Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), philanthropist, dealmaker and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith is a fierce believer in the power of opportunity. Throughout his adult life, Smith has continuously invested his time and resources in organizations that uplift underrepresented communities and help make the world a better place. One of the core tenets of his philanthropic commitments is the protection and promotion of the environment.
His passion for environmental causes, including making green spaces available to everyone, is what drove Smith to co-found Lincoln Hills Cares, alongside philanthropist Matthew Burkett, the Chairman & CEO of The Flyfisher Group. Based in Denver, CO, the place where Smith was born and raised, this organization carries a particular importance for him.
SMITH’S SUPPORT FOR THE OUTDOORS
Lincoln Hills Cares places an emphasis on personal growth opportunities offered by the great outdoors, providing those who might not otherwise have such an opportunity to connect with nature. Yet, Smith’s work to preserve and provide access to the environment is not limited to Lincoln Hills Cares. Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is the founding director and President, works to protect the environment, expand access to parks and connect young people with outdoor recreational opportunities.
Smith and Fund II Foundation are also official nonprofit partners of the National Park Foundation (NPF). In 2015, Smith and Fund II Foundation partnered with the NPF to create the Fund II Civil Rights Historic Preservation program. The program was created to help protect and enhance six U.S. national parks and landmarks for current and future generations. Since then, the partnership has expanded to include more national parks, including Camp Nelson National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument. Their projects range from implementing digital technologies at parks for storytelling to building new parks to creating career opportunities at national parks.
In 2019, Smith personally donated $560,000 to Morehouse College to develop a new campus park that will provide students with an outdoor study space. Additionally, Smith is a primary donor to the River Deep Foundation, an organization that provides military veterans and individuals who have experienced other forms of trauma with opportunities to heal through outdoor recreation opportunities. Smith and Burkett also helped to create a River Deep alliance program — Anglers of Honor. Also based in Colorado, Anglers of Honor is an organization that strives to provide individuals with physical disabilities and their families with access to therapeutic fly-fishing opportunities.
SMITH’S OTHER PHILANTHROPIC WORK
Smith supports a wide array of additional philanthropic causes, including health care, education, civil rights, career access and financial literacy. Over the course of his career, Smith has created academic and career opportunities at his alma maters. In 2016, Smith provided a $20 million donation to Cornell’s chemical engineering school, which was aptly named the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This gift, along with an additional $10 million to fund the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program, works to support underserved and underrepresented students with their career goals within the STEM field. In 2017, Smith granted Columbia Business School a $15 million contribution toward the institution’s $500 million fundraising goal to build new state-of-the-art campuses in Manhattanville.
In 2022, Smith donated to both of his alma maters again — gifting $10 million to each institution for the development of new scholarship programs. These new funds focus on creating inroads into the universities for graduating students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and those who have overcome hardships during their academic journey.
In 2019, Smith stunned the world when he pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the Morehouse College graduating class. The positive impact of Smith’s commitment inspired him to do more, which led to the formation of Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), of which Smith is the Chairman. SFI is a nonprofit organization that provides eligible students studying STEM at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) with academic, professional and financial support.
To further expand opportunities for underrepresented communities, Smith co-leads Southern Communities Initiative alongside the CEO of PayPal, Dan Schulman, and Global Chair of Boston Consulting Group, Rich Lesser. The Initiative is a catalytic consortium that works to further racial equity across six Southern communities where more than half of Black Americans reside.
SMITH’S HONORS AND BOARD MEMBERSHIPS
Smith’s dedication to business and philanthropy has secured him a number of awards and recognitions. In 2023, Smith was honored with the Founder’s Award from Foster Love, the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award and the Legal Defense Fund’s National Equal Justice Award. The year prior, Smith was honored with theGrio’s Philanthropy Icon Award and the National Arts Award from American for the Arts. Smith was also named one of the TIME100’s Most Influential People of 2020.
Smith is also a proud member of several boards. In 2023, he became the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for NAF and a member of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism. Smith is also a Founding Partner of REFORM Alliance, a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council and on the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School.