Robert F. Smith learned early on about the importance of giving back to his community from the example set by his parents, and ever since he has prioritized making a difference in the communities he lives and works. Since founding Vista Equity Partners and becoming one of the nation’s most successful business leaders, Smith has focused his personal charitable giving on educational and professional advancement of African Americans, other minorities and women. In particular, his philanthropy honors the sacrifices and contributions of generations before him who he says paved the way for his success.
He’s contributed to dozens of organizations and institutions, including Morehouse College, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Cornell University, Carnegie Hall, The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco, Lincoln Hills, Sphinx Organization, RFK Human Rights, among others. Smith also signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, agreeing to give away a majority of his wealth during his lifetime.
Fund II Foundation
Smith is the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, whose mission is to preserve the African American experience, safeguard human rights, provide music education, preserve the environment while promoting the benefits of the outdoors, and sustain critical American values such as entrepreneurship.
Preserving the cultural richness of the African American experience for future generations
The Fund II Foundation works to bring to life the African American experience for all people to broaden our understanding of American history and inspire future African American leaders.
Safeguarding human dignity by empowering the voiceless and promoting human rights
Human rights should have no borders. Trafficking, homelessness, and injustices in one country impacts all of humanity. That is why the Fund II Foundation seeks to counteract human rights violations wherever they happen — at home and abroad. Fund II works from the bottom-up – through raising awareness, training, advocacy and legal support – and the top down – changing incentive structures, influencing money flows, and impacting policies.
Conserving the environment, promoting outdoor education, and providing the benefits of the great outdoors to people of all ages and backgrounds
Fund II is dedicated to protecting the environment, increasing knowledge of nature, expanding access to parks, and connecting young people to beneficial outdoor activities. Research has shown that there are numerous psychological and physical benefits of bringing people closer to nature.
Expanding access to music education in schools
Exposing young people to music and the arts at an early age can change lives. Fund II is helping to create a world where every kid has a channel for self-expression where they can learn more about the arts, as well as nourish their talent and soul. The discipline, commitment and inspiration music provides are at risk as music education is often cut from public school funding or is cost prohibitive due to the expense of lessons and instruments. We invest in music education to nurture talent and create dreams – it’s a powerful way to inspire our young people to elevate their lives and reach their goals.
Sustaining the American values of entrepreneurship, empowerment, innovation and security
Entrepreneurship, empowerment, innovation and security create the platform for all Americans to conceive and realize the American dream. We have harnessed technology to solve our most intractable problems, helped drive greater access to opportunity and information, and reignited the belief that with hard work and dedication, anyone can succeed. To sustain this momentum, and continue America’s leadership in the global knowledge economy, we seek to support programs that:
- Bridge the digital divide by targeting technology training to vulnerable youth and veterans to help them find jobs
- Increase diversity in the STEM-based workforce
- Raise awareness and build the thought leadership capacity to ensure sustainable policies and regulatory frameworks to continue America’s leadership in the technology revolution
Efforts in these areas are key to provide youth in underserved communities with the tools necessary to lead successful careers. Closing the racial wealth gap, which according to a recent Bloomberg analysis sees American white families have an average wealth (a calculation based on assets owned) of $338,092.80 compared to just $60,125.58 for Black families, requires aiding the next generation of Black Americans in order to realize their potential. Initiatives such as the 2% Solution and the Southern Communities Initiative, which focus direct investment in Black communities, are just one way Robert F. Smith is working to close this gap.
The InternX program, administered by the Fund II Foundation, is a paid internship program that helps match students of color to internship opportunities in everything from STEM and finance to business and marketing. InternX was created to benefit both employers and students by providing highly-qualified talent for employers and opportunities and skills training for young people.
The most important thing you can do as a young person is to become an expert. There is no substitute for becoming the best at your craft.
– Robert F. Smith
Support For Educational and Learning Institutions
Robert F. Smith is an avid supporter for educational institutions and supporting education and learning organizations.
Columbia Business School
Smith’s generous gift of $15 million to the Columbia Business School in 2017, helped the School secure its $500 million fundraising goal for its move to Manhattanville. The funds raised would allow for the School to obtain two new state-of-the-art buildings in the University’s Manhattanville Campus. Smith emphasized the important opportunities the move would create for the School, stating “I think the Manhattanville expansion will give us the opportunity to bring more of those world-class leaders into an environment that will be more conducive for them to teach, to train, and to educate.” When describing the impact of his gift, Smith shared his excitement for the students saying, “It’s going to mean a lot to students. I think the students will embrace the updated infrastructure. I think they will embrace the additional capacity, because I think we’ll be able to expand the depth, the breadth, and the diversity of the student body coming from all parts of the world, all different types of walks of life to participate in what will now be the movement of Columbia University, Columbia Business School, in this case, going forward.”
In 2016, Smith pledged $20 million to the chemical engineering school at Cornell University. In recognition of Smith’s contribution to the field and his connection with the university, Cornell named its chemical engineering school the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Smith also pledged an additional $10 million, creating the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program, which invites African American and female high school seniors with financial need to pursue an undergraduate degree at the College of Engineering on Cornell’s Ithaca campus and then participate in a one-year technical master’s degree at Cornell Tech in New York City.
During his commencement address at Morehouse College, a historically Black institution, Smith committed to paying off the student loan debt of the class of 2019 — a $34 million gift that helped nearly 400 graduates. Smith announced the donation saying that “on behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
The President of Morehouse College, David A. Thomas called it a “liberation gift” and it would “be life-changing for our new Morehouse Men and their families.” In addition, Smith pledged $1 million to Morehouse College to fund the Robert Frederick Smith Scholars Program, plus $560,000 to develop an outdoor study space for students.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smith donated $20 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the largest by an individual donor to the museum at the time. His donation helped the museum bolster its digitization efforts, community outreach, and the curation of its collection. In response to Smith’s contribution, the founding director of the museum Lonnie G. Bunch called him “a trailblazer in the world of finance and technology…and [his] gift exemplifies his commitment to increasing access to opportunity, recognizing the potential in each of us and his respect for our past.”
In addition, visitors will be able to chronicle and share their own personal narratives at the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family History Center. The center will focus on training the next generation of museum curators and ensure that the stories and contributions of all African Americans—not just the famous—will be conserved and accessible
And as part of the Robert F. Smith Internship Program, the museum is able to offer funding for interns to be onsite with the museum as well as at select African American museums, art galleries, and museums of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and other cultural institutions and historic sites. These interns focus on work related to digital and media preservation and recording and preserving precious oral histories, among other preservation tasks.
The Student Freedom Initiative
Following Smith’s pledge to eliminate the student loan debt of the entire Morehouse Class of 2019, he helped launch the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI). SFI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with an initial focus on juniors and seniors earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees at 9 pilot Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Initially funded with a $50 million donation from the Fund II Foundation, Smith matched the donation in October 2020. The purpose of SFI is to help alleviate the burden of student debt that thousands of college graduates accrue every year. The elimination of crushing loan debt on young graduates will provide the freedom and the choice they need to achieve their full potential as they enter the workforce.
Use your skills, your knowledge, your instincts to serve – to go change the world in the way that only you can.
– Robert F. Smith
Support For the Arts
Robert F. Smith is an avid supporter of the arts, and has donated millions of dollars to preserve and expand access to arts, music, and more.
In 2016, Robert F. Smith was named the Chairman of Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees, becoming the first African American to hold the post. Smith joined the Carnegie Hall board in 2013 and donated money to expand LinkUp, which creates free music education curriculum for elementary students and aims to reach 5 million students over the next 10 years. Smith is also a founding patron of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, which was created by Carnegie’s Weill Music Institute and brings young musicians from across the country together for a free multi-week tour of some of the greatest music capitals of the world. He also helped develop PlayUSA, a new initiative that partners with orchestras and organizations to get musical instruments in the hands of low-income and underserved students across the country and provide access to music instruction.
In addition, the Fund II Foundation underwrote the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition’s first visit to the United States. Smith also personally arranged for appearances by Menuhin young violinists in Berlin, Germany, and in Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum.
The Open Space Institute
Smith supported the Open Space Institute with a $1 million donation to upgrade and revitalize its Cultural Performance Center at the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem, New York. A vital space to build community and offer social and recreational activities to those who live in and visit the area, the Cultural Performance Center needed a revamp of its lighting and sound equipment, as well as updates to the stage, seating, and flooring. The contribution was made as part of a 2018 capital campaign, and Smith’s gift was the largest by an individual donor during the campaign. In honor of the donation, the building was renamed the Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Smith, a longtime contributor to young musicians, contributed $250,000 in 2016 to the Sphinx Organization — a Detroit-based social justice nonprofit that helps transform lives through music and art. The contribution helped establish the Robert Frederick Smith Prize that awards the winners of the Senior Division of the Sphinx Competition with $50,000 to provide access to professional development and other resources that can help create on-ramps to careers in the classical music field. In bestowing this gift, Smith noted that “music is at the core of the African American and Latino cultural experience, and provides us with a language to inspire, uplift and empower our young people.” In 2019, the Fund II Foundation donated $3 million to the organization to support work to further bolster the organization’s work to provide leadership and career development programs and support SphinxConnect, an annual event that brings together musicians, arts leaders, educators, funders, diversity advocates, and administrators.
Create your own. Know your purpose. Be thoughtful and conscious about what is your highest and best use.
– Robert F. Smith
Support For Other Organizations
Beyond supporting the arts, Robert F. Smith donates to organizations and initiatives that better the lives of those in his communities, including:
Robert F. Smith signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, becoming the first African American to do so. In signing the pledge, which commits signers to donate a majority of their net worth during their lifetime, Smith noted that his path was “paved by my parents, grandparents and generations of African Americans whose names I will never know. Their struggles, their courage, and their progress allowed me to strive and achieve. My story would only be possible in America, and it is incumbent on all of us to pay this inheritance forward.” Smith committed to investing in causes that support equality of opportunity for African Americans and support the protection of our planet.
The King Center
Under Robert F. Smith’s leadership, Fund II Foundation supported the purchase of Martin Luther King Jr.’s homestead to ensure its preservation through the Park Service. The Park Service will now not only preserve two of King’s former Atlanta homes, but it will record and share family memories, including contributions from his family, for generations to come.
In 2019, Robert F. Smith joined the REFORM Alliance as a founding partner, contributing $5 million dollars to the organization’s efforts. It is a new nonprofit dedicated to helping millions of people on probation or parole, with a goal to drastically reduce the number of people on probation over the next five years.
As an at-large board member of the Business Roundtable, Robert. F. Smith contributes to many initiatives including, recently, the Special Committee for Racial Equity and Justice to help business owners address the state of race and inequality in America.
Lincoln Hills Cares
Robert F. Smith founded Lincoln Hills Cares with Matthew Burkett to provide young adults and families who may not otherwise have the opportunity due to economic or family situations the ability to access Colorado’s great outdoors for education and recreation, cultural history exploration and workforce advancement.
The Trail Foundation
With a 1.2 million dollar donation, Robert F. Smith is the leading sponsor of the Trail Bridge at Congress Avenue project in Austin, Texas to update the trail’s infrastructure and safety, providing visitors improved access to the scenic bat viewing area.
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