What You Need to Know about the Unique Charity of Kenneth Griffin

What You Need to Know about the Unique Charity of Kenneth Griffin


As the field of philanthropy continues to evolve at a rapid rate, some names are coming up more frequently in conversations, such as Barbara Dalio and Laurene Powell Jobs. Another donor who has been receiving a lot of attention is Kenneth Griffin, a hedge funder who has accrued $9 billion in wealth before turning 50.

Griffin has emerged as one of the biggest givers among hedge fund professionals and made waves because of his extremely varied giving. This is what you need to know about his unique charitable efforts.


The Griffin Charitable Fund Embraces Brick-and-Mortar Projects

Image courtesy Wikipedia

One of the most recent gifts from Kenneth Griffin made headlines because of its unique focus on brick-and-mortar construction. The Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund pledged a gift of $16 million to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

This gift is the largest in the history of the museum, which was founded almost eight decades ago. The donation will support a campaign for the construction of a new wing due to open early next year.

The 59,000-square-foot addition will bear the name the Kenneth C. Griffin Building in recognition of this donation. The expansion adds almost 40 percent more space to the museum. It will be used for special exhibitions, as well as to provide some additional square footage for displaying the Norton permanent collection.

Funding a brick-and-mortar construction, as well as the named wing that results, may seem familiar to many people. However, this approach to philanthropy has largely fallen out of vogue in recent years. Donors shy away from these projects for a number of reasons, including the reality that construction costs often far exceed expectations.

For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would delay construction of its $600-million southwest wing for modern and contemporary art and instead invest the money in replacing the roof above the gallery for European paintings. Similarly, the Lincoln Center abandoned its $500-million plan for renovating David Geffen Hall because it ultimately did not reach fundraising goals.


The Driving Reason behind a Lack of Construction Support

However, the more salient reason for stepping away from physical constructions remains the push for creating a “more meaningful” impact with giving. Many individuals feel that funding a new wing of a building is not the best way to use their money to effect social change.

Griffin does not quite align with this sentiment. As he explains, the new addition will create countess opportunities for Florida residents, students, and visitors to enjoy and learn about art that they would not have otherwise encountered. In other words, access to culture is just as important as other social issues in the eyes of some donors.


The Widely Varied Philanthropy of Kenneth Griffin

Certainly, Griffin shows modern donors that they do not have to choose between brick-and-mortar constructions and the type of giving that has become more iconic in recent decades. His own eccentric form of giving has prompted him to support a wide range of causes outside of art.

Much of his giving has focused on supporting various causes in Chicago. For example, he recently gave $10 million to support increased collaboration between the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and the Chicago Police Department as a means of curbing violent crime in the city. The gift supports the use of surveillance tools and the implementation of other crime reduction strategies.

Griffin has also given $125 million to the endowment of the University of Chicago economics department and $12 million to the Chicago Park District, as well as $5.5 million to create a new display on Antarctic dinosaurs at the Field Museum in Chicago.

In addition, Griffin has a history of investing in brick-and-mortar projects, even if they are fairly risky. In 2007, he gave the Art Institute of Chicago $19 million. This resulted in the Kenneth and Anne Griffin Court, part of an addition designed by Renzo Piano.

He and his former wife also played a key role in funding the opening of a new charter school in Chicago called Woodlawn High School. Plus, Griffin gave a $40 million unrestricted grant to the Museum of Modern Art when it was undertaking a very controversial effort to expand its footprint.


The Future of Griffin’s Philanthropy in Southeastern Florida

Considering Griffin’s history of focusing his philanthropy on Chicago, the recent gift to the Norton Museum may seem a little anomalous, but it may point to future investing in Florida. He grew up in Daytona Beach before attending Harvard and subsequently relocating to Chicago, where he built his fortune.

However, he remains actively involved in his home state and owns more than $230 million of oceanfront property in Palm Beach. Ironically, Griffin planned to develop this land into a project that was tentatively called Billionaires Row, but he recently decided to cancel it because the total costs were much higher than initially expected.

Clearly, this setback hasn’t influenced his giving patterns and his willingness to invest in new structures. In the future, it would not be surprising to see Griffin funneling more of his giving into southeastern Florida.


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