Ed Nathan

1919 – 2010

One of the nation’s most innovative philanthropic grantmakers

Ed Nathan was one of the nation’s most innovative philanthropic grantmakers involved in social work. Southeast Asian refugees, artists, writers off the beaten path, the disabled and many others benefited not just from the financial generosity of the Zellerbach Family Foundation, where Nathan was executive director for more than 30 years, but from the imaginative ways he found to support them.

Nathan was born in Great Falls, Montana, in 1919. At age seven, he moved with his family to San Francisco. Nathan earned his BA from University of California, Berkeley, in 1941. Upon graduation, he worked tirelessly to culturally integrate his uncle’s sportswear factory, and subsequently went on to the Jewish Welfare Fund where he learned fundraising and organizing. In 1952, Nathan returned to UC Berkeley to earn his MSW from the School of Social Welfare. He returned to the school once again in 1966 to join the faculty, where he worked for six years before becoming the executive director of the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

As director of Zellerbach, Nathan encouraged people to work together to help themselves. In 1975, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, members of San Francisco’s Asian community began protesting California’s neglect of Southeast Asian refugees. Nathan contacted protest leaders of the movement to ask how Zellerbach could help. Together, they proposed a Center for Southeast Asian Refugees in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Additionally, the foundation helped the refugees buy an apartment building, which still houses the Indochinese Housing Development Center, and the apartment complex has since been renamed the Nathan Building.

Another of Nathan’s important contributions lay in his discovery that San Francisco’s hotel tax helped underwrite the arts in the city. Troubled that the tax money fell under the sole discretion of a single city official – and that certain groups, such as the Mime Troupe and the Freedom Day Gay Parade, never saw funding – Nathan helped establish a Hotel Tax Advisory Committee to expand the arts grants. He brought in artists to review grant proposals – an idea that became a

Nathan’s strong early support of the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) was pivotal to its creation in 1990. The consortium, composed of the state’s 20 accredited social work graduate schools, 58 county departments of social service and mental health, the California departments of Social Services and Mental Health, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, professional associations and foundations, was established largely due to the initial funding provided at Nathan’s recommendation.

Nathan’s life work was dedicated to supporting the underserved, artistic and creative endeavors, and social justice. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 90.

« Back to list.