"Getting the Next Generation Started." The Son of a Wall Street Legend Explains His Family’s Giving

Philadelphia. Brian E Kushner/shutterstock

Philadelphia. Brian E Kushner/shutterstock

Dan F. Gordon started the Fulwider Corporation 25 years ago to invest in real estate properties in Philadelphia. Fulwider Corporation and its affiliated companies now own almost 50 properties in the city. Gordon is also philanthropic and moves contributions through the Drumcliff Foundation, which is laser-focused on organizations in and around Philadelphia.

The foundation has been around since the late 1980s, and gave away around $930,000 in a recent fiscal year. This is not the only foundation associated with the Gordon family, however. Dan Gordon’s Manhattan-based brothers John and Al Gordon each have charities through which they’ve also been giving steadily for several decades.

I recently spoke with Dan Gordon to learn more about how he and his brothers give. In the process, I discovered a deeper story of family philanthropy and multigenerational giving.

Gordon spoke about the enduring legacy of his father, the late Albert H. Gordon, who passed away nearly a decade ago at the age of 107. The Harvard man arrived on Wall Street in the mid-1920s and took a job as a statistician with Goldman Sachs. He later joined Kidder Peabody, and is credited with reviving the company in the wake of the stock market crash. The late Albert Gordon counted Armand Hammer among his friends, and in 1960, Fortune magazine listed Albert as one of the 10 most powerful men on Wall Street.

But Dan Gordon brought our conversation back to his father’s philanthropic legacy: “He did well in business, but then he gave a lot of money away and believed that you should give until it hurts.” Gordon recalls being in his early 20s when his father sat him down to talk about philanthropy. “You have this income now, and you should be giving some money away. Right from an early age, he was pushing that,” Gordon explains.

By the late 1980s, the elder Gordon set up foundations for Gordon and his brothers. Dan Gordon’s foundation is Drumcliff. Meanwhile, John R. Gordon, a senior managing director at Deltec Asset Management, steers John R. & Kiendl Dauphinot Gordon Fund with his wife Kiendl. And Al Gordon runs the Kathy and Al Gordon Fund with his wife Kathy.

The Drumcliff Foundation supports improvement projects in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. “This is a city that is vibrant, but it has a lot of problems. It is working less. I try to do things in neighborhoods, smaller projects, for organizations that don’t have the staffing to put in applications for funding from bigger foundations,” Gordon explains. He’s also a big fan of collaborating with other organizations and agencies, which he considers more cost-effective.

How does Gordon choose his grantees? Well, a lot of it has been by word of mouth. For example, Gordon has a neighbor with a computer background who went to a parent-teacher night at a local school, and was shocked that the facility had virtually no access to computers. “He called me and other neighbors in, and we raised money for a computer center,” Gordon explains. Through a community development organization, meanwhile, Gordon first made contact with an enduring partner, the Emlen School, a public elementary school in East Mount Airy. The foundation donated and raised money for a $47,000 computer lab at the school. Drumcliff has also helped to create a library at the school, as well as soccer, tennis and running after-school programs.

And for those who underestimate the power of an organization’s leadership, Gordon praises Emlen’s School head of school. “You should look at the head of an organization and just see how dynamic they are. That will make a big difference as to how beneficial any donation is. It’s not just me. I’ve also galvanized other organizations to go to Emlen School, and every single one has been happy with how their money and/or volunteering was used,” Gordon adds.

Another thing that Gordon emphasized in our conversation is that for the most part, his father, towering figure though he was, didn’t direct him where to put any money. There were no strings attached, and Gordon and his brothers were free to explore and discover their own philanthropic interest areas. As for the value of this model, Gordon couldn’t have been more clear: “I would recommend that with any parent, if they have the resources, to stress that they should always commit to giving a portion of it away. They should really take the extra step of getting the next generation started.”

The late Albert Gordon did stress the value of nurturing one’s roots and educational institutions. Dan and John Gordon were sent to Winchester College in England for a postgraduate year, and Albert set up a small fund at the school, which Dan oversaw. The brothers direct steady sums to American Friends of Winchester College.

Overall, Gordon is grateful for his introduction to philanthropy many years ago, and his experience through the years. “Philanthropy really gives you a wider view of life,” he says.

The Drumcliff Foundation does receive applications, but Gordon explains that he’s stretched thin and already has a number of important projects.