. Revson Foundation’s support of news outlets throughout New York City. This commitment culminated in its backing of the new nonprofit news organization, The City. The foundation also dedicates money to education initiatives and medical research at New York institutions. Before Sandorf came on in 2008, she led Nextbook, a nonprofit promoting Jewish literature, arts and culture.

32. Rachel Garbow Monroe
President and CEO
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation

Rachel Garbow Monroe leads one of the country’s 50 largest private foundations, managing more than $2 billion in assets. Although the foundation’s offices are located in Maryland and Hawaii, New York City is a key grantmaking focus for the foundation. It awarded more than 50 grants to New York City organizations from March 2016 to February 2017 for its initiatives related to housing, health, jobs, education, community services and the Jewish community.

33. Charles Buice
Tiger Foundation

Fighting poverty is a priority of the Tiger Foundation, which Charles Buice heads. Many of its supporters come from the now-shuttered hedge fund Tiger Management, established by Julian Robertson, and they continue to provide support for New York City organizations that help youths, job seekers and those in the criminal justice system. The foundation has given more than $250 million in grants since its founding 31 years ago.

34. Edward P. Henry
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

From being a professional dancer to serving as associate dean at Columbia Business School, Edward P. Henry has had a varied career. And since 2009, he has been at the helm of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, where he manages about $1.8 billion in assets. Although the New York City-based foundation doesn’t focus on local giving, it has given to New York City arts institutions and health initiatives.

35. Karen Persichilli Keogh
Head of Global Philanthropy
JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Karen Persichilli Keogh joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. nearly 10 years ago, heading up its lobbying and political activities in states and localities across the country. She has since shifted focus as the head of its global philanthropic giving, which amounts to more than $200 million annually. Though the bank’s scope spans dozens of countries, New York organizations working on affordable housing and workforce readiness are among its beneficiaries.

36. Laurie M. Tisch
Founder and President
Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

“Illumination” is a key word for Laurie M. Tisch’s foundation, which employs innovative approaches to making New York City a brighter place. A longtime philanthropist, Tisch has been especially involved in the arts and that is reflected in many of the foundation’s initiatives. But the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund doesn’t limit its grantmaking, backing “programs that increase access and opportunity across a wide spectrum of fields.”

37. Jennifer Buffett & Peter Buffett
NoVo Foundation

This power couple created the NoVo Foundation 14 years ago, when Peter Buffett’s famous father, Warren Buffett, pledged to donate 350,000 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stock to the foundation. The two oversee the foundation’s grantmaking, and preventing violence against girls and women is a major focus. Among the New York-based nonprofits it supports are the Center for Popular Democracy and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

38. Sarah Chiles
Executive Director
Redlich Horwitz Foundation

The Redlich Horwitz Foundation has a specific focus: improving New York’s foster care system. Sarah Chiles and her team coordinate directly with local governments across the state to reduce the number of youth placed in group homes. And with the foundation’s backing, child welfare advocates have successfully fought for foster youth entering college to receive more financial support and for access to educational coaches to guide children and teens in the foster care system.

39. Peter A. Dunn
President and CEO
Central New York Community Foundation

Peter A. Dunn started his career as a lawyer before joining the philanthropic world, driven by a desire to give back to the community. After working in Washington, D.C., and California, he took the reins at the Central New York Community Foundation in 2008. Over the past five years, the foundation’s financial standing has steadily improved. It doled out more than $12 million to support initiatives across Central New York in fiscal year 2019.

40. Maria Mottola
Executive Director
New York Foundation

Since 2003, Maria Mottola has led one of New York City’s top funders of advocacy groups. Of the $2.5 million the New York Foundation granted in 2018, 84% of it went toward community organizing and advocacy. Under Mottola’s leadership, the foundation co-created Engage New York, a coalition of foundation leaders promoting campaigns for immigrants, housing, criminal justice reform and the 2020 census.

41. Ronald Perelman
Perelman Family Foundation

The Perelman Family Foundation tends to keep quiet about its grantmaking. Its founder, Ronald Perelman, ranks among the richest Americans as the chairman and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Inc. Much of the foundation’s grantmaking is centered on New York City, with an eye on funding hospitals, universities and museums. The Apollo Theater Foundation, National Action Network and the Museum of Modern Art are among its recent grantees.

42. Andrea L. Reynolds
President and CEO
Dyson Foundation

Andrea L. Reynolds came to lead the Dyson Foundation starting in 2015, where she now oversees grants centered on Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties. In 2018, the family foundation doled out nearly $12 million in grants. It also has made the 2020 census a priority as a partner in the New York State Census Equity Fund, on top of its other initiatives in health, education and economic revitalization.

43. Emily Tow
The Tow Foundation

Although The Tow Foundation is based in Connecticut, it often takes its funding for criminal justice advocacy to organizations in New York at a time when elected officials have zoned in on incarceration. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has even sought Emily Tow’s insight, appointing her to the state Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. A fixture at the private family foundation since its inception, Tow drives $20 million in annual giving.

44. Philip Li
President and CEO
Robert Sterling Clark Foundation

Philip Li is tasked with helping New York City become “a city as just as it is vibrant” in his role as president and CEO of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. The $96.5 million foundation touts its philosophy of trust-based philanthropy, which focuses on providing unrestricted funds to grantees. Earlier in his career, Li helped the Brooklyn Community Foundation transition into a public charity and he also ran the Coro New York Leadership Center.

45. Susan L. Birnbaum
President and CEO
New York City Police Foundation

The first-of-its-kind New York City Police Foundation arose amid scandals of police corruption in 1970s with the goal of rebuilding trust in law enforcement. Its role as the only private funder of the NYPD has certainly been criticized for possibly allowing donors to influence the police department. But with $12.8 million in assets, Susan Birnbaum’s foundation is dedicated to helping the NYPD test new initiatives and technology to create a better policing system.

46. Laura Rossi
Executive Director
Westchester Community Foundation

Laura Rossi was named the executive director of the Westchester Community Foundation – a division of the New York Community Trust – in 2015 after eight years at the foundation. She oversees grantmaking spanning the arts, social services, health and the environment centered around Westchester County. A former attorney and advocate for women’s and farmworkers’ rights, she is on the boards of Sustainable Westchester and the New York Funders Alliance.

47. Timothy J. McClimon
American Express Foundation

Timothy McClimon serves dual but complementary roles leading the American Express Foundation and serving as senior vice president for corporate social responsibility for the American Express Co. Under his oversight, American Express contributed more than $37 million to organizations in 2018, including New York-based groups like the United Way of New York City and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He also writes blog posts on corporate social responsibility and issues in the nonprofit world.

48. Alicia Dicks
President and CEO
The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties

Alicia Dicks outlined a new vision for The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties last year: make larger grant commitments, support marginalized communities, communicate more with residents and take risks. Dicks is a major philanthropic force in Herkimer and Oneida counties, overseeing the disbursement of $7.7 million in grants during 2018. Before leading the $128 million foundation, she served as the president of Fort Schuyler Management Corp.

49. Jennifer Ching
Executive Director
North Star Fund

Jennifer Ching has been at the helm of the North Star Fund since 2017, after nearly two decades of practicing law. She now oversees the foundation’s funding of grassroots social justice initiatives. And North Star is quick to fund organizations through its Rapid Response grants. When New York City advocates criticized the policing of street vendors and opposed efforts to bring an Amazon headquarters to Queens, the foundation was able to lend them support.

50. Ronna Brown
Philanthropy New York

Ronna Brown is the president of Philanthropy New York, a regional membership organization representing about 285 grantmaking institutions. The organization convenes more than 200 events per year for funders to discuss issues pressing to sector, while also pushing for policies supported by philanthropic groups. Previously, Brown served as the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York as well as its foundation.

Correction: David Okorn managest $46 million in assets; the amount was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo's assets were misstated in an earlier version of this story.

Placeholder blue outline avatar
Kay Dervishi
is a staff reporter at City & State.