San Francisco, CA

The San Francisco family giving their billion dollar fortune away

Ash Jurberg

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I write many articles on billionaires and entrepreneurs and what they do to give back to their local communities.

It is rare to find an entire family so heavily involved in philanthropy. But the Sobrato family is no ordinary family.

Let's take a quick look at their story.

The San Francisco family giving their billion-dollar fortune away

John A Sobrato was born in San Francisco in 1939. He is the founder of the Sobrato Organization, a real estate development company based in Cupertino, specializing in commercial and residential estate. The company owns more than 7.5 million square feet of office space in Silicon Valley, with tenants like Netflix, plus about 6,700 apartments.

His son, John Michael Sobrato, joined the family business and has worked for the past 39 years at the organization.

Between them, they have accumulated a net worth of $5.3 billion. And they have promised to give most of it away.

Philanthropy

The family that works together gives together.

Sobrato and his son have both signed on the Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge to donate their wealth for charitable purposes.

Our entire family is now in a position to engage in philanthropy at a relatively young age. Thus John Michael has decided to join Susan and me in making this commitment. Each of us has provided that 100% of our wealth will be given away during our lifetimes or left to the Sobrato Family Foundation....We would hope that this legacy of giving would encourage others to commit their financial resources to worthy non-profit institutions.” John A Sobrato

They have established Sobrato Philanthropies, which includes the Sobrato Family Foundation, in order to make their donations. So far, they have donated over $552 million to education, career pathways, and essential human services, primarily in Silicon Valley. In 2020, they donated $161 million.

Some of their donations include:

  • $20 million to Santa Clara University
  • $20 million to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto
  • In 2015 $15 million to the University of San Francisco- the biggest ever individual pledge.

The Sobrato's donate heavily in the San Francisco area, particularly Silicon Valley.

Over 20% of the population in Silicon Valley lives in poverty and although there is a great deal of wealth in the Valley, the disparity between the rich and poor is dramatic and growing. Many people don't have the needed skills and education to succeed in today's economy or have other challenges that hold them back. Consequently, our family foundation's priorities are pre-school thru high school education and career training.

John Michael is also passionate about the environment. He donates to organizations focusing "on mitigating the effect of industrial agriculture on climate change by trying to build a more humane and sustainable food system."

Due to the magnitude of our family’s wealth, we tend to get a disproportionate share of the praise for our charitable work when the fact is this represents little sacrifice compared to those who must forego important personal pleasures to contribute to society. As important as the Giving Pledge is to encourage those with the most means to make transformative change, it is only appropriate to conclude with recognition of those who give with much greater sacrifice and generosity. John Michael Sabrato

It seems that the next generation of Sobrato's will also be philanthropists. John Michael's sons, John Matthew and Jeff Sobrato are also involved in the foundation, as are their cousins.

John A Sobrato has committed to donating 100% of his wealth, and it seems his family may follow in his footsteps.

Readers, what do you think of the Sobrato family? And what organizations in San Francisco would you like to see them support?

Please leave your comments below.

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