A Billionaire Plans to Give Much of It Away—but Isn’t Sure Where
By Nicole Lewis
AS A YOUNG AIDE to Presi- dent Jimmy Carter in 1978, David M. Rubenstein attended the first Kennedy
Center Honors, now a gala and
television show that each year
celebrates several performing-arts icons and benefits the John
F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
In 2010 Mr. Rubenstein again
attended the Honors but this
time as the center’s chairman—
and as a donor of $10-million,
including $200,000 to pay for
programs like the Honors.
Charities can expect plenty
more big gifts from Mr. Rubenstein, a co-founder of the Carlyle
Group, a private-equity firm,
whose personal wealth Forbes
has estimated at $2.5-billion.
RICK Y CARIO TI/ WASHING TON POS T/GE TT Y IMAGES
He says he plans to give at
least half his fortune to charity
and do as much giving as he can
while he is still alive to enjoy it.
dispersal. However, he hasn’t
settled on the answer to a big
question: Where will most of his
money go? “I am still feeling my
way a bit,” he says.
including programs centered on
Jewish life, and says he’ll likely
make more gifts.
“Washington has been a good
city to me,” says Mr. Ruben-
stein. “I came with virtually
no money, worked in the White
House, created a business here,
and raised my family here.
There are many institutions in
Washington I am involved with,
and I like to help.”
Growing up in a blue-collar
Jewish neighborhood in Balti-
more, Mr. Rubenstein didn’t ex-
pect to be in a position to give
Mr. Rubenstein’s 2010 donation to the University of Chicago Law School will provide
three-year scholarships for 60
Making a ‘Pledge’
And help he did last year, by
going on a philanthropy spree.
In addition to the Kennedy
Center gift, Mr. Rubenstein, 61,
donated $10-million for scholarships at the University of Chicago Law School, his alma mater,
and $5-million to the Library of
Congress to support its annual
His father, a Marine turned
postal worker, never made more
than $8,000 a year while Mr.
Rubenstein was growing up.
Neither of his parents attended
college. His mother hoped her
only child would become a dentist.
Michael H. Schill, the law
school’s dean, says budgetary
constraints have precluded the
school from offering full scholarships for at least 15 years. He
describes Mr. Rubenstein as an
engaged donor who spent a day
and a half in November visiting
the school, giving a lecture, and
teaching a class.
But her son had other ideas.
He made weekly trips to the library, where he took out the
books—he loved biographies
and history—and studied hard
“If I e-mailed him now, he’d
respond in 15 minutes, probably from China,” says Mr. Schill.
“He wants to make a difference
and he can make a difference.”
In all, he gave more than
$26.6-million in 2010, placing
him at No. 40 on the Philanthropy 50, The Chronicle’s annual ranking of America’s most-generous donors.
Philanthropy entered Mr. Rubenstein’s life with a bang after
he read an article seven years
ago that said the average male
his age would live to be 81.
The gifts are a small part of
Mr. Rubenstein’s lifetime of philanthropy, which has also included donating at least $100-
million to groups that include
Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in
New York, and the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, in Baltimore.
He attributes his interest
in learning in part to the fact
that he had no brothers or sis-
ters. “Only children tend to be
more self-starters or more self-
sufficient,” Mr. Rubenstein says.
“I wasn’t fighting with any sib-
lings. I had more time to be
alone and read.”
Literacy, he hints, might be a
focus for some of his future giv-
ing. “I feel I got where I got be-
cause of my love of reading.”
“Very few people on their
deathbed say, I wish I had
worked harder or made more
money,” he says. “On their
deathbed, they usually say the
same two things: I wish I had
spent more time with my family,
and I wish I had done more to
make the world a better place.”
Last summer he signed the
“Giving Pledge” promoted by
Warren Buffett and Bill and
Melinda Gates, offering at least
half of his fortune to charity.
With memberships on more
than 25 nonprofit boards, in-
cluding the Smithsonian’s Board
of Regents and the Lincoln Cen-
ter for the Performing Arts, he
wants to be very involved in its
He won full scholarships to
Duke University, in Durham,
N.C., and the University of Chi-
cago Law School. Afterward,
he toggled between private law
practice and government work.
After the Carlyle Group became
successful, Mr. Rubenstein rich-
ly rewarded the institutions
that had paid his way.
Duke University received two
gifts, in 2003 and 2009, totaling
$10.75-million, for the Sanford
School of Public Policy. He has
supported other efforts at Duke,
Besides his monetary contri-
butions (he won’t say the ex-
act amount), he has purchased
three landmark historical doc-
uments—copies of the Magna
Carta, the Emancipation Proc-
lamation, and Declaration of In-
dependence, all on permanent
loan to the U.S. government—
that he strongly implies he will
donate after he dies.
In addition to giving money,
Mr. Rubenstein prides himself
on rolling up his sleeves to raise
money and brainstorm at the
nonprofit groups where he holds
Learn about David M. Rubenstein’s sometimes “
spur-of-the-moment” philanthropic decisions. For details, go to:
“He is nonconfrontational; he
is collaborative,” says Michael
M. Kaiser, the Kennedy Center’s president. “He is a very
busy man, and he always makes
time for me.”
David M. Rubenstein (No. 40)
Total committed in 2010: $26.6-million
Recipients: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
University of Chicago School of Law, Library of Congress, and
Foundation for the National Archives.
“I don’t play golf,” says David M. Rubenstein,
a co-founder of the private-equity firm
the Carlyle Group. “I don’t have a lot of other things
I am focused on right now besides my business,
philanthropy, and my family.”
And he makes time for Kennedy Center staff members as
well. As the new chairman, Mr.
Rubenstein spoke to the group’s
700 volunteers as well as the
arts groups that perform at the
Center most frequently.
“I don’t play golf,” he says. “I
don’t have a lot of other things I
am focused on right now besides
my business, philanthropy, and
While enabling him to give
away millions, his business, the
Carlyle Group, has attracted
some controversy. In 2009 the
group paid $20-million to the
State of New York to settle an
inquiry by the state’s attorney
general into its use of place-
ment agents, people who helped
the firm solicit business from
a New York pension-fund. The
Carlyle Group was not charged
with any wrongdoing.
Through a spokesman, Mr.
Rubenstein says that criticism
of Carlyle has no impact on his
personal giving decisions.
Though he has pledged to donate at least half his fortune,
Mr. Rubenstein describes his
giving as “embryonic.” He hasn’t
sought much advice on it, and is
in no hurry to create a foundation. He says he doesn’t particularly want to hire staff members
who might voice opinions on his
giving or to have to publicly disclose every gift he makes. For
now, he handles every solicitation request. “I enjoy making
decisions myself,” he says.
Not even his spouse or children exert influence over his
His wife, Alice Rogoff Rubenstein, has her own philanthropic interests as a founder of the
Alaska Native Arts Foundation,
in Anchorage. They jointly support some causes, including the
Kennedy Center, but her name
is absent from Mr. Rubenstein’s
“My wife didn’t want to be
completely in the shadow in
terms of my gifts,” he says. “She
has carved out other things she
is involved with.”
The couple has three children:
The eldest, a daughter, works at
Goldman Sachs, the investment
bank, while the youngest, a son,
attends Duke. Mr. Rubenstein’s
middle child, a daughter, has
shown a special interest in phi-
lanthropy and is turning her
Harvard senior thesis into a
book about giving by celebri-
ties under age 30. He says she
also plans to write a children’s
book on philanthropy. “So that
is what she is doing until she
goes to business school,” he says
with a wry smile.
A Passion for Literacy
So far, Mr. Rubenstein’s biggest gifts have supported causes
dictated by his personal history, interests, or board memberships. Mr. Rubenstein’s love of
the arts doesn’t stem from personal talent—piano lessons in
fourth grade were a failure—
but rather the arts’ ability to
bring people together.
“The Kennedy Center is some-
thing that unifies the city,” he
says. “We have gotten ourselves
into a situation where Demo-
crats and Republicans don’t talk
to each other as much as they
used to, and here they do.”
Through a spokesman, Mr.
Rubenstein says another major
gift to the Kennedy Center, com-
parable to his gift in 2010, will
be announced soon. The gift will
support diversifying the center’s
audience as well as broadening
As Mr. Rubenstein determines the direction of his philanthropy, he says he will keep
an open mind.
In December The Washington Post reported that the Carlyle Group’ might sell ownership
shares to the public, a move that
could greatly enrich its three
founders and others at the company. Mr. Rubenstein wouldn’t
comment on the rumors, except
to say that his charitable plans
would remain unchanged even
if they proved true.
“If I make more money, then
I will have more money to give
away,” says Mr. Rubenstein.
“And I’ll be happy to do it.”