The Bridgespan Group

Enter your email address to receive updates:

Stanley Druckenmiller Places Big, Selective Bets in Philanthropy

Stanley Druckenmiller loves a big bet. Both as a money manager and as a philanthropist, Druckenmiller has built his career on taking big risks—and very often, reaping big rewards. As founder of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Capital Management, Druckenmiller posted an average annual return of 30 percent without a single money-losing year.

While managing Duquesne, he also enjoyed a 10-year stint as manager of the Soros Funds. There, Druckenmiller developed his interest in philanthropy. George Soros, who had hired Druckenmiller to manage his money so he could focus on his own giving, matched employee giving 4:1. “I was highly, highly influenced by that,” recalls Druckenmiller, who also credits his wife, Fiona, and Paul Tudor Jones with motivating his philanthropy.

In 2009, The Chronicle of Philanthropy recognized the Druckenmillers as the most charitable couple in America. Most of their giving has been in education, poverty, environment, and health—and most of it has taken the form of big bets, including a $100 million grant for a neurological institute at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

To reinforce his bets, Druckenmiller invests in leaders he trusts. Take for example Geoffrey Canada, who managed to interest Druckenmiller in his vision for the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) at a time when Druckenmiller wasn’t sure if it would be possible to raise the money to fund the plan. Today, HCZ is one of the most well-known initiatives combating poverty in the US. But in that decision-making moment, it was not the idea so much as Canada who moved Druckenmiller to get behind the effort. For Druckenmiller, there are many times when he thinks he may get a “zero out of [his] investment,” but if he can win on just a few big bets and enrich the lives of lots of people, that’s “sheer joy.”

▼ Read More

Recent Videos

If there’s one thing I could say about my investment philosophy that may be varied from consensus is I think probably the dirtiest word in investing is diversification. I always found you make most of your money with two or three ideas a year and the rest of it is all nonsense. So I made my money making very focused, big, concentrated bets that others would consider imprudent. I like putting all my eggs in one basket and then watching the basket carefully.

I did learn early on in philanthropy to take a business approach and it was never enough to give to something because it made me feel good. I had to really feel the results were coming in. Unfortunately, I’ve had to let a lot of people go in business. Not fun. It’s also not fun to meet some very, very passionate NGOs but who aren’t moving the needle and then de-fund them, but every dollar you’re giving to them that’s not moving the needle, there’s some organization out there that could have a bigger impact.

I have found no shortage of ideas or leaders to give money to. I wish I had ten times as much as I do – there are that many ideas we have that I’d love to give to.

I think it’s a bit ironic how much praise philanthropists get because I think it’s a privilege to have this kind of wealth and my guess is, if most of society had this kind of wealth, they’d get involved in philanthropy because what else are you going to do with it? Roll around in your coffin with it when you don’t even know it’s there?