How the Debs Foundation Pursues Philanthropy in New York

The foundation backs Arts and Culture Organizations like the Brooklyn Museum. Mark Zhu/shutterstock

Wall Street veterans have launched a whole bunch of foundations in New York City, and the Debs Foundation is one of them, channeling the charitable giving of Richard A. Debs and his wife Barbara. Richard Debs joined Morgan Stanley in 1976 and served as the founding president of the investment bank’s international business.

The Debs Foundation is a low-key funder that publicly shares very little about its grantmaking strategies and protocols. So, to help New York nonprofits get familiar with this local funder, here are some important pieces of information to know about the Debs Foundation.

Top funding areas

The Debs Foundation does not have a website and is not very transparent about its funding preferences. However, past tax records indicate a few main categories for Debs grants. Top local interests in New York are education and youth, arts and culture and public policy. Although it funds nationwide, the Debs Foundation awards more grants in New York City than anywhere else.

Increasingly, the foundation has also been pursuing international interests and funding global policy efforts. Richard Debs worked as expert in international finance and has served as the chair of the international council of the Bretton Woods Committee.

Typical grantees

In the most recent tax year available, the Debs Foundation awarded about half a million dollars in grants and contributions. The foundation awards many grants to arts and culture organizations in New York City, following Barbara Debs’ lead as an art historian. Historical societies are of particular interest to the Debs couple. Local arts grantees include the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Historical Society and Carnegie Hall.

Education interests are broad and extend to early childhood education, K-12 education, higher education and arts education. Local education grantees include the Third Street Music School Settlement, Rockefeller University and Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. Health grants often go to hospitals in the broader Northeast region, including Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, and the Cape Cod Hospital in North Eastham, Massachusetts.

No unsolicited funding requests

According to recent tax records, the Debs Foundation is not open to receiving unsolicited grant applications. It only supports preselected organizations that the Debs family is already familiar with and with personal connections to family members. Richard Debs serves as the foundation’s president, while Barbara Debs is the foundation’s vice president. Elizabeth and Nicholas Debs are foundation directors. The Debs Foundation does not have any paid employees.

Learn more about this funder and others that give locally in New York by browsing IP’s New York City and Tri-State Funding Guide.