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 where he lives and works. Since founding Vista Equity Partners in 2000 and becoming one of the U.S.’s most successful business leaders, Smith has focused his personal charitable giving on the educational and professional advancement of the Black community, other underserved groups 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 has contributed to dozens of organizations and institutions, including Morehouse College, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Cornell University, Columbia University, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Hills Cares, Sphinx Organization and Anglers of Honor, among others. Visit robertfsmith.org to learn more about Smith’s philanthropic endeavors and the impact he has made on many Black communities throughout the U.S.
Fund II Foundation
Smith is the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation, which has a mission to preserve the African American experience, promote social justice, provide music education, preserve the environment while promoting the benefits of the outdoors and sustain critical American values.
Cultural Preservation and Digitization
Fund II Foundation works to bring to life the African American experience for all people to broaden their understanding of American history and inspire future Black leaders. The organization also provides grants to organizations that digitize historical records to ensure this information is more widely available to researchers, educators and the public.
Diversity and inclusion in philanthropy are crucial to creating real, lasting change for all. Fund II Foundation invests in initiatives that promote equity for Black communities and address systematic barriers.
Fund II Foundation 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 to bringing people closer to nature.
Music and Arts
Exposing young people to music and the arts at an early age can change lives. Fund II Foundation is helping create a world where every child has a channel for self-expression and can learn more about the arts, as well as nourish their talent and soul. Fund II Foundation invests in music education to nurture talent and create dreams; it is a powerful way to inspire young people to elevate their lives and reach their goals.
Education and Career Readiness
Fund II Foundation believes that education allows students to learn self-discovery, self-sufficiency and prosperity. That is why it is important to provide the necessary educational resources to students. Through their work, Fund II Foundation expends these resources to underserved populations and also supports organizations that provide career training to help create pathways to sustainable careers and financial stability.
Fund II Foundation is focused on improving the overall health of the Black community, including supporting Black women who are pregnant. All too often, members of the community face medical challenges that are too often dismissed. Fund II Foundation seeks to improve healthy outcomes for the community and to alleviate emotional and economic strife.
The internXL program, administered by Fund II Foundation, is a paid internship program that helps match students of color to internship opportunities in STEM and business-related fields. The intention behind internXL is 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
Smith is an avid supporter of educational institutions, as well as educational 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 allowed 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 2022, the Manhattanville campus finally opened, and Smith donated another $10 million to create The Robert F. Smith ’94 Scholarship Fund.
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 Black 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. In 2022, Smith made another donation of $25 million to Cornell’s College of Engineering, which established three separate funds, including the Robert F. Smith Undergraduate Scholarship Fund, the Robert F. Smith Graduate Fellowship Fund and a general fund for student participation in events.
During his commencement address at Morehouse College, a Historically Black College in 2019, Smith committed to paying off the student loan debt of the graduating class — 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 (NMAAHC), 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 Blacks — not just the famous — will be conserved and accessible.
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 Black 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.
Student Freedom Initiative
Following Smith’s pledge to eliminate the student loan debt of the entire Morehouse Class of 2019, Student Freedom Initiative was launched, and Smith currently serves as Chairman of this Initiative. Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for students attending HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with an initial focus on juniors and seniors earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. It was initially funded with a $50 million donation from Fund II Foundation, and Smith matched the donation in October 2020. The purpose of Student Freedom Initiative is to provide resources to ensure students are successful in their personal and professional choices and 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
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, Smith was named the Chairman of Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees, becoming the first Black individual to hold the position. Smith joined the Carnegie Hall board in 2013 and donated money to expand LinkUp, which creates free music education curriculum for elementary students and aimed to reach five 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 into the hands of low-income and underserved students across the country and provide access to music instruction.
In addition, Fund II Foundation underwrote the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition’s first visit to the U.S. 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. As 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, which is awarded to the winners of the Senior Division of the Sphinx Competition and includes $50,000 to provide access to professional development and other resources that can help create onramps 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, 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, Smith donates to organizations and initiatives that better the lives of those in his communities.
Southern Communities Initiative
Smith proudly works with Southern Communities Initiative, an organization that dedicates its efforts to six Southern regions where a majority of the Black population in the U.S. resides. This organization focuses on six racial equity priorities including business, banking, internships, digital access, legislation and investment. With an overall purpose of helping these Black communities overcome racial barriers and systemic inequalities, this organization is making a lasting impact in the U.S.
Smith signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, becoming the first Black individual 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 the Black community and support the protection of our planet.
The King Center
Under Smith’s leadership, Fund II Foundation supported the purchase of Martin Luther King Jr.’s homestead to ensure its preservation through the National Park Service. The National Park Service will 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, Smith joined the REFORM Alliance as a founding partner, contributing $5 million dollars to the organization’s efforts. It is a 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, Smith contributes to many initiatives, including the Special Committee for Racial Equity and Justice to help business owners address the state of race and inequality in the U.S.
Lincoln Hills Cares
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 donation, 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.