William Blair's Community Partnership Program Goes Global

Thursday, December 19, 2019

William Blair employees John Ettelson, Mark Fuller, and Laura Van Peenan


From left William Blair CEO John Ettelson; wealth advisor Mark Fuller, who nominated community partner Golden Apple; and investment banker Laura Van Peenan, chair of the community partnership steering committee, at December 12 celebration.


Heading into a new decade, William Blair has decided to expand its popular community partners program to its global offices. In December, the firm announced 11 new partnerships that continue a nine-year-old initiative that began in Chicago.

The community partnerships expand and support—both financially and in employees' volunteer time—local nonprofits that work to strengthen their communities.

"This year we are thrilled to expand the program globally," William Blair CEO John Ettelson said at a firm-wide celebration at Chicago headquarters on December 12 when the new community partners were announced. "We started in 2011 as a way to channel investments into our communities to complement the general broad initiatives that we undertake across the board."

Selected from nearly 80 nominations made by employees worldwide, organizations from London to San Francisco were selected as William Blair 2020-2021 community partners. The groups have all made clear their commitment to the long-term vitality of their communities. Their activities include educating underserved youth; helping the homeless, refugees and immigrants; feeding the hungry; empowering teenage girls; supporting children with incurable diseases; and strengthening urban families.

Community Partners 2020-2021

Atlanta—Cool Girls

Baltimore—Center for Urban Families

Boston—Crossroads

Chicago—Children's Choir, Golden Apple, Greenwood Project

Frankfurt—Federal Association of Children's Hospice

London—City Harvest

New York—Build NYC

San Francisco—Refugee & Immigrant Transition

Zurich—Pastor Sieber's Social Work

William Blair invites employees every two years to nominate organizations that align with the firm's commitment and mission to engage in local communities. Since the program began in Chicago, William Blair employees have helped groups start a middle school leadership program; initiated a college career program; helped distribute thousands of books to underserved youth; and mapped community assets in the city's South and West sides. Community grants through the program have amounted to nearly $3 million.

The partners are scaling up their efforts over the next two years with programs ranging widely. For example, in Chicago there are plans to reach more Latinx students by creating a neighborhood choir in Gage Park, a challenged intercity neighborhood. Across the pond, the London office is supporting a refrigerated van to deliver food throughout the city to eliminate hunger.

Investing in the community has always been part of the William Blair culture, a tradition that began 85 years when William McCormick Blair founded the firm. Mr. Blair was a civic leader, serving as president of the Art Institute of Chicago, as a trustee of the University of Chicago, and as a member of the Chicago Historical Society Board, to name just a few of his many leadership roles.

Other William Blair executives have carried on the same tradition throughout the decades. But as the firm has grown beyond its Chicago headquarters to establish offices in Boston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Charlotte, San Francisco, New York, and overseas, a wide range of employees wanted to participate. So the community partnership initiative became a way to involve firm-wide human capital as well as to expand targeted financial resources to make a larger community impact. 

"One hundred percent of our philanthropy is employee inspired," says Laura Coy, William Blair's philanthropic strategist. "We are proud of the innovative ideas our employees have set forth to help create catalytic change in our communities."

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