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Herb Sandler Takes an Entrepreneurial Approach to Philanthropy

Observing a lack of quality management in the savings and loan industry as a young couple, Herb Sandler and his late wife, Marion, tried S&L management themselves, hoping to do “at least as well” as those who came before them. Decades later, after founding and running Golden West Financial Corporation for 43 years, they have more than surpassed others in the field, achieving the best long-term earnings record of any company other than Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. “We were involved in running what many have described as the best managed financial institution of all time,” says Herb. “One gets an enormous charge from that.”

So, when the Sandlers turned their attention to philanthropy, part-time for many years before going full-time in 2006, they took their ambition and savvy with them, aiming to make the biggest difference possible with their time and money.

They developed a think-outside-the-box brand of philanthropy that once again had them leading the pack. For example, Marion’s idea to seek out non-asthma scientists to conduct research in the long-stalled asthma field is resulting in important breakthroughs. And through ProPublica, their two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning independent newsroom, the Sandlers have not only dusted off the muckraking tradition, but they’ve also brought about real change—at times, with dramatic speed.

Herb wouldn’t have it any other way. When the Sandlers sold their business in 2006, it never occurred to him not to give the money away. And yet, his pride comes from somewhere else. “Anybody can give money,” he says. “But if you have the ability to improve the output of the organization and to make them more effective, that’s really exciting.”

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