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Eye On: Giving Pledger & Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
February 9, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sheryl Sandberg and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Sheryl Sandberg photoThis Bay Area philanthropist is passionate about gender equity and continues to “lean in” for women.

Sheryl Sandberg’s education and professional experience have helped cultivate her philanthropic interest in empowering women, global health and poverty, and the environment.

Through a recent public filing, we learned that the Facebook Chief Operating Officer, 43, has donated $31 million worth of Facebook shares to the Sheryl Sandberg Philanthropy Fund, a donor-advised fund at Fidelity Charitable.

Based on Sandberg’s giving interests, the majority of this latest gift will likely support women’s empowerment, particularly Sandberg’s own initiative, Lean In, and the Lean In Foundation, which are both committed to “empower[ing] all women to achieve their ambitions.” 

Spurred by the success of Sandberg’s bestselling, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the Lean In Foundation seeks to inspire and support women through its online community, free expert lectures, and local peers groups called Lean In Circles.

Sheryl Sandberg:

  • Facebook Chief Operating Officer since 2008
  • Became first female board member at Facebook in 2012
  • Author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
  • Founder of Leanin.org
  • 2015 Forbes Magazine rankings: #16 America’s Richest Self-Made Woman; #8 The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women; #1741 Billionaires
  • TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013 and 2012
  • Board member: Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development, and V-Day
  • Resides in Menlo Park, California
  • Personal net worth is $1.3 billion

Professional Path to Philanthropy

While studying economics as an undergraduate at Harvard University, she met her mentor and thesis adviser Larry Summers.  She graduated with honors in 1991, the same year that Summers became chief economist at the World Bank.  As Summers’ research assistant for two years at the World Bank, Sandberg worked on various health projects in India, including Hansen’s Disease, AIDS and blindness.  

After earning her MBA at Harvard, Sandberg again teamed up with Summers, who was now Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Clinton.  As Summer’s chief of staff, Sandberg focused on debt forgiveness in developing countries; she continued in her role when he became Treasury Secretary. 

In 2001, Sandberg joined Google, where she helped develop the tech company’s philanthropic work, while heading its advertising and sales operations. 

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…We wanted to innovate, and we wanted to be disruptive,” Sandberg said of Google’s business and philanthropic principles during an annual gathering of philanthropists. 

Sandberg expanded Google’s giving principles so that it extended outside typical philanthropic boundaries, where charity generally stays within communities.  By focusing on worldwide issues – such as global health and poverty and climate change – Google’s philanthropic work could have a greater impact.

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…”

Since 2008, Sandberg has been a tremendous force at Facebook, where she helped the tech company scale its operations and expand globally.  By 2012, Facebook made its initial public stock offering, and Sandberg became the first woman on the company’s board of directors.

In addition to overseeing sales and business development, marketing and communications, Sandberg also expanded Facebook’s philanthropy.  Under her leadership, Facebook also highlighted organ donation; the addition of the status button helped spike the number of organ donor registrations.

Philanthropic Work

With her strong background in global issues, economics and philanthropy, it’s not surprising to see the evolution of Sandberg’s philanthropic philosophy.

Sandberg and her late husband, David Goldberg, founder and CEO of SurveyMonkey, joined the Giving Pledge in 2014.  Like Giving Pledge movement leaders Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the couple pledged to donate the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.

The couple frequently advocated for gender equity and openly spoke about their support for shared earning/shared parenting marriage, whereby spouses equally share financial, family and parenting responsibilities.

Goldberg passed away in an accident in 2015.  In a heartfelt letter, Sandberg shared the importance of men leaning into their families.  Even in her grief, her passion for gender equity is evident, and she points to the benefits of gender equity for both men and women.

Sandberg has regularly leveraged her passion and influence to support causes she cares about.  In the Bay Area, Sandberg is co-chair of the Stand Up for Kids campaign, which supports the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

The Menlo Park resident sits on the board of directors for Women for Women International, which helps women survivors of war become self-sufficient through microloans and job training; Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit thinktank focused on international development; and V-Day, a global movement dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.  Sandberg is also on the board of the Walt Disney Company.

In 2013, Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation gave $415,000, according to tax returns. The gifts included $250,000 to Women for Women International; $80,000 to Stanford University for the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research; $50,000 to V-Day; $25,000 to support the Open Field Foundation’s publication of “The Truth About a Woman’s Nation: Powerful, but Powerless”; and $10,000 seed money for the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, a gender-focused research-and-action organization.

Empowering Women

Sandberg’s engagement in gender equity issues dates back to her Harvard days when she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.  Today, she regularly speaks on gender inequities, from TED talks to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.  In 2015, Sandberg addressed U.S. Air Force Academy cadets on gender bias in the military.

In 2014, Sandberg and Lean In sponsored the Ban Bossy, a TV and social media advocacy campaign dedicated to banning the word “bossy” due to its perceived negative impact on young girls.  Celebrities including Beyonce, actress Jennifer Garner and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contributed to the campaign’s video spots.

With her growing portfolio of philanthropic interests, from Lean In to her Fidelity fund, Sandberg is well positioned to be a major voice on gender and economic equality and the environment for years to come.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, it will be interesting to see if Sandberg, like her boss Mark Zuckerberg, will open up about the how and why of her philanthropy.  Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative detailing the couple’s philanthropic plans.

Given Sandberg’s passion for global change and empowering women, we look forward to seeing her next philanthropic milestones and how she continues to inspire others.  

--Melissa Moy

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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