NET WORTH: $700 million, estimated
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Former CEO of Goldman Sachs
FUNDING AREAS: Climate Change, Conservation, Animals and Wildlife, Religion, Education
OVERVIEW: Henry M. “Hank” Paulson, Jr., has made very large contributions to environmental causes, but also to Christian Science and his alma mater, Dartmouth. He and his wife Wendy founded the Bobolink Foundation, through which he runs most of his philanthropy. The foundation prioritizes land and wildlife conservation and his nonprofit the Paulson Institute.
BACKGROUND: Hank Paulson graduated from Dartmouth and Harvard. He worked in government during the Nixon administration and then joined Goldman Sachs in 1974. He worked his way up to CEO of the investment banking giant.
CONSERVATION AND WILDLIFE: This is the Paulsons' big issue. Their main giving channel is through the Bobolink Foundation, whose mission is to advance "conservation and stewardship of biodiversity through the protection of natural areas, education, and building local constituencies for nature." Wendy Paulson is actually the bottom line on the couple’s philanthropy, making most of the decisions unless a commitment is larger than usual. One example of such a case was their $12 million donation to protect a large chunk of coastal Georgia in 2012. Some of the couple’s big beneficiaries include Rare, a global conservation outfit, and a variety of bird conservation organizations. The Nature Conservancy is another huge group for Henry Paulson, having served as board chair and given millions to the conservation heavyweight.
CLIMATE CHANGE: While protecting land and birds has historically been the Paulsons’ main financial commitment, Hank Paulson has certainly made it clear in recent years that climate change is a big priority. Paulson recently penned a 2,000-word op-ed for the New York Times in which he calls for swift action on “the climate bubble,” referring to it as the “challenge of our time.” He is also one of three co-chairs of Risky Business, along with Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg, a bipartisan campaign to frame climate change as a serious economic threat. The organization just released a comprehensive report on the subject. For now, his involvement in the issue is mostly through the Paulson Institute, a “think and do” tank devoted to environmental protection and sustainable economic growth in the United States and China. It’s hard to imagine the couple won’t start upping its philanthropy in this arena.
The Paulson Institute announced a climate change initiative in Beijing, "bringing together Chinese and international specialists to share strategies on reducing the country’s air pollution and identify ways to measure compliance with government targets."
OTHER: While not as extensive as their environmental giving, the Paulsons have made a handful of very large gifts to a few pet causes. For one, the family religion is Christian Science, and their foundation has given at least $4.5 million to the church over a few gifts. And Dartmouth alum Hank Paulson gave $2 million a while back to his alma mater.
LOOKING FORWARD: The Paulsons have not signed The Giving Pledge, but are believed to be planning to give away most of their fortune to charity. So it will be interesting to see if they take the plunge and make it official. The other big question for Hank and Wendy Paulson is whether they make a more formal shift from land and wildlife over to climate change. The donors have historically been fixed on the outdoors, their giving connected to lifelong enthusiasm for enjoying nature. And even the Paulson Institute isn’t primarily focused on climate. But with Risky Business, Hank Paulson has signaled how big a priority it is for him, and we seem to be at a tipping point where big donors like him are pouring funds into the cause, fed up with inactivity.