The Rise of Dalio Philanthropy: A Case Study of the New Mega-Giving

Raise your hand if you've heard of Ray Dalio.

Your hand will be up if you work in finance, or anywhere near it, since Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, now the world's largest hedge fund firm. With a fortune of at least $15 billion, he's the second richest hedge fund guy, after George Soros. 

Your hand will also be up if you're keen reader of Inside Philanthropy, since we've been tracking Dalio's rising philanthropy for a while. 

But if you missed those articles, and finance isn't your thing, Dalio's name probably won't ring a bell. 

Well, it should—and eventually it will—if you're in the nonprofit sector. Because the Dalio Foundation, which Dalio runs with his wife Barbara, is fast on its way to becoming one of the top U.S. foundations. Its rapid ascent is a case study of a trend we talk about endlessly: How the pecking order of philanthropy is getting turned upside down as the vast fortunes of a second Gilded Age are harnessed to giving. 

Just ten years ago, in 2005, the young Dalio Foundation moved $3.8 million out of the door. In 2011, it gave $44 million to charity, roughly $109 million in 2013, and according to Forbes, a statement released by the Dalio Foundation said it gave away $119 million in 2014.

When we last reported on the Dalio Foundation, it held assets of more than half a billion. That number soared to more than $840 million in 2013, making it one of the top 100 largest foundations at spot 99, one spot ahead of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation that year. It's likely even larger now. 

Dalio's philanthropy is a big deal, but sifting through exactly what Giving Pledge signatories Ray and Barbara Dalio have been up to is more difficult than it is for a funder like Dell or Ford. Part of this is because the Dalio Foundation’s one-page website doesn't offer any way for outsiders (including grantseekers) to get a handle on its giving. In that sense, it reminds us of the Robertson Foundation, another under-the-radar foundation bankrolled by a hedge fund winner that moves over $100 million out the door annually. 

A recent 990 for the Dalio Foundation lists only five staff, four members of the Dalio family, plus Executive Director Janine Racanelli, who has a law background and used to be the global head of JPMorgan Private Bank’s Advice Lab and Wealth Advisory practice.

The foundation staff also includes Art Levitt, who got a degree from Harvard Business School, and has served in such high level roles as President and CEO of Hard Rock Cafe and also Fandango. 

So where is all that Dalio money going? A lot of places.

We've written in the past about Dalio's support of areas like conservation, education, orphans in China, micro-finance, and mental health and wellness, where he's been a major proponent of transcendental meditation.

Related: Besides Meditation, What's This Billionaire Up to in Mental Health?

The Dalio Foundation has stayed true to these interests as it has scaled up, but has also moved into some other areas as well. With hundreds of grantees and tens of millions of dollars going out of the door annually, Dalio philanthropy is sprawling. But here's a rundown of the foundation's more recent giving, and some things to expect going forward:

1. Education is Still A Strong Interest

The couple's Giving Pledge letter mentions that Barbara “gives particular attention to trying to help inner city education." Well, of late, Dalio has continued to fund outfits in the Connecticut and New York City area such as Achievement First, Harlem Children' s Zone, New Visions for Public Schools, and Teach for America. TFA received $1.5 million in 2013, with money distributed to help TFA both at the national and local level. What we're noticing now is perhaps more of a focus on music education and higher education as well.

Dalio gave $1 million recently to help establish the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. Marymount California University in Palos Verdes, California recently received $1 million. Meanwhile a $1 million gift to Harlem Children's Zone supported a music education partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center. Dalio has also funded scholarships through St Luke's Foundation.

2. Remember China Care? Global Giving is Still a Priority

We've talked about Dalio's son Matt, whose trips to China as a kid inspired him to found the China Care Foundation, which helps Chinese orphans. Dalio has continued to support his son's foundation while also giving to outfits such as the Brookings Institution, to support the Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asia Studies in Foreign Policy program, which facilitates "high-quality, independent research and develops practical solutions to policy challenges facing Southeast Asia and the United States." 

Dalio's money has also continued to stream to Hope for Haiti and HealthCorps.

Oh, and we also can't forget about one of Dalio's largest gifts to date, a $25 million grant to National Philanthropic Trust towards polio eradication efforts. The National Philanthropic Trust has been deep into polio vaccination efforts and in 2013 provided $51.2 million towards this effort.

3. Dalio's Environmental Efforts Are Expanding

In the past, I've noted that much of Dalio's environmental philanthropy stays close to his home in Connecticut, where steady streams of money go toward outfits such as Camp Fire Conservation Fund, the  Greenwich Land Trust, Greenwich Tree Conservancy and Garden Education Center of Greenwich. While many of these outfits are still receiving funding, Dalio has also increasingly been interested in broader conservation efforts, especially regarding oceans. According to Forbes, Dalio's research yacht and submarine have appeared on the Discovery Channel's hunt for a giant squid and during Shark Week.

But more than that, Dalio has set up what's called the Dalio Explore Fund to bankroll a number of different environmental and scientific research projects, many of which are focused on marine and ocean conservation. There's little information on the precise mandate of the fund, but what we do know is that it has supported research into hurricanes and global warming in Cape Cod. A past Dalio grantee, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is one major site of the Dalio Explore Fund, funding a telescope project to study Plankton in the Pacific. (Woods Hole also got a $5 million grant from Dalio in 2013.)

As well, $10 million went to the National Geographic Society towards a Dalio Explore Fund at that outfit, $7.5 million went to John's Hopkins towards the fund there. That's $17.5 million in 2013 for environmental research. But that same year, Dalio also gave $1.5 million to Conservation International, over $2 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the big gift to Woods Hole. Add it all up, and the Dalio Foundation is on its way to becoming one of the bigger environmental funders around. 

4. Public Policy Might Be a New Interest

A major grant that caught our eye was the $10 million that went to Volcker Alliance, dedicated to "rekindle intellectual, practical, and academic interest in the implementation of policy and serve as a catalyst for sustained government improvement." The Volcker Alliance was launched in 2013 by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker. 

Volcker has given Dalio and Bridgewater high praise in the past, and according to an Economist article, claimed that Dalio "has a bigger staff, and produces more relevant statistics and analyses, than the Federal Reserve.”

5. Where Do We Go From Here?

We've thrown a lot at you in this post, but have tried to stick to the more major recent gifts in the Dalio operation. There's a lot of other stuff we didn't mention, like big giving for micro-finance and hospitals, and continued high level support for meditation.

It's worth noting that we predicted that Dalio would really start to ramp up his giving. We don't do this to brag, but to reiterate that his fortune of more than $15 billion really is a big deal, and he and Barbara clearly want to stay ahead of the curve in fulfilling their Giving Pledge. It takes many years to give away big money properly. The Dalio Foundation has said that the "The Dalios’ rate of giving has been increasing at a rate that is consistent with their rate of learning and their building up of their team... they expect this to continue.”

Dalio serves as a good example of what can happen when a deep-pocketed funder really starts to move money out of the door. An additional $400 million was injected into the foundation in 2013, with possibly even more since. A few years from now, the Dalio Foundation may well be bigger in terms of assets and giving than places like Rockefeller and Carnegie. As I said, the world of philanthropy is changing, and fast. 

Related: Ray Dalio Profile