The Power List: The 25 Most Influential People in Boston Philanthropy

Nonprofits and the philanthropists behind them do an enormous amount of important work in Boston. They feed the hungry, educate children, take care of the sick, and sponsor a thriving arts and culture community. But at the upper echelons of the city, philanthropy is about something else, too. It’s about writing $10 million checks, leading $1 billion capital campaigns, getting your name stamped on college buildings, and fighting for coveted seats on prestigious boards. In other words, it’s about power—the money, influence, and ideas that make things happen. And no one in town has more of it than the leaders listed here, the 25 most powerful people in Boston philanthropy.

* Memberships listed are an edited—not all-inclusive—inventory, and denote a role on an institution’s board of directors, trustees, officers, or other advisory council. Membership information was collected from individuals and Guidestar.


Amos & Barbara Hostetter


Board Memberships: Barr Foundation, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, WGBH, Museum of Fine Arts, Amherst College, North Bennet Street School, Belmont Hill School

Recent Activity: Pledged $50 million to local climate-change prevention efforts in 2010

There are foundations based in Boston, and then there’s the Barr Foundation. The Barr is the biggest source of nonprofit funding in the region: In 2011, for example, the organization donated $54 million to 360 nonprofits, including $3 million to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—part of Barbara Hostetter’s ongoing support of the museum (she played a key role in the capital campaign for the new Renzo Piano wing). And in 2010, the couple pledged $50 million to fighting climate change. With assets of more than $1.1 billion, the Barr seems poised to continue to give generously. Beyond merely writing checks, though, the Hostetters are influencing future generations of philanthropists with the Barr Fellowship program, which provides training and a three-month sabbatical for rising stars in the world of charity—including leaders such as John Barros, number 13 on our list.


Jack Connors (Photos by Scott M. Lacey)


Jack Connors

All-Purpose Power Broker

Board Memberships: Connors Family Foundation, Boston College, Camp Harbor View, Harvard School of Public Health, Partners in Health

Recent Activity: Led the $62 million drive for the Campaign for Catholic Schools in 2012

How influential is Connors? Last year, when he stepped down from the boards of Mass General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s, and partners HealthCare, President Obama put together a thank-you video for his retirement gala. At Boston College, the Hill Holliday founder has sat on the board of trustees since 1979 and (twice) been chairman, and he funded the Connors Family Retreat and Conference Center. And after a falling-out with the Archdiocese of Boston related to the sex abuse scandal, he returned to help lead the $62 million Campaign for Catholic Schools. At Brigham and Women’s, meanwhile, he was a driving force behind the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology. Then there’s the $45 million he’s raised for Mayor Menino’s pet project, the Camp Harbor View summer camp for at-risk Boston kids. In other words, Jack Connors is, as one of the city’s most prominent businessmen told us, “the beacon of philanthropy for the city of Boston.”


Ned Johnson and Abigail Johnson

Father-Daughter Dynasty, Fidelity Investments

Board Memberships: Edward C. Johnson Fund, Fidelity Foundation, Alzheimer Research Forum

Recent Activity: Donated $29 million to charities in 2011

It’s true that some nonprofit leaders are worrying that the Johnsons have turned their eyes away from Boston, as both the Fidelity Foundation and the Edward C. Johnson Fund were moved to New Hampshire in 2010. Still, the influence of the father-daughter team in the city remains profound, as they donated $29 million to charities in 2011. As one important philanthropist says, “People don’t realize the footprint and impact that the Johnson family has, and continues to have, on our community.”


Peter & Carolyn Lynch


Board Memberships: Lynch Foundation, Boston College, Catholic Schools Foundation, Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows, New England Conservatory, Peabody Essex Museum

Recent Activity: Gave $20 million to Boston College in 2010

After earning a fortune managing Fidelity’s Magellan Fund, Peter Lynch retired in 1990, at 46, to dedicate his time and considerable resources to philanthropy. He and his wife, Carolyn, were one of the first funders of Teach for America (back in 1990), and have raised and donated millions to the local Campaign for Catholic Schools. They’ve also directed $30 million to Boston College for education causes, including a leadership academy that trains principals. Where’s it held? At BC’s Lynch School of Education.


Paul Grogan

President and CEO, the Boston Foundation

Board Memberships: Brandeis University, New Profit, CEOs for Cities

Recent Activity: Directed $88 million to area nonprofits in 2012

Having transformed the Boston Foundation into a veritable think tank, Grogan serves as the city’s moral conscience, driving the conversation on charter schools, gangs, and, more generally, how to improve life for city residents. But the Boston Foundation puts plenty of brawn behind its brains, handing out $88 million in grant money in 2012. One fundraising consultant told us that “Grogan has demonstrated the way a community foundation, given assets and connections, can really change the agenda.”


John Fish

Chairman and CEO, Suffolk Construction

Board Memberships Red & Blue Foundation, Boston College, Boston Scholar Athletes, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, Catholic Schools Foundation, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Salvation Army

Recent Activity Oversaw $6.4 million in nonprofit grants in 2011

Fish has harnessed the connections he’s built while serving on some of the city’s most influential nonprofit boards to rise to the top of Boston’s power structure. Consider that, even though he’s not a Boston College alum, he’s managed to work his way up to become the vice chairman of the school’s ultra-wired board of trustees. He was also the guy that Mayor Menino called in 2009 to start and cochair the Boston Scholar Athletes program, which provides learning resources for student athletes.


Joseph and Katherine O’Donnell

Businessman; Philanthropist

Board Memberships: Joey O’Donnell Foundation Trust, Harvard Corporation

Recent Activity: Gave $30 million to Harvard in 2012

The O’Donnells have been hugely important to biotech and Harvard—both key local industries. Since the death of their 12-year-old son Joey from cystic fibrosis in 1986, the two have helped raise more than $250 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, driving promising drug research at the pharmaceutical giant Vertex. At Harvard, meanwhile, Joe is helping to lead the school’s new $6 billion capital campaign.


Joyce Linde


Board Memberships: Linde Family Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Recent Activity: Funded the MFA’s $12.5 million contemporary-art wing, which opened in 2011

The Lindes, who made their fortune in the real estate investment company Boston Properties, have been fixtures in Boston philanthropy. Ed served as board chair at the BSO, and the couple pledged $25 million to MIT for undergraduate scholarships in 2008. Ed passed away in 2010, but Joyce continues to serve on the MFA, BSO, and DeCordova boards, among others, and she was the main donor behind the MFA’s $12.5 million Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.


Robert Kraft


The Krafts

Owners, New England Patriots and the Kraft Group

Board Memberships: Robert & Myra Kraft Family Foundation, MRK Foundation, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, New England Patriots Charitable Foundation
Recent Activity: Gave $20 million to Partners HealthCare in 2011

Over their five decades together, Bob and Myra Kraft gave away more than $100 million. Myra’s 2011 death was widely mourned by the city’s philanthropic community, but Bob and his four sons are continuing the family’s tradition of charity, including renaming the Patriots’ Community MVP Awards, which annually offer $100,000 in grants to local volunteers, after Myra. Son Josh, meanwhile, is turning heads as the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, where he’s working with one of the city’s most high-profile boards.


Barbara Lee


Board Memberships: Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Institute of Contemporary Art, Emerge Massachusetts, Women’s Leadership Board of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government

Recent Activity: Gave a seven-figure donation to the ICA to endow the chief curator position in 2012

Lee received plenty of attention in 2000, when she helped kick-start the capital campaign to build the ICA with a $5 million gift. In 2012, she made another million-dollar-plus donation to the institution, to endow the ICA’s chief curator position. But Lee is best known for her political activism: For more than a decade, she has provided training, raised campaign funds, sponsored research, and mobilized voters to help elect women to office, both locally and nationally, including Massachusetts’ very own Senator Elizabeth Warren.


Ted Cutler


Ted Cutler

Arts Patron

Board Memberships: Theodore H. Cutler Family Trust, Outside the Box, Emerson College

Recent Activity: Cochaired the $35 million drive for the new Greater Boston Food Bank building, which opened in 2009

A native of Dorchester, Cutler built his fortune on trade shows and corporate travel and has since used it to help reposition his alma mater, Emerson, as the hub of the Hub’s arts world—including the stunning restoration of the Cutler Majestic Theatre in 2003. Having cochaired the $35 million drive to build the Greater Boston Food Bank’s new facility, which opened in 2009, he’s now turned his attention to creating Outside the Box, a citywide arts extravaganza that launches this July and aims to make Boston a key destination on the summer-festival map. “He’s the greatest kind of patron,” says one municipal bigwig. “For so many people who are wealthy, it’s about the influence. When Ted Cutler gives money to do something, it’s the experts who are the ones who create art, not the funders.”


Carl Shapiro


Board Memberships: Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation

Recent Activity: Gave $42 million to Dana-Farber and Boston Medical Center in 2008

If you’ve been to a hospital in this city, chances are you’ve been in a building named after the Shapiros. Over the past 10 years, the family has donated more than $100 million to charities, including Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Brigham and Women’s. Of course, the Shapiros were among the major victims of the Madoff scandal, paying $625 million in 2010 to settle related claims. That wiped out much of their fortune and led to questions about the future of their philanthropic efforts. But their foundation gave away $13 million in 2011, and still has assets of $79 million.


John Barros

Executive director, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Board Memberships: Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Recent Activity: Leveraged government grants into $70 million in private donations

Barros, a former Barr fellow, has become a sought-after voice on education issues thanks to his role on the Boston School Committee and his leadership with the Boston Promise Initiative, an innovative program that uses schools to help revitalize the areas of Roxbury and north Dorchester. Barros has turned $6 million in federal grants into an impressive $70 million in aligned funding from public and private organizations, while hammering out partnerships with 80 different groups.


Catherine D’Amato

President and CEO, the Greater Boston Food Bank

Board Memberships: The Boston Foundation, Massachusetts Food Association

Recent Activity: Oversaw the food bank’s $35 million capital campaign in 2009

When D’Amato joined the GBFB in 1995, it was a respected organization that annually distributed about 9 million pounds of food and had revenues of $14.7 million. In the years since, D’Amato has used her fundraising and networking skills to turn the food bank into one of the country’s most prominent hunger organizations—particularly with the 2009 opening of the Yawkey Distribution Center. Last year, the nonprofit distributed 41 million pounds of food and had $66.6 million in revenue.


Gerald Chertavian

Founder and CEO, Year Up

Board Memberships: Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, Massachusetts State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Recent Activity: Raised $46.4 million in 2011

Chertavian founded Year Up—a Boston-based organization that gives low-income young people access to training and corporate internships, and prepares them for college—in 2000, and since then the nonprofit has been remarkably successful. A stunning 84 percent of alumni were employed or attending college within four months of graduating from the program. That’s impressive enough that President Obama gave the organization a shout-out during a town-hall meeting, and Year Up has now expanded to 10 cities.


Seth and Beth Klarman

CEO and President, The Baupost Group; Philanthropist

Board Memberships: Klarman Family Foundation, Broad Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, McLean Hospital National Council

Recent Activity: Gave $32.5 million to the Broad Institute in 2012

Since Seth Klarman started at the Baupost Group in 1982, the legendary hedge fund has averaged an annual gain of around 20 percent. Little surprise, then, that he and his wife, Beth—she runs their foundation—have taken the same focus on high-impact returns in their philanthropic ventures. In 2012 they gave $32.5 million to the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, funding an extensive research project to understand the wiring of human cells—an effort that the institute’s director has likened to the Human Genome Project.


Joanna Jacobson

Founder and Managing Partner, Strategic Grant Partners

Board Memberships: David Project, Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, Youth Villages

Recent Activity: Gave $5.1 million in grants in 2011

Jacobson, a Harvard MBA and former president of the Keds Corporation, brings a venture philanthropist’s focus on results to Strategic Grant Partners, which she started in 2002 as a nonprofit incubator. Legendary investors such as Seth Klarman, James Pallotta, and Josh Bekenstein enlist her to help them discover, and then fund, some of the area’s best nonprofits. Groups receiving SGP donations, which have included Year Up and Youth Villages, are expected to quantify their results, in the form of, say, higher test scores or revenue growth.


Peter Slavin


Peter Slavin

President, Massachusetts General Hospital

Board Memberships: Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Hospital Association, MIT

Recent Activity: Raised $1.4 billion for MGH between 2005 and 2012

In 2005, Slavin and MGH started a massive fundraising drive, “The Campaign for the Third Century of MGH Medicine,” to raise money for research, patient care, and a new building. Five years later, he publicly announced the $1.5 billion campaign—the largest in New England hospital history—as well as the fact that nearly two-thirds of the target amount had already been raised. As of last fall, MGH had hit 94 percent of the goal, and is likely to reach 100 percent by the end of 2013.


Phillip and Susan Ragon

Founder, Intersystems Corporation; Vice President, Intersystems Corporation

Board Memberships: Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute Foundation

Recent Activity: Pledged $100 million for AIDS research in 2009

Here’s one way to make an instant—and long-lasting—impact on philanthropy in a city: Bring together top scientists from the finest institutions (MGH, MIT, and Harvard) in a new collaborative environment (the Ragon Institute) for cutting-edge AIDS research (developing a vaccine) and fund it with $100 million over 10 years.


Ted Kelly

Chairman, Liberty Mutual

Board Memberships: Kelly Family Foundation, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Recent Activity: Leads fundraising to cover BSO’s $20 million annual budget gap

As the board chairman for the BSO, Kelly is responsible for convincing wealthy donors to help cover the $20 million gap between revenues and operating costs. He’s also chairman of Liberty Mutual, and last year the company announced that it was increasing annual local giving by 20 percent, to $17 million, and had finalized an $8 million, three-year deal to continue funding the BSO’s Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.


Malcolm Rogers

Director, Museum of Fine Arts

Recent Activity: Led a $504 million campaign that funded a new wing, which opened in 2010

As the director of the MFA for almost 20 years, Rogers has developed a stellar reputation for programming, and for being able to raise the kinds of funds it takes to run a world-class institution. That includes a $504 million capital campaign that led to the 2010 opening of the Art of the Americas Wing—the museum’s first addition since 1981.


Joan Wallace-Benjamin

President and CEO, The Home for Little Wanderers

Board Memberships: Home for Little Wanderers, Children’s League of Massachusetts

Recent Activity: Raised $8.2 million in 2011

With her organization needing to escape its decaying Jamaica Plain headquarters, Wallace-Benjamin made the bold decision in 2011 to sell the J.P. land to a developer and invest in a new space in Walpole. Last November, she and Little Wanderers celebrated the opening of the $18 million project, which has doubled the number of children with behavioral and developmental problems that can be served, all amid a bucolic 166 acres.


Vanessa Kirsch


Vanessa Kirsch

Founder and Managing Director, New Profit

Board Memberships: Tisch College at Tufts, College Summit

Recent Activity: Oversaw $10.7 million in donations to charities in 2011

When you’re donating a sum with a bunch of zeroes, it helps to know how well the money will be spent. Enter Kirsch. Her New Profit organization acts as an investment manager for philanthropic portfolios, using data-driven analysis to weigh a nonprofit’s effectiveness, and providing the guidance and oversight to ensure that donated funds are used efficiently. It’s quickly become a national model for venture philanthropy firms.


Susan Paresky

Senior Vice President for Development and the Jimmy Fund, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Recent Activity: Led Dana-Farber’s capital campaign, which reached $1.18 billion in 2010

Since joining the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Paresky has helped increase the organization’s annual gifts from about $30 million to as much as $200 million, overseen the Jimmy Fund (perhaps the state’s best-known charity), and—in the middle of a recession—spearheaded a capital campaign that raised $1.18 billion.


Bill and Joyce Cummings

Founder, Cummings Properties; Director, Cummings Properties

Board Memberships: Cummings Foundation, New Horizons

Recent Activity: Pledging $10 million to area nonprofits this year

In 2011 the Cummingses became the first Massachusetts residents to sign the Giving Pledge, a public promise—the brainchild of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates—by billionaires to donate the majority of their wealth to charity. (The Cummingses, according to their Giving Pledge announcement, had already planned to give away 90 percent of their fortune.) And the couple isn’t waiting to pass on its money through an estate: This year, the Cummingses are handing out 100 grants of $100,000 each to local nonprofits.

Who’s # 26?

A look at 10 other philanthropy powerhouses.

Joshua and Anita Bekenstein

Flush with Bain money, the always-ready-to-donate Bekensteins play major roles at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, City Year, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, New Profit, and the Pan-Mass Challenge.

Gururaj and Jaishree Deshpande

The funders behind MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation—which supports research and startups—gave $2.75 million to charities in 2011.

Anne Finucane

As the chairwoman of the Bank of America Foundation, Finucane oversees a massive organization that gives $200 million a year to charities around the world, and $12 million to local causes.

Wyc and Corinne Grousbeck

The Celtics co-owner and his wife are wired in Boston, and are hyper-involved with the Perkins School for the Blind, to which they recently donated $10 million for the Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology.

James Healey

The Yawkey Foundations (of which Healey is president) donated $23 million to 214 organizations in 2011, including causes such as the New England Home for Little Wanderers and the Bridge Over Troubled Waters program, which helps runaway and homeless youth.

Jay Hooley

In 2011, Hooley’s State Street Corporation matched $2.2 million in employee donations, while offering a companywide program that paired workers with charities and resulted in 85,000 volunteer hours. The State Street Foundation, meanwhile, gave $10.5 million to local charities in 2011.

Claudio Martinez

The executive director of the Hyde Square Task Force has turned a small neighborhood group into a national model for community organizations.

James and Kim Pallotta

Our sources tell us that the hedge fund–wealthy Pallottas give a ton of money around town—but almost always keep it anonymous. The Pallottas are also prime movers at New Profit and Strategic Grant Partners, two forward-thinking venture philanthropy groups.

John Simon

The GreenLight Fund cofounder connects local equity and tech networks with the leaders of successful nonprofits in other American cities—such as Friends of the Children (Portland, Oregon) and Raising a Reader (Redwood City, California)—to help launch Boston chapters.

Henri and Belinda Termeer

Genzyme might be in the rearview mirror for the Termeers, but the couple continues to donate to health causes, including a $10 million gift in 2011 to fund research on targeted therapies at MGH’s cancer center.


Find out more about Boston’s philanthropy scene in our 2013 Power package.

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