Rubenstein's 'Patriotic Giving' Based on Passion

Billionaire David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, stands nearly alone among ultra-high-net-worth donors for his support for government institutions and landmarks, or what he calls "patriotic giving," the New York Times reports.

Like other wealthy donors, Rubenstein, whose fortune is estimated at $3 billion, has made gifts to universities, hospitals, and cultural organizations. But, by his own estimate, roughly $200 million of the $300 million he has given to date has gone to help shore up landmarks and institutions belonging to the federal government. The total includes multiple gifts to the National Zoo, $13.5 million to the National Archives, $7.5 million to help repair the Washington Monument, $10 million for efforts to build a library for George Washington's papers and books at Mount Vernon, and another $10 million to restore former slave quarters at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate. "The United States cannot afford to do the things it used to do," Rubenstein told the Times, "and I think it would be a good thing if more people would say: 'My national zoo needs money, the archives need money. I think we're going to have to do more for them.'"

"This kind of giving is starting to happen more often because governments are really suffering," Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, told the Times. "But the extent of Rubenstein's giving sets him apart." Such giving, Palmer said, is a subject of heated debate in the philanthropic sector, where many believe the availability of private funds should not be an excuse for government to abdicate its responsibilities. There are legitimate "concerns about whether it is a good idea for philanthropy to step in for government," added Palmer.

Rubenstein, who has a passion for American history, has no foundation or staff to vet requests. Nor does he rely on the kinds of sophisticated metrics that other philanthropists employ to assess the effectiveness of a grant. Instead, he relies on his instincts and makes decisions quickly.

It took only one month, for instance, for Rubenstein to respond to a request from Curtis Viebranz, president and CEO of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. After showing Rubenstein around the museum, where some of the general's documents are displayed, Viebranz told the Times, "I felt emboldened to ask him for a large gift, and much to my surprise and happiness, he made that $10 million gift in February. It was a remarkably efficient process....It can take years of cultivating a donor to get a gift of that size."