Douglas E. Goldman, MD, BA ’74, carries on a long tradition of givingBy Sean Elder
Long before founding a successful software company and becoming involved in various philanthropies, Dr. Douglas E. Goldman, BA ’74, completed his residency at one of California’s busiest emergency rooms. Valley Medical Center in Fresno was a fulcrum of activity, thanks to “two major freeways passing through with their commensurate accidents and a very active knife-and-gun club,” Goldman recalls.
For a young resident it was an educational experience. The hospital served two distinct minority groups (Hispanic farm workers and members of the Hmong tribe who had emigrated from Laos), some of whom let certain diseases go a long time before seeking treatment. There were also drug seekers, people looking for disability diagnoses, and many who had dealt more with bureaucrats and cops than doctors. “One thing the experience emphasized to me is that I afford respect to others until they give me a reason not to,” he says. “Which I think is a very healthy way to interact with people.”
Decades later, Goldman still applies that lesson to his philanthropic work. From his corner office on the top floor of a skyscraper bordering San Francisco’s Financial District, Goldman can look out over much of the area that his family—Goldmans, Haases, Sterns, and Strausses—has given so tirelessly to over the course of six generations. At 61 he is fit and relaxed, seemingly surprised anyone would show much interest in his rather extraordinary life. His decision to leave medicine, like his early commitment to follow in the philanthropic footsteps of his parents, Richard and Rhoda Goldman, and his grandparents, Elise and Walter Haas Sr., seems unremarkable to him, and he’s cognizant of the many turns his life has taken.
After earning his BA in psychology from Cal and going to medical school in Israel, Goldman worked as an emergency physician at San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital and became involved in developing software for the Museum of the Diaspora outside of Tel Aviv. “It started with setting up this repository for genealogies from all over the Jewish world,” he says, which became the seed for what is today the Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center.
“I’m my family’s genealogist. I started when I was 11 years old,” says Goldman. “The direct reason was that there was this fellow named Levi Strauss that I was related to. I had a sense that there was some sort of story there.” He recalls riding in a car with his mother through the streets of San Francisco, “and it seemed whenever we passed a white-haired woman she’d say, ‘There’s Aunt So-and-So,’ and she was never quite sure how we were related. I wanted a little more precision. It just seemed like something that somebody should write down.”
“You start with the simple truth that even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cannot say yes to everybody.”
It was Goldman’s interest in the family history that cemented his relationship with his maternal grandfather, Walter A. Haas Sr. In the summers Goldman would walk over to his grandfather’s house next door in Atherton and quiz him about all manner of things. “One of the subjects we were fond of talking about was politics, in no small part because ours didn’t agree,” says Goldman. “He was much more conservative, a Republican—though today I’m not sure he would fit under the Republican umbrella.”
As the longest serving member on the board of PG&E, Haas was less than thrilled when Goldman, as an early member of the left-leaning Vanguard Foundation, was one of the first funders of the anti-utility organization TURN (Toward Utility Rate Normalization). On the top of TURN’s “enemies list” was PG&E, and no doubt vice versa.
“I got involved in philanthropy at a very early age,” says Goldman, “At 19, I was starting to give significant money away. My grandfather loved it if I was raising money for something that he could help with, which only happened once or twice. But it killed him that one piece of my philanthropy involved TURN, that was fighting an organization he believed in,” he adds with a smile.
As generous as his grandfather was, the biggest influence on Goldman was his mother, he says. In later years, they would become partners in their philanthropic work, with Goldman serving with her on the board of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund (which in its 60 years gave $700 million to more than 2,500 grantees), as well as the Stern Grove Festival Association and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. “My parents had already learned the idea that you can’t take it with you,” he says. “They had started their fund in 1951, the year before I was born.”
“Through my grandfather and my mother I understood very well that I was among the lucky few and that there was this great history of prior generations having been involved in bettering the community, both through activities and money,” Goldman adds.
The Goldman/Haas/Stern/Strauss family may be unique in the unbroken legacy of its charitable giving. “In most families the first generation is focused, the second generation develops some itchiness, and the third generation begins to move away,” Virginia Esposito, president for the National Center for Family Philanthropy, told the San Francisco Chronicle in an article on Goldman’s Haas cousins. “This is very rare.”
And Goldman is carrying on the unique tradition with his own children, the sixth generation of philanthropists. His twin sons, Jason and Matthew, the family’s fifth generation of Cal graduates, serve on the advisory board of the Haas School’s Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership. They also sit on the board of the 20-year-old Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, whose name reflects Goldman’s wife’s own passion for giving. “To me that was part of the marriage,” Goldman says. “That was something my wife would engage in with me and that my kids would continue this legacy.”
One of the reasons Goldman’s daughter, Jennifer, is not on the Goldman Fund board is that her job as an accountant at Ernst & Young does not allow her to do the homework that Goldman demands of his sons and every other board member, although he anticipates she will be able to join the board very soon. “I required my sons to show a serious interest in the work of the foundation,” he says. The fund supports organizations that are making a contribution in a variety of areas, including democracy and civil liberties, education and literacy, and the environment.
“In the world of philanthropy, people ask me, ‘How do I get started?’ I tell them the first thing you need to do is akin to an asset allocation: It’s a philosophical allocation. What are the things in the world you care about? And how much?
“You start with the simple truth that even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cannot say yes to everybody,” Goldman says. “It’s a very fascinating world of learning how to say no,” by weighing the needs and goals of any number of worthy organizations.
“It’s another form of respect,” he continues, harkening back to the lessons of the ER. “These people are anticipating that you’ll afford them the respect that means you’ll be serious about what they’re doing, that you’ll have listened and understood what they are trying to do.”
He is also the president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, which awards the annual $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize (aka “The Green Nobel”), the world’s largest prize for grassroots environmental activism. This year’s recipients included Kimberly Wasserman, who successfully battled outdated coal plants contaminating the water in Chicago, and Azzam Alwash, who has been fighting to protect wetlands in Iraq believed by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden.
When he’s not engaged in his philanthropic work, Goldman serves as chairman and founder of Certain Inc., a leading provider of event-management software solutions that allow companies (including “one of the biggest technology companies in the world, headquartered not far from here”) to plan, promote, and manage events like shareholder meetings. His interest in finding solutions for event planning began with his first computer, decades ago: “I used it to set up information for my wedding to Lisa.”
Goldman also is a member of the Haas Board, which advises the dean, and a trustee of the UC Berkeley Foundation. “Doug Goldman brings passion and insight to his role on our Haas Board,” says Dean Rich Lyons. “We are privileged to have such a dedicated and generous supporter carrying on his family’s long tradition of giving back to the community.”
Of his many contributions to UC Berkeley, Goldman is proudest of the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza within the gates of Memorial Stadium, for what it can become in the future. The plaza was named for the Goldmans’ $10 million gift to Cal Athletics when the intercollegiate program needed financial stimulus.
“One day the plaza may be as important for the eastern portion of the campus as Sproul Plaza has been for decades: a place that represents the community coming together,” Goldman says.
His affection for public spaces, to say nothing of events, can also be seen in his work as chairman of the Stern Grove Festival Association. His great-grandmother, Rosalie Stern, donated Stern Grove to the city of San Francisco as a public park in 1931. The idea of free musical performances followed shortly after.
“Then it went to her daughter (my grandmother, Elise Stern Haas), my mother, and then it went to me. I’m the fourth generation but the first male. I’m the first in my family to break that glass ceiling,” Goldman says with a chuckle.
Working with the late legendary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, Goldman was instrumental in renovating the bucolic grove for a new generation of San Francisco citizens. “It ties things together: it’s genealogy, it’s my family, it’s history. They all come together there.”