35 Years Later, What's New With NYC Anti-Poverty Giant Robin Hood?


Robin Fitztooth. Robin Longstride. Sir Robert Hode. The legendary Robin Hood has traveled under many aliases, but always carries out his signature mission of robbing the rich to give to the poor. While robbing from the rich doesn’t quite apply here in the philanthrosphere, we do have the Robin Hood Foundation, founded in 1988 by Wall Street veteran Paul Tudor Jones with a mission to eliminate poverty in New York City.

Its namesake notwithstanding, Gotham’s largest antipoverty charity is very much a byproduct of NYC wealth. Its current board of directors is a who’s who of finance titans, including Glenn Dubin, Ken Tropin, Daniel Och and John Griffin. Over the years, Robin Hood has given away some $3 billion to support programs in schools, food pantries, homeless shelters, job training centers and more.

Robin Hood was also one of the first grantmakers to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in New York, making rapid-response grants to organizations working with residents who were most affected. The foundation is aiming to get New Yorkers back to work post-pandemic by creating new options for families who lack access to affordable, safe and quality child care.

In 2022 alone, the foundation provided $132.2 million to nearly 300 organizations supporting New Yorkers. The largest part of that went to education, totaling $40 million in grants. The foundation is also celebrating 35 years of philanthropy, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up with Robin Hood. I connected with Carolyn Vine, chief development officer, to find out more about what’s new at the foundation, how it has continued to receive strong support from Wall Street, and what’s in store for its next chapter of fighting poverty in America’s largest city.

A Wall Street start

Like the Robin Hood Foundation itself, Carolyn Vine traces her professional beginnings to Wall Street. The Columbia and Oxford graduate worked at D. E. Shaw in the late aughts. During her time there, Robin Hood’s then-Executive Director David Saltzman gave a presentation about the foundation’s work. Vine said there were already staffers at D.E. Shaw who were Robin Hood supporters at the time, a testament to how enmeshed the organization is in the New York City finance world. “I’ve known about Robin Hood just by virtue of growing up here. And I had aspirations to work in the social sector,” she said.

In 2010, Vine joined the Robin Hood Foundation in a fundraising role, working as a prospect researcher. Given her background on Wall Street, it was the perfect fit for her. Two years ago, she stepped into the role of chief development officer.

It’s no coincidence that the foundation appeals to people working in high finance. When Paul Tudor Jones launched the foundation, he wanted to run a nonprofit using some of the same principles that he uses in business, Vine told me. “He wanted to ensure that any investments Robin Hood makes were made with the same rigor and assessment that he would make in his day-to-day portfolio in business.”

That concept quickly resonated with Tudor Jones’ peers, but today, the foundation aims to balance being data-driven and heart-driven. It’s looking for robust evidence and metrics, but it also isn’t afraid to place smart bets on innovation. 

Who funds Robin Hood, and who Robin Hood funds

The Robin Hood Foundation is not endowed. Its board covers 100% of operating expenses so that every dollar they raise goes directly to supporting New Yorkers in need. The money the foundation raises each year determines what it’s able to grant out the following year. In 2022, Robin Hood’s annual benefit event at Javits Center raised $126 million, and the year before, over $77 million. Robin Hood currently has about 8,000 active donors, a number which has gradually grown over time, Vine said.

Some of Robin Hood’s most stalwart donors of late include the MJS Foundation, the family foundation of Wall Street billionaire couple James and Marilyn Simons. While the Simonses are best known for their giving for science and medical research, particularly through the science funding heavyweight Simons Foundation, the MJS Foundation focuses on local causes in New York City. MJS has given Robin Hood at least $16 million since 2018. Other top funders include the Robbins Family Foundation, the philanthropy of Larry Robbins, CEO of Glenview Capital Management and Robin Hood board member; John and Laura Overdeck’s Overdeck Family Foundation (John Overdeck is also a Robin Hood board member); Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation; and the low-profile Corabelle Lumps Foundation, steered by Anne Dinning, a D.E. Shaw employee.

Robin Hood has also received a stream of money from donor-advised funds at the National Philanthropic Trust and Fidelity Charitable, obscuring the full scope of the funding picture here. Some stalwart Robin Hood backers of the past, like Steven and Alexandra Cohen, are not giving at the same level as they were before. The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation reports that it has given over $100 million to Robin Hood Foundation through the years, but with only $2.6 million total from 2017 to 2023.

Many of Robin Hood’s grants are quite large, hitting the six and seven-figure range. Pretty much every major antipoverty group in the city has received support from Robin Hood, including City Harvest, CASA, Food Bank for New York City, Good Shepherd Services and Henry Street Settlement. Robin Hood has also given millions to Benefits Data Trust in Philadelphia, founded by financier Warren Kantor to change how individuals in need access public benefits. Other non-New York organizations that have received big support from Robin Hood include Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Low Income Investment Fund and Teaching Lab in Washington, D.C.

The foundation has also shown an interest in improving outcomes for minority groups, including immigrants, with seven-figure gifts to the Chinese American Planning Council and Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. And on the policy front, Robin Hood has supported the Brookings Institution as well as large universities like Columbia. In 2012, in conjunction with the Ivy League institution, Robin Hood launched Poverty Tracker, a long-running quarterly study of economic outcomes across 4,000 New York City households.

While the foundation moved major amounts during COVID, the foundation activated its emergency relief fund at two other critical moments in New York City history — September 11, 2001, and Superstorm Sandy. When Sandy hit, Robin Hood stepped up with the 12-12-12 Concert for Hurricane Sandy Relief, a foundation-sponsored, nationally televised event featuring celebrity musicians. Robin Hood raised more than $70 million to benefit tri-state families affected by the storm.

Getting the city back on track

Since 2020, Robin Hood has been laser-focused on three things, particularly as New York City emerges from the pandemic: relief, recovery and rebuilding.

Robin Hood distributed more than $83 million through its COVID-19 relief fund, providing money for cash assistance, meals, healthcare, education and other urgent needs to 1 million New Yorkers impacted by the pandemic. It also helped more than 15,000 households at risk of eviction submit hardship declarations to secure housing protection through the COVID-19 eviction moratorium. In addition, Robin Hood helped rebuild New York’s emergency food infrastructure, funding food pantries like Part of the Solution (POTS) in the Bronx. 

Once the city started to rebound, Robin Hood shifted its focus to recovery.

“We knew learning loss was such a huge problem in the pandemic,” Vine said. “And then getting families on their feet, and getting people back to work.” Robin Hood has invested over $3 million in tutoring alone, for instance.

Right now, Robin Hood is focused on rebuilding New York, with a goal of making it better than it was before. In this context, the foundation is leaning into equity and fixing broken systems, including in the realm of child care. Robin Hood pointed me to some dire numbers: 52% of New York families can't afford child care and 1 in 4 parents have had to turn down a job, change jobs or take leave due to child care needs. Vine said there was only a short window of opportunity to spur policy action in this space before the post-pandemic spotlight dimmed.

To that end, during the 2023 state budget negotiations, Robin Hood partnered with legislative leaders including State Senators Jessica Ramos and Jabari Brisport, and Assemblypersons Andrew Hevesi and Sarah Clark, as well as child care providers, advocates and business leaders, to push for child care expansion.

The ultimate result of these efforts was securing about $3 billion in state funds for the city’s childcare system. The funds came from a mixture of state dollars and matching federal dollars, and emergency federal dollars through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan (ARPA).

Robin Hood also launched a $100 million public-private partnership, the Childcare Quality and Innovation Initiative, in conjunction with the Mayor’s office, and contributed $50 million to the initiative — which focuses on families across all five boroughs of New York City and supports tens of thousands of children.

Other initiatives and looking ahead

Robin Hood held more than $351 million in total assets at the end of 2021. Vine said that the foundation has had many donors stick with it over the years, giving it the capacity to go big on relief when crises hit, as well as back a range of other initiatives.

Robin Hood still runs its Blue Ridge Labs, which invests in creating and supporting early stage social tech ventures.  Its 2022 cohort included Andan Eddy, who cofounded ed-tech web service Ask Mabel to enable older adult autonomy and increase digital literacy, as well as Ashley Newcomer, who cofounded Snappable to help with the challenges of paying with and accepting government-funded nutrition benefits.

“It’s exciting to see all of the alums and businesses. There are so many success stories, so this is still a big focus of ours,” Vine said.

This year’s annual benefit will be held in mid-May and will celebrate Robin Hood’s 35th birthday. In the fall, Robin Hood will host its Investors Conference where attendees pick up investment insights, market perspectives and strategies from leading names in business, investing and policy. Over the past decade, the JPMorgan/Robin Hood Investors Conference has raised more than $48 million. 

Increasingly, Robin Hood is also looking at investing in the next generation of donors. Last year, in partnership with Goldman Sachs, it launched the Rising Leaders Forum, attended by some 300 young philanthropists for a day of learning. Darren Walker, Misty Copeland and Alexis Ohanian were among the forum’s speakers. Learning is a key priority for Robin Hood, which runs upward of 50 learning events annually. For Camp Robin Hood, an annual event every summer, donors’ children spend a week volunteering and learning from staff about key issues. Youth can also get involved in the Robin Hood Fellows program and Teen Council.

“The next generation of philanthropists really want those tactical, hands-on opportunities to learn about what’s going on in poverty and to make a difference,” Vine said.

The philanthropic cash that Robin Hood has at its disposal allows it to be nimble and take risks. But Vine also knows that philanthropic dollars pale in comparison to city, state and federal dollars. So part of the focus thus far, and looking ahead, will be on finding effective and creative ways to partner with government.

“You need to be open to partnership, both with government but also with business, industry and other important stakeholders,” Vine said. “I’d love to see philanthropy do more of that.”