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Citizen Journalism Project: How to Research the Bubble Barons' Charitable Contributions

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One of the major objectives of the bubble barons investigation is to figure out where, exactly, all that money is going. Where are these billionaires investing their money? Which politicians do they support? Which charities benefit from their largess?

Today, I'm going to go over strategies for researching charitable contributions, and I'll use my bubble baron, hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, as a case study. Several LittleSis analysts have gotten a head start researching these questions - this will offer a bit more direction on how to research these questions. While googling julian-robertson donation will certainly get you somewhere, there are ways to get much more systematic, detailed information about charitable activities.

1. Find the bubble baron's foundation(s). This can typically be accomplished by reading a basic bio of your bubble baron, or with a google search (eg, julian-robertson foundation turns up The Robertson Foundation). Once you've discovered the foundation, add it to LittleSis and link it back to the bubble baron by adding a donation relationship between them. If the bubble baron also sits on the board, add a position relationship between them.

2. Find the foundation's website. Most foundations will have websites (eg: robertsonfoundation.org). Some will share extensive information about the foundation, including lists of grantees and board members. If they do, you should add it to the foundation's profile. For board members, create position relationships between the foundation and the individual. For donations, create donation/grant relationships between the foundation and the recipient. If there are many donations listed, try to find and add the 10 largest donations.

Even if the foundation has a website, however, they often don't offer very detailed or comprehensive information. For instance, if you search the website of Julian Robertson's foundation for iMentor, you won't find anything. But the foundation gave $2,000,000, one of its top 5 grants, to the organization in 2008. How did I discover that? On to the next step...

3. Find the foundation at Guidestar.org and download its latest IRS filing. Guidestar offers free access to filings that tax-exempt foundations must make with the IRS. In order to access them, you must sign up for a free account, then search for the foundation:

Search Guidestar

Search Guidestar

Once you've searched for and found Guidestar's page for the foundation, click on the link that says "990s" -- these are the filings that charities must make with the IRS:

Finding 990s at guidestar.

Finding 990s at guidestar.

Then click on the latest 990 to download and view it, and save the link location to add as a reference link later on.

4. Find the organization's board, grantees, and other key information in their IRS Form 990. While charitable organizations are not required to disclose where they got their money, they are required to disclose where they give it -- as well as other key information, including their board members, highest-paid officers, and revenue figures.

You can find a list of grantees in part XV, line 3 of the 990. Sometimes, you will be directed to an attachment at the end of the filing:

From the Robertson Foundation 990.  The list of grantees is at section XV, line 3.

From the Robertson Foundation 990. The list of grantees is at part XV, line 3.

And schedule A:

The list of Robertson Foundation grantees, on Schedule A of the 990.

The list of Robertson Foundation grantees, on Schedule A of the 990.

You can find a list of board members in part VIII, section 1:

Robertson Foundation board members in 990 Part VIII.

Robertson Foundation board members in 990 Part VIII.

5. Add key information to LittleSis. Once you find the grantees and board members, add them to LittleSis (as long as they're not already there). If there are more than ten grantees, pick the ten largest grants ( or ask kevin about the possibility of doing some bulk adding). For grantees, create donation relationships between the foundation and the grantee. For board members, create position relationships between the foundation and the board member.

Once again, we're shooting to add the bubble baron's foundation and the ten recipients of the foundation's largest grants in the past year. If you want to dig deeper, go for it, but if we shoot for that minimum goal we should be able to develop an accurate picture of the bubble barons' charitable activities.

***

I've added the Robertson Foundation's 50 largest grants in 2008 to LittleSis. The largest was a $10.6 million grant to the Environmental Defense Fund. As is often the case with large donors of any charitable organization, Robertson sits on the board of EDF. Another EDF board member, Susan Mandel, is the wife of Stephen Mandel, a hedge fund manager who used to work for Robertson at Tiger Management.

Back to iMentor -- as it turns out, iMentor was started by hedge fund manager John Griffin, another former Tiger Management employee and a trustee of the Robertson Foundation. Robertson is a major donor to a number of educational initiatives, including one charter school started by his son, Julian Spencer Robertson. The Korean Evangelical Mission for Hispanics, another Robertson grantee, was started by the mother of Bill Hwang, a hedge fund manager and former Tiger employee.

You get the idea: Robertson funds charitable organizations in much the same way he seeds hedge funds, by looking to former employees and associates first and foremost. A superficial research effort can tell you that he is interested in education, the environment, and medical research, but a deep dive on charitable giving can tell us much more about where he directs his money.

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