Peter Lynch Made Boatloads of Cash, and Now He Gives It Away

For the past 25 years, he and his wife, Carolyn, have donated more than $150 million through the Lynch Foundation.

Peter Lynch loves a good baseball analogy. A great stock—a real winner—is known as a tenbagger when it makes 10 times its initial purchase price (or in his mind, the equivalent of two home runs and a double). It was this strategy that helped him make his fortune at Fidelity, where he parlayed a skill for picking tenbagger stocks into a $14 billion mutual fund, which at the time was the largest in the world.

But few may realize that he and his wife, Carolyn, use the same approach when picking philanthropies to fund through the Lynch Foundation. Carolyn is the foundation’s president, and Peter leads the investment committee. Together they’ve spent more than $150 million to support scores of nonprofits over the past 25 years, and are celebrating the anniversary of the Lynch Foundation on Tuesday evening.

“With the foundation, we try to do operations that can have great potential,” Peter Lynch says. “Rarely do we fund an idea. In baseball parlance, we don’t want to hear about the lineup. If they’ve been in business for several years and they have an organization, then we can measure what we’re doing.” It’s a strategy they used when first deciding to fund both Partners in Health and City Year back in the early 1990s, two Boston-based nonprofits that  proved to be more than tenbaggers over time.

“There’s something really special about Boston, it’s a city that’s always ready to look at new ideas and test them out,” Carolyn Lynch says. “I’m not sure if that’s the nature of a city that has a lot of colleges or universities or whether its the colonial heritage of Massachusetts, but there’s a vibrancy in Boston that makes it really a crucible for new ideas. We look nationally at really exciting projects, but a disproportionate number of the most forward-thinking are from Boston.”

The couple have spent nearly $100 million of their foundation grants on education projects in Boston like enhancing schoolyards and providing leadership training to principals, and are also helping fund charter schools and provide inner-city children with tuition costs for religious education. “We’d rather fund something that deals with children. That’s a tenbagger,” he says. And there’s one new project in particular that seems to really excite him: “We’re building a skateboard park. We’ve never skateboarded, our children don’t skateboard,” he adds, surprising just about no one, but he’s thrilled at the prospect of transforming an unused plot of land in on the Cambridge side of the Charles River into a mecca of ramps and jumps. The skate park at Northpoint Park, which will be located in East Cambridge under the trusses of the Zakim Bridge, will be the first large-scale park of its kind in New England, and is scheduled to open next spring or summer. “It’s an amazing underutilized park. It’s one of the gems of the city,” he says.

The duo have a full roster of projects currently in the works, but they’re always searching for the next big idea: “If I looked at 10 ideas, maybe I’d find one that sounded great,” he says. “It’s always the one that turns up with the most rocks who wins. And Carolyn is the one turning over the rocks.”