The 2008 tax filing for the Goldman Sachs Foundation, a copy of which was provided by the firm late Wednesday, provides a glimpse of the legendary trading that has helped put the firm on track for its best year ever. The foundation, whose returns do not appear outsized in recent years, has placed a lot of its money in hedge funds and trades heavily in futures contracts based on baskets of stocks, bonds and currencies.
Given the firm’s anticipated profits and supersize bonuses, which have touched off public furor, it is no surprise that Goldman said recently it would increase its charitable giving. It has set aside $200 million to nearly double the size of its main foundation.
Long before the financial crisis erupted, though, there were calls for even more, and those calls have stepped up in recent months. John C. Whitehead, the retired co-chairman of Goldman Sachs and former head of its foundation, said in a May 2007 interview with Bloomberg News that the pay levels on Wall Street were “shocking” and that he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Goldman to give $1 billion to charity.
At the time, he said that Goldman executives rejected the idea because of concerns about shareholder reaction. Mr. Whitehead did not return phone calls this week.
Since 1999, Goldman has given about a billion dollars total to charity, according to Joseph Snodgrass, a spokesman for the firm. About $501 million went to its main foundation and $319 million directly to nonprofits, with smaller amounts to other foundations and groups.
Lloyd C. Blankfein, chief executive of the firm, recently defended his firm’s pay and profits in an interview with The Times of London in which he said that Goldman was “doing God’s work.”
“We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital,” he explained, describing the firm’s role in the economy as important.
But the money allotted for its foundation is dwarfed by the sums that will be doled out to its bankers. In the first nine months of this year, the firm set aside about $17 billion for bonuses and other compensation.
The latest infusion brought the foundation up to $404.2 million in assets at the end of September, according to Mr. Snodgrass.
The foundation appears to rank among the 10 largest in assets. The Fidelity Foundation, the charitable arm of the Boston mutual fund company, had $414 million in assets in 2007, the latest filing available.
But in sheer size, Goldman’s latest tax filing is nothing like that of its Boston rival.
Overseen by Stephanie Bell-Rose, a managing director at the firm, the Goldman foundation shows thousands of trades in contracts based on things as varied as Treasuries, the Russell 2000 index and Eurodollars.
“It is pretty unusual for a foundation to be trading futures this actively and across this many markets,” remarked Mr. Sedlacek of Commonfund.
Over all, half the Goldman portfolio was devoted to what are called alternative investments, mainly hedge funds, but also private equity, commodities and real estate trusts, in the fiscal year ended in November 2008. Ordinary stocks comprised roughly a third of the portfolio.
A Goldman spokesman said the foundation has employed investing and risk management strategies to protect net asset value over time. He declined to provide information about its investment returns or its strategy.
The foundation has given away at least 5 percent of its assets annually to comply with federal tax laws. In 2007, it gave away $12.6 million. In 2008, donations rose to $22 million, according to the filing provided Wednesday night.
Goldman has looked for other ways to encourage giving. After Mr. Whitehead challenged the firm to do more, it created a donor-advised fund that it hoped would reach $1 billion over a few years. The fund allows the firm’s 400 partners to put aside money for the charities of their choice. The donor receives a taxable deduction when making the contribution, though he can choose the recipients later and give the money away over time.
Goldman put in $30 million as seed money for that effort, called the Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund. Partners contributed $80 million more, bringing the total to $130 million, according to its filing on June 30, 2008. None of those totals include contributions that Goldman partners made directly to charities.
Among big beneficiaries of the Goldman foundation will be a project known as 10,000 Women, which provides business education to women in developing countries. In 2008, the firm pledged $100 million over five years to that effort.
The biggest gift in the most recent filing was $3.2 million to Johns Hopkins University. Duke University received $2.3 million.
The Institute for International Education got $2.6 million. The program, in conjunction with the Goldman Sachs Leaders Program, identifies and rewards outstanding students at colleges and universities worldwide.
Other recipients include Asian University for Women Support Foundation, the Museum of Natural History and the Asia Society, which has been a major beneficiary over the years. The society has connections both to Mr. Whitehead and to a longtime Goldman Sachs client, the American International Group.