William Blair Hosts Family Foundations to Celebrate National Philanthropy Day

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Crowd listening to panel of speakers

William Blair led a celebration of National Philanthropy Day on November 15 at Chicago headquarters by hosting more than 100 community leaders to mark their vital support of local nonprofits and demonstrate the deep impact that philanthropy has on society.

In 2017 total charitable giving in the United States reached a record $410 billion, according to Giving USA. Of that total, foundation gifts accounted for $67 billion, an increase of 6% from the previous year.

William Blair Vice Chairman Dave Coolidge, who led the firm from 1995 to 2004 and is currently president of the William Blair Foundation, welcomed guests. Coolidge and his wife Connie have been active Chicago philanthropists for decades, supporting Rush Medical Center, the University of Chicago, Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, the Art Institute, and the Latin School among many other institutions.

"I've really enjoyed it all the way along," said Coolidge, saying his current role "is to inspire another generation of philanthropists and get people involved in the community."

A panel of speakers from the philanthropy sector, moderated by William Blair's Director of Philanthropy Strategy Laura Coy and Make It Better magazine's founder Susan Noyes, then shared their experiences working with foundations, grant making, and fundraising.

King Harris, chairman of private equity firm Harris Holdings and an active philanthropist for over four decades, is principal of the Harris Family Foundation which currently funds 140 organizations. He underscored the value of becoming directly engaged with causes you support.

"With all the money we've given out as a family, our family members are really activists," Harris told the gathering. "Writing out checks is nice to do if you can afford to do it. But being actively involved yourself is what really counts."

Harris noted that his family members included passionate backers of the arts, cultural groups, hospitals and universities. For him and his wife the passion is finding ways to provide affordable housing for all.

"We've been actively promoting housing policies which have changed the face of affordable housing in northeastern Illinois," he said. "The joy I get is watching the system change."

Such active participation in causes resonated with other panelists as well.

"We are hands on," said Amanda Hanley, co-founder of the Hanley Foundation. "It is so important to learn about the issues in order to build relationships and connections."

Hanley says hearing from experts and "most importantly the people on the front lines" has helped her and her husband identify initiatives and partners that move the needle.

One of the benefits of being a smaller foundation, she said, is being nimble. She described her foundation's investments to establish a sustainability institute at the University of Dayton, which has helped Dayton become "the greenest university in the Midwest."

"You don't have to be big to be mighty," she told the gathering.

"The foundations that survive, families get involved," added David Handler, a partner with Kirkland & Ellis Trusts & Estates. "Getting behind a cause, you hear the passion, then these things flourish."

Staying focused, using partnerships

Dorri McWhorter, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, recommended that donors wanting to make a major impact in philanthropy focus on two questions: How do you want to make an impact? Who can you partner with to make it happen?

As an innovative example, McWhorter cited an investment vehicle: YWCA's partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to launch an exchange-traded fund on NYSE. The WOMN fund offers a way to invest in companies that promote women and gender equality.

The keynote speaker at the event, Phil Buchanan, president for the Center for Effective Philanthropy, agreed on the theme of partnerships in philanthropy.

"In business you want your strategy to be yours alone. In philanthropic giving, if your strategy is yours alone, you're doomed. It's got to be shared," Buchanan told the audience. "It's not about competitive dynamics, it's about collaborative dynamics."

Recognizing the value of collaboration, he said, also helps donors understand the challenges of charitable nonprofits face in goal setting, fund raising and measuring impacts.

"To spend time with folks like these is to be reminded that it's people like them who make our country better," he told the audience. "They never give up on anyone."

That idea and another – the Power of One – found an eloquent illustration in panelist Larsen Jay. After a lengthy hospital stay, he described how he had founded his charity, Random Acts of Flowers, which "stays focused" on creating and delivering bouquets of recycled flowers to patients.

"One bouquet, one moment, one interaction, one connection on a human level," he told the gathering. "That is as important as ever."

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