University News

Nelson ’77 pledges to donate half of wealth

By
Contributing Writer

Corporation board member Jonathan Nelson ’77 P’07 P’09 recently joined CNN founder Ted Turner, former member of the class of 1960, and 89 other American billionaires in a pledge to donate over half of his wealth to a charitable cause.
Nelson, the chief executive officer and founder of the private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, was announced as one of several new signatories of the Giving Pledge Sept. 18. He will donate a majority of his personal wealth to philanthropic initiatives or charitable causes either during his lifetime or at his death, according to the press release.
Conceived by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in June 2010, the pledge invites America’s wealthiest individuals to add their names and a statement detailing their personal reasons for pledging to an online archive. The pledge is an effort to increase the dialogue surrounding philanthropy and encourage increased philanthropy in the United States, the press release said.
Signatories of the Giving Pledge espouse a wide range of philosophical approaches to giving, Nelson wrote in his pledge letter. But in his statement, Nelson expressed a concern that he shares with other pledgers about making such a pledge publicly. He “formally and privately” committed to giving away over 50 percent of his wealth years before signing the pledge, he wrote, but ultimately decided to make it public in the hope that doing so would encourage others to follow suit.
Nelson’s statement echoes the goal of the pledge itself. According to the website, it constitutes “a moral commitment … not a legal contract.” The pledge does not solicit funds for particular organizations. Rather, it facilitates the creation of a peer group of like-minded philanthropists. Signatories come together at an annual event to pool ideas about philanthropic best practices and to converse more broadly about the justifications and intent behind giving, according to the site.
The announcement comes at a time when American universities are major beneficiaries of charitable giving. An August report released by the Chronicle of Higher Education listed 54 private gifts of more than $101 million and more than 110 gifts of between $50 million to $100 million to universities and colleges since 2000.
Nelson has a history of philanthropic partnership with Brown. In 2004, he donated $10 million toward the construction of what is now the Jonathan Nelson ’77 Fitness Center, which opened last April. In February 2011, Nelson funded two named professorships designed to attract world-class scholars to Brown.
One of these professorships was filled this fall by Paul Guyer, now the Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy.
“Brown is fortunate to have many extraordinarily generous donors, including some who have signed the ‘Giving Pledge,’” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald. “The success of the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, which raised more than $1.6 billion, illustrates the broad-based support and generosity of our community. These funds have enabled many campus-wide initiatives.”
Nelson’s philanthropic involvement in Rhode Island also extends beyond College Hill – he is on the board of the Newport Festivals Foundation.
The billionaire alum joins fellow pledger Ted Turner, who maintains a relationship with the University despite his senior-year expulsion. Turner received honorary degrees in 1989 and 1993 and an award for entrepreneurship at an on-campus conference in 2004. Two years before his election to the Board of Trustees in 1999, Turner committed $1 billion to establish the United Nations Foundation in a landmark philanthropic move.
Turner wrote in his Giving Pledge letter that it “was time for me to get out in front of the parade. … I realized that many of (my fellow billionaires) used their net worth as a way to keep score, and they enjoyed seeing where they ranked on lists put out by magazines like Fortune and Forbes. Understanding how competitive most of these people were, I called on the media to start publishing lists of people who gave away the most.”