Family giving during COVID-19

Over the past several months, we have heard time and again: We are all in this together. Truly, not a single person in our country has been unaffected by COVID-19. Whether you or someone you know is among those who have contracted the virus or among the millions of Americans whose businesses have been impacted as the economy declined, COVID-19 has created an unprecedented amount of need in the United States and across the globe. As we begin to slowly emerge from this dark hour, we are awakening to a diverse set of challenges on a scale that will require a coordinated collaboration among government, private sector and nonprofit entities to address the health and economic challenges of every community.

For nonprofit organizations tasked with providing direct, on-the-ground response, the challenge is three-fold: (1) meeting an elevated immediate need as COVID-19 continues to rob so many of their lives and livelihoods, (2) fundraising virtually in place of in-person events, and (3) accomplishing their missions amid new financial barriers. Philanthropic families of means are stepping up to help, providing short-term relief while also creating visionary giving plans to leave a legacy of impact.

Directing grants from donor-advised funds is one way families are supporting both immediate and long-term relief and recovery. This is not the first time we’ve seen a similar response. In fact, a recent study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Memphis found that donor-advised funds are especially resilient in times of recession, with both payout and flow rates increasing during economic downturns. We’ve seen this first-hand over the past few months with donors from Vanguard Charitable and other donor-advised funds responding generously to help alleviate the health and economic challenges that have resulted from COVID-19.

Times of crisis provide an opportunity for families to build their philanthropic legacy by providing both immediate and long-term support for COVID-19 relief and recovery. Below are four tips to keep in mind when planning your philanthropic crisis response.

1. Revisit your mission and philanthropic plan
If your family has a philanthropic mission, you have likely gone to great lengths to ensure it is rooted in causes dear to your hearts. While addressing crises like COVID-19 may not fit directly into a particular mission statement, it is worthwhile to talk with your family about how you might want to factor relief support into your short-term plan, and how you can do so without detracting from your long-term goals. Further, this conversation can present an opportunity for your family to discuss how to incorporate future disaster relief support into long-term philanthropy plans.

2. Leverage resources to identify direct relief causes in need of support
At times, it can be intimidating to decide which nonprofit is the best match for your family’s mission and philanthropic legacy. While it can seem like a daunting task to identify a worthy partner, there are tools available to help. Resources like Charity Navigator and Candid are helpful tools to identify nonprofits that are supporting relief efforts and aligned with the family vision. These tools also promote transparency by disclosing where funds are being applied within the organization. Donor-advised fund sponsors like Vanguard Charitable vet any nonprofit prior to fulfilling grant recommendations. This step ensures donor funds are appropriately used and grants go to credible organizations.

3. Consider unrestricted grants
In the U.S., only 20% of dollars granted to nonprofits are unrestricted. Yet in many instances, unrestricted funding is the most beneficial, since it allows nonprofits to apply the funds where they are needed most. Consider this scenario: You are the purchasing manager at a car manufacturing company and were tasked with purchasing a part that is critical to ensuring the safety of the vehicle. However, when making the purchase, the vendor placed restrictions on how the part can be used, blocking it from being able to safeguard the vehicle. You certainly wouldn’t make that purchase. When nonprofits receive restricted grants, they face a comparable dilemma. The donations are needed, but organizations are unable to use the funds to effect the greatest change.

This is even more important during times of crises when it becomes more difficult to predict where the most critical needs will be in the coming days, months and years. Just as you have the expertise to best run your family’s business, nonprofit organizations have the expertise to best determine where to direct funds — giving them the opportunity to do so helps them operate better now and better prepare for the future. However, it is understandable that families want to ensure their grants are being used responsibly, and families and donors should understand how money is being spent and work with the donor-advised fund sponsor to ensure the organization has been vetted and is in good standing with the IRS.

4. Look beyond direct relief -- all nonprofits need support right now
While it is critical to consider giving to nonprofits that are directly addressing COVID-19 relief, it is also important to remember that nonprofits of all sizes are not immune to the current economic challenges facing every sector. Consider developing a plan to benefit both COVID-19 relief and the charities you have always supported. With stay-at-home and social distancing orders in place, many fundraising events have been canceled or postponed, significantly impacting the amount of awareness and gifts many nonprofits receive.

If your family is looking to focus your philanthropy at a local level, consider directing grants to nonprofits that are able to designate funds to the areas of most critical and immediate need. If your family is most interested in convenient and flexible giving, donor-advised funds are an excellent option for seamless giving. And, because donor-advised fund sponsors vet organizations and ensure all grants go to organizations in good standing with the IRS, families can be sure their donations support legitimate causes.

Now is the time to take action
COVID-19 has posed a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. In order to overcome the health and economic devastation in this country, we all must act now. For donor-advised fund sponsors, it means working hand-in-hand with both donors and nonprofits to serve as an efficient, effective giving vehicle. For philanthropic-minded families, it means committing to conversations about how to make the most impact and further your heritage of giving. Together, we will emerge from this challenging time as a stronger, more resilient community.

Ann Gill is chief philanthropic officer at Vanguard Charitable (

Kemin Industries

When the Nelson Family Foundation decided to give $50,000 to the Food Bank of Iowa to help address a spike in need because of COVID-19, the plan was put into action quickly.

“I think we initially had the idea on a Friday morning, and by Monday afternoon the check had been cut and we had made contact with the food bank,” says Mary Katherine Nelson, chair of the Nelson Family Council. “It was a much quicker turnaround than what we’re used to. But luckily, with our structure, we were able to make those decisions quickly.”

The Nelson family owns Kemin Industries, a Des Moines, Iowa-based global company that produces ingredients for human and animal food. The company has more than 2,800 employees and operations in 90 countries.

The foundation is run through the family council, which consists of five members, representing each of the second-generation branches. The council works with R.W. and Mary Nelson, who founded Kemin in 1961, to make funding decisions.

Because Kemin serves the food industry, “food security is very important to not only the company but the family, as well,” Nelson says. “So the food bank really fit that goal.”

The Nelson Foundation’s gift was designated to go directly toward meal programs. According to statistics from the Food Bank of Iowa, the donation would provide about 200,000 meals.

“We have members from the first generation through the third generation that are a part of the decision-making process,” says Nelson, a third-generation married-in family member. “It’s really been a good tool to unite the family and get people involved at different age levels, those that work inside the company and those that don’t.” About 60% of the family lives in Iowa, Nelson says; the others are spread from Seattle to Baltimore, plus one family member in Italy.

The Nelson Family Council was established in 2017. “The family council process is still relatively new to us,” Nelson says.

The family has been invited to join daily video updates on the business hosted by Chris Nelson, Kemin’s second-generation CEO. They have also received meeting notes from the steering committee organizing the company’s global response to the pandemic. “It’s more information and more frequent updates than we usually get,” Mary Katherine Nelson says.

While adhering to social distancing, the family has had weekly lunchtime video calls that usually draw eight to 15 people. “R.W. and Mary, the G1 members, really enjoy getting to connect with some of the grandchildren throughout the week,” Nelson says.

“R.W. and Mary have been very involved in the company since they started it,” she says. ‘Their personal values have certainly trickled into the business and continue to be important.

“Their legacy in the community is that they’re very generous people, and give back in lots of ways — time, talents, energy, all of that,” Nelson says. The foundation is “a special project for the family, because it was so important to them.”

The foundation and Kemin are longtime supporters of Habitat for Humanity. Family members and Kemin employees have participated in local and international Habitat home-building projects.

In addition to the foundation’s gift to the Food Bank of Iowa, Kemin donated nearly 10,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) items to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Kemin being a laboratory- and a science-based company, they had a lot of that material on hand, and went through and donated any excess that they had — obviously, retaining enough to make sure that our employees are protected,” Nelson says.

Kemin teams in Italy and Belgium have donated PPE to their local hospitals, including homemade masks for healthcare workers. An internal fundraiser collected more than €13,000 for a hospital in Verona, Italy, where Kemin operates. The company matched the donation.

To help its U.S. employees obtain food, Kemin bought its U.S. employees GrubHub gift certificates (or Walmart gift cards for employees outside GrubHub service areas) and arranged for delivery fee waivers for employees who order groceries online through Midwest supermarket chain Hy-Vee.

The company also set aside $1 million to pay bonuses to employees in North America who worked on site during stay-at-home mandates and shelter-in-place orders.

Kemin has implemented other bonus programs to support teams at global locations. 

See here for more information on Kemin Industries' social-responsibility initiatives.

A higher calling

The year was 1982. After an antitrust lawsuit that had dragged on for eight years, the U.S. Department of Justice mandated that AT&T Corp. end its vertically integrated monopoly on telephone service in the United States and Canada. For most Americans, the breakup of Ma Bell meant confusing choices and even more confusing bills. But for family-owned, Marion, Ind.-based Moorehead Electric Co., it was the start of an evolution from a local industrial electrical contractor to one of the nation’s largest retailers of mobile phones.

“Suddenly Ma Bell stopped at the wire outside, and different companies could take the wire inside and [install] the phones,” recalls Phyllis Moorehead, 70, a former second-generation owner of Moorehead Electric who is now retired.

Phyllis says her husband, Steve Moorehead, 79, “figured if electricians could run electrical wire, they could run telephone wire. So as part of Moorehead Electric Co., we started Moorehead Communications.”

About the same time, cellular phone technology was becoming commercially viable. Early car phones were expensive and required professional installation, but consumers snapped them up anyway. By 1990, Phyllis and Steve sensed that cellular phones would present an opportunity far bigger than the breakup of Ma Bell.

“When they put up the first cell tower in Marion in 1990, we said, ‘We’re in the telephone business, we have this building by the railroad tracks, why don’t we sell cellphones?’ ” says Phyllis. “We activated one cellphone in November 1990, but we figured if we sell one to everyone in Marion who needs one and we still go bust, so be it.”

Moorehead Electric was founded by Steve’s father, Edward Moorehead, in 1937. Edward retired in 1968 and passed away in 1976.

In 1991, Steve and Phyllis sold Moorehead Electric to focus on the cellphone market. The new owner “didn’t want to deal with this little telephone thing, so we bought Moorehead Communications back as part of the sale,” says Phyllis. That “little telephone thing,” of course, soon became a necessity rather than a luxury. The Moorehead family was in the right industry at the right time.

In the first few months, the business grew from one store to three and, by the end of the first year, to 12. The stores were called The Cellular Connection.

“We were doubling every year at least,” Phyllis says. “It was all I could do in accounting to keep up with them!”

Under the leadership of Phyllis and Steve’s son Scott, 41, the company — now called TCC — has grown exponentially. Scott, who took over in 2008 at just 30 years old, has expanded the company from about 125 stores to nearly 1,250 in 43 states, and from $137 million in annual revenues to “north of $2 billion,” he says.

TCC, a Verizon authorized retailer, is part of a holding company called Round Room LLC. The holding company, formed in 2015, encompasses TCC; other cellphone stores operating under the names Wireless Zone and Wireless Advantage; a partnership in Redux, a technology that dries out water damage in electronics; and Culture of Good, a consulting organization that addresses employee engagement, corporate social responsibility and corporate culture. Culture of Good was co-founded by Scott with Ryan McCarty, his parents’ former pastor.

“Culture of Good is a little bit philanthropy and a little bit corporate culture,” Scott says. “It was birthed in TCC in our corporate stores, and it was such a good idea that we decided to do consulting around that.”

“Scott and I are both really passionate about corporate good,” says Scott’s wife, Julie, 39. “We like to think that influencing [our employees] to do good in the world is better than selling phones or becoming a manager.” She and Scott have two children, ages 12 and 10.

King Arthur and Phish
Steve and Phyllis retired in 2008, sold the company to their sons, Scott and Timothy, and moved to Florida.

When their sons were teens, Steve and Phyllis had gifted each a minority interest in the company. Over time they transferred more shares down, but the brothers were still minority owners until 2008. Steve and Phyllis had planned to sell the rest of the shares to their two sons equally, but Scott and Tim themselves came to an agreement that Scott would buy all their parents’ shares and Tim would have only what he already owned. Scott always was more involved with Moorehead Communications than his brother.

In July 2018, Tim, now 39, sold his interest to Scott. He’s now a franchisee of tech repair brand uBreakiFix and has several stores.

“When my brother was around, we decided to get more diversified and create a holding company to let each entity be its own,” explains Scott. “Tim and I were both uncomfortable with the Moorehead name being the main entity. We had such a great group of people that we wanted to deflect the credit.”

The brothers, who are rabid Phish fans, looked to the band’s songs for name inspiration and were drawn to “Round Room.” They also were inspired by King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.

“Everyone sitting at a circular table with an equal voice, and a round room. Those two things converged, and Round Room was what emerged,” says Scott.

Under Round Room, The Cellular Connection name got shortened to TCC. “It was a mouthful. Nobody says ‘cellular’ anymore,” says Scott. About two-thirds of the TCC-branded stores are operated by TCC; the remainder are operated by third parties under a licensing agreement.

In 2016, Round Room acquired more than 350 stores in the Wireless Zone franchise system. In addition, it bought a majority stake in Redux, whose technology was invented by fellow Hoosiers.

“Their genius invention and my ability to monetize it was a really great match,” says Scott with a laugh. Redux equipment is available in TCC’s stores and other wireless locations, and the company is diversifying into drying out other water­damaged electronics, like medical devices and hearing aids.

In May 2018, Round Room acquired 45 Wireless Advantage stores. Those stores are being moved under the TCC banner.

In total, Round Room has more than 2,300 employees. Scott’s wife, Julie, is executive director of TCC Gives, the company’s philanthropic arm. Julie’s brother Jason Buck, 45, joined the company in 2012 and is executive vice president of sales. Company headquarters moved from Marion to Carmel, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis, about five years ago.

Comprehensive training
Phyllis put together Scott’s training program while he was a student at Purdue University working part-time for the company. Back then, the only mobile phones were car phones, so each store needed an installation bay. That made it more challenging to open new locations than it is today.

Scott’s training program involved working in every position in the business — more than 32 jobs at the time. They included pulling wire when the company still installed landlines, retail sales in TCC’s store #59 in West Lafayette, Ind., and working in the warehouse.

“There was never any question that I was going to come into the business,” Scott says. “I wanted to go work with Mom and Dad. I worked with them for about seven years till they agreed to sell it.”

The leadership transfer was instantaneous, says Scott. “They were the owners and they were running things till they sold it. The minute they did, they were gone.”

Phyllis’s training plan ensured a smooth transition. “It’s a way for the employees to understand this new young guy coming in, and to respect him,” she says. Because Scott had worked alongside them, they were unafraid to approach him to discuss problems. “He was very open to everything they had to say,” Phyllis says.

There are several secrets to Scott’s entrepreneurial success. Because he had personally done every single job in the company and listened to employees’ concerns, he knew what worked and what needed to be changed. He has a risk-tolerant entrepreneurial personality and grew the business the right way. He has also stayed focused on the long term, rather than on immediate gratification.

Like his parents, Scott has capitalized on opportunities in the mobile phone industry. “The [product] was very quickly moving from a luxury item to a commodity,” he says. “There was a lot of [industry] consolidation, and a lot of opportunity for acquisition, as long as you had a stable base.

“We made a conscious effort to build teams that could work fast and hard and [a system that could] repeat itself over and over. It was a mix of organic growth, with teams able to pull that off, and we had a whole other acquisition team that identified good businesses and could teach them to do things the way we did it.

“We had a track record of productivity and a great deal of success making our partners — the Verizons of the world — very happy. The better we did, the more opportunities we got.”

Scott acknowledges that there have been some bumps in the road. He grew the company to the breaking point not just once, but three or four times.

“When you’re so focused on growth and moving so fast, you forget to make sure all the pieces and parts are put together properly behind you. I challenge you to find a company that’s experienced massive growth that will tell you any different.”

Doing good and building connections
About five years ago, Scott and Julie were looking at ways to expand on the philanthropy his parents had begun.

Phyllis and Steve donated to various community charities and talked about doing something bigger, but nothing was formalized until after Scott took over. The Moorehead Family Foundation was established about eight years ago, focusing mainly on Marion.

Once the company moved and became a nationwide business, TCC’s philanthropy needed to grow with it. The Moorehead Family Foundation had given away nearly $2 million in five years of its existence, says Julie. “But if you were to ask anyone in the stores about the foundation’s giving, they wouldn’t know. Scott and I wanted [TCC’s philanthropy] to be unique, special, and have a program element like a non-profit does. And, most importantly, we wanted employees to be involved and engaged.”

Under Julie’s leadership, the Moorehead Family Foundation was dissolved in 2016 and replaced with TCC Gives, a public charity rather than a private foundation.

“The biggest difference is that a foundation typically involves a business and/or family distributing money, but a public charity has to bring in additional funds,” she explains. One-third of what’s given must come from outside funds.

“TCC is still obviously our largest donor, giving $600,000 annually, but I have to raise $200,000 from outside sources, and it can’t just be one big check from Samsung. It has to be from multiple donors.”

The passion to do good helps the business, says adds Julie’s brother, Jason. “It makes us a different retailer,” he says.

He describes Scott on stage at sales rallies. “He doesn’t focus on KPIs [key performance indicators] or talk about how many phones we sell or the number of states we do business in or the usual things a CEO talks about.

“He’s in the position to do something bigger than just sell phones and accessories and make customers happy, and he talks about giving back.”

For many TCC employees, especially younger ones, TCC Gives is their first experience with community philanthropy, Buck says. “It really bonds all of us and keeps us together. It’s a legacy far greater than how many lines we activate or how many upgrades we do this year.”

At Phyllis and Steve’s urging, Scott went to an egalitarian church service in Marion where he met Ryan McCarty, a young, hip pastor with a Mohawk, earrings and a tendency to use four-letter words most pastors don’t.

“His message was, ‘Your why equals your what,’ ” Scott says. “My employees’ ‘what’ was fairly obvious — they’re coming for a paycheck. But how do I give them a ‘why’? I asked him to go to lunch for free advice and he ended up talking me into hiring him. Where I was coming from and where he was coming from is where Culture of Good found its birth.”

Culture of Good was created because “I wanted employees to be more engaged, to have a reason why they want to come to work that’s more than playing with cool gadgets every day or solving problems,” Scott says.

“The further and further away you got from headquarters, the less it felt like a family company. How do I give people the same passion I have for this business? What’s the glue to help hold everybody together? We went into several iterations of [ideas] that didn’t work. We tried stupid things like Mustache Mondays to force people to have fun, but we needed something deeper than that.”

To get employees engaged, giving must touch on their passions, says Julie. First, TCC Gives initiated a local grantmaking program. All employees are eligible to sponsor a grant to a local organization near their store. The criteria are intentionally broad: Organizations receiving grants must serve people, the environment or animals.

An initiative called More Than A Phone, which gives phones and service to survivors of domestic violence, was launched as a pilot at three Indianapolis domestic violence shelters in 2017. TCC gave each shelter 50 phones and two months’ service, which soon changed to 25 phones and four months’ service. The project ties in with Verizon’s involvement with domestic violence as a cause.

More Than A Phone now has donated phones and service to nine shelters; growth has focused on under-served rural areas. “We’d like to get 12 more communities this calendar year,” Julie says. “We’d like to perfect the program before we go bigger, but we hope to be able to have that program everywhere we are,” she says.

In October, employees purchase and wear purple T-shirts to raise awareness of domestic violence and money for victim services. They’re encouraged to volunteer, collect used phones and support shelters’ fundraising events. Last year a tailgating event at an Indianapolis Colts football game raised $15,000, which Julie hopes to double this year and keep doubling.

This effort has intersected with TCC’s local grant initiative. “Once we’ve created a relationship with a shelter, we hear of needs other than phones,” Julie says. “For instance, one needed a new gate. They applied for a grant and we gave it.”

Other Culture of Good initiatives include quarterly themed giving events: distributing backpacks filled with school supplies in July, honoring veterans in November and teachers in February, and animal rescue in May.

The Mooreheads’ efforts to rapidly escalate their company’s philanthropy didn’t always go smoothly, Scott admits. “We said we’re going to go into this movement to be charitable and give to the community, but a lot of folks decided that selling and customer service was a secondary part of the job, and that started to suffer. I had to say, ‘Sales and service still matter, and if we can’t tie it all together, it’s missing the point!’ We didn’t correctly communicate that.”

If Round Room were a public company, the board would frown on the amount Round Room gives away, Scott says.

“Being a privately held family-owned business allowed us so much flexibility to do the right thing,” he says. “I believe it [charitable giving] to be a massive business asset, not a drain. We have a really strong balance sheet because we’re not greedy. We could do what we want to, and if meant us getting less, so be it. You can’t do that with pressure from external stakeholders. I prefer what our result is.”           

Hedda Schupak is a frequent contributor to Family Business. She recently wrote about NextGen innovation.

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

How to face philanthropy's hardest question


For as long as anyone could remember, philanthropy was a way of life for the Jackson family (a pseudonym; the family's case is a composite based on several client families). Through their family foundation, three generations of Jacksons had found meaningful roles shaping and overseeing the family's philanthropy; the fourth generation was just getting involved.

Over the last few years, things had become rocky within the family. The third generation had brought more family branches to the foundation board than ever before, and the oldest children of the fourth generation were just beginning to ask for their place at the table. The proliferation of interests had created increasingly diverse views about the focus of giving, spend rate and investment choices, rules of participation for family members and expectations about roles and levels of engagement among family members on the board. Some personal relationships were beginning to fray.

In addition, the recent sale of the family's real estate business meant that a new infusion of capital was likely to change the level of possible giving, and the questions had begun to circulate quietly among family members.

• How would the family foundation board work through the decisions about new allocation and investment, given how hard it had recently become just to conduct the business of the foundation?

• Could the Jackson family's foundation still provide a unifying vehicle for the family-or was it doomed to be a destructive force in family relationships?

• What would staying together actually look like as a new generation entered?

• With an infusion of capital the family would become more visible in its giving. How did they feel about that?

• Should they stay together, leveraging their collective impact, or use this change as an opportunity to rethink the configuration and structure of their philanthropic efforts?

Transition creates issues

Such questions used to be confined to the family business when the next generation became involved, either through ownership or through management and leadership. Family members would begin to experience their differences, such as who was in vs. not in the business, who was in what branch, etc., creating a centrifugal force that pushes against togetherness. Now, these questions are arising in family foundations as they experience their own next transition questions.

The considerations in family foundations, however, are different from those in the business context. Market forces aren't at play (except in the increase in need). Family foundation members want to make a big social impact but find it harder to make a difference directly.

One member of the Jackson family recently said at a family board meeting, "We have been at this conversation forever, and I'm tired of it. Some of us think we have to keep the foundation together to preserve our grandmother's legacy. Others of us would rather split the endowment into separate foundations. What is it going to take to just make a decision?"

Asking whether or not to stay together in the family foundation can feel like an act of betrayal. How can siblings, cousins or other family members openly explore whether they want to keep working together without damaging relationships and calling into question the shared purpose on which their philanthropic activities have been based?

At the same time, not asking the question can be damaging too, as concerns go underground, eroding connectedness as a family and effectiveness as a philanthropic organization. It feels like a real predicament—and it is. What to do?

Getting unstuck

While every family has unique circumstances and needs, there are ways to get unstuck that can work, regardless of the particulars:

1. Before going too far, commit to exploring interests. Create a timetable for exploring issues fully, so participants understand that decisions needn't be made in one meeting. Design a series of meetings that allow people to explore assumptions, beliefs, aspirations and concerns. Think about who should be included, and where and when to have these conversations. (Location can make a real difference.)

2. Clarify your decision-making process: when, and how, an affirmative decision will be made about whether to continue philanthropic efforts together as a family. This will help keep your conversations on track.

3. Make good use of a trusted family member or outside adviser who is particularly skilled both interpersonally and in the ways of philanthropy. This person should serve as a connector rather than a divider. He or she can help keep you on track, ask questions, set norms and help say out loud what is too hard for others to say themselves. Often, a trusted adviser can also bring structure to the conversations—through a tool or method—to move the conversation from one that feels "hot" and personal to one that is both personal and solvable.

4. Bring to the surface underlying issues that are behind any given choice. Usually, family members' differing views on specific issues are worth unpacking. These can include program commitments, rules about the involvement of spouses, beliefs about whether and how the next generation can get involved, spend rates and more. Identify the issues fueling family members' beliefs and understand where each person stands on each of these issues, rather than just focusing on where everyone stands on the ultimate stay/split decision. This will clarify what needs to be addressed in any choice you make.

5. Explore alternative futures. Create narratives or scenarios (written from the future) that play out the multiple choices and feel "real" in that they illustrate a path to deal with the issues of concern. For example, create a detailed story about what the foundation will look like five years from now—working back to the present—if the board radically changes the giving strategy or changes the approach to family involvement on the board. What do you foresee as the turning points and trade-offs? Each scenario should offer a different view of the future, and should fill in the details of the choices involved in that narrative to give family members a concrete way to imagine alternatives. Be creative and think of many alternatives. There are many ways to split or to stay together. A foundation may stay together but dramatically increase the amount of funding that is "trustee directed" to allow for individual interests to be pursued under the same overarching umbrella. Or, the family may decide to create multiple legal entities but jointly fund a legacy program that embodies shared history and commitment at an agreed-upon level.

6. In all of this, explicitly set out to discover the basis for your connection as a family. How does philanthropy fit, and what other ways to foster connectedness might be added or used instead?

7. Make a decision. Holding your feet to the fire on making a final decision—no matter how difficult—is critical. While it can be tempting to leave such decisions in limbo indefinitely, this non-choice actually further erodes the things that are most critical to philanthropic families: impact, relationships and an ability to feel powerfully engaged.

Multiple steps are the key

This may feel like a lot of "process" for a family or board that is used to working fluidly, but multiple steps are key to making these kinds of discussions possible. And these discussions, in turn, are necessary for decision making in emotional circumstances. The result is worth the effort: a decision that is grounded in a fuller understanding of interests and ultimately owned fully by those it affects. And perhaps most important, making a decision that has been unmade for a long time can be freeing for the family and for the foundation.

The Jackson family's process led them to a decision to move from one to several foundations, each with a clear mission and supporting mechanisms for enacting that mission, with different family groupings taking the lead in each. The family also agreed to jointly fund a new initiative that honored their grandmother's legacy—something they discovered was important to them by working through the issues thoughtfully together.

Debbie Bing is a principal at CFAR, a management consulting firm specializing in strategy and organizational development (

Copyright 2014 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact






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March/April 2014 Openers

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the family owners of Raia Properties Corp.—headquartered in Ramsey, N.J., about a half-hour from Manhattan's Upper West Side—searched for a way to turn their emotions into actions. Samuel A. Raia, 39, a managing director of the firm, lost his friend and college roommate, Patrick Aranyos, who had been in the World Trade Center's South Tower.

"We both were affected quite a bit" by the 9/11 tragedy, says Samuel's cousin Lawrence C. Raia, also a managing director at the third-generation real estate investment management and development firm.

"Over the years, we've wanted to get involved and support our country's fight against terror," says Samuel.

Inspiration came in the form of the 2007 book Lone Survivor, the story of Marcus Luttrell, the only Navy SEAL to survive a 2005 surveillance mission in Afghanistan that turned into a deadly battle with the Taliban.

Upon his return to the States, Luttrell's Texas community built him a home. "That started getting me thinking about what we do on a day-to-day basis, which is provide apartments to people," Samuel Raia says.

The Raia family enterprise began in 1930, when Joseph Raia Sr. began hauling sand and gravel in a Model T Ford truck. His business grew into Raia Industries, a concrete-producing firm. The family later moved into commercial and industrial real estate in the 1970s and into self-storage facilities in the mid-1990s. In 2004, they divested some of their office and industrial properties, replacing them with residential real estate investments in the South and Southeast. Today Raia Properties has a portfolio of nearly 3,100 garden-style multi-family apartment communities.

Samuel and Lawrence began investigating the housing needs of returning wounded Special Operations warriors and their families. "We learned a little bit more about what the military was providing, which medically is really pretty terrific, but from a housing standpoint is not so great," says Lawrence.

Usually, when a Special Operations member is recovering stateside from severe injuries, the military puts the family up in a one-bedroom hotel room; the wounded warrior also moves there after discharge from the hospital. The family lives in the small hotel room while the military member undergoes rehabilitation, a process that might take a year and a half, Lawrence explains.

"What we're trying to do," Samuel explains, "is bring the family unit back together in an environment that supports the healing process and helps to create a sense of normalcy."


Birth of a foundation

Samuel came up with an idea, fully embraced by Lawrence: Raia Properties would provide free, fully furnished apartments to wounded Special Operations members (including SEALS, Green Berets, Rangers, Joint Special Operations Command, Night Stalkers and Delta Force) and their families. They approached the three second-generation principals of the family enterprise—Samuel's father, Samuel S. Raia (mayor of Saddle River, N.J.); Lawrence's father, Lawrence A. Raia; and their uncle Joseph S. Raia—to ask their opinion on their jointly developed plan to create a foundation, which they called Homes Fit for Heroes.

"From the start, they've been incredibly supportive," says Lawrence. "There was no hesitation."

Otis Baskin, a consultant with the Family Business Consulting Group, notes that the Raias are making a substantial contribution to help the service members. "Any inventory they take to use for wounded warriors is inventory that's not available [to generate revenue]," notes Baskin, who has worked with the Raia family since 2011. "So in many ways they are not only making a financial commitment, they're also agreeing that as owners of this property that maximizing its return is not their only value."

The Internal Revenue Service recognized Homes Fit for Heroes as a 501(c)(3) organization in December 2010. The five Raia family members are among its trustees, along with executives at other organizations that support the foundation.

"What we said was, 'We'll donate an apartment for you. It's fully furnished, it's free, but it's in a civilian community,' " Lawrence explains. "They're in very good school districts, so kids can go back to school, they make friends, and when they're not at the hospital they're not surrounded by the hospital. They're surrounded by life that's normal." By contrast, he notes, families of wounded service members who are recovering in accommodations provided by the military are constantly surrounded by reminders of trauma and injury. "Twenty-four/seven they are around ... very devastated families, and they're trying to get some semblance of normalcy," Lawrence says.

The program also provides housing for some military members receiving treatment that is not approved by military health insurance. In these cases, the military does not provide a housing allowance, so the wounded warrior must maintain his or her primary housing while also covering lodging expenses in the place where he or she receives treatment.


Joining forces

Homes Fit for Heroes' supporting organizations include Raia Properties' management company, Memphis-based Fogelman Management Group, as well as other real estate firms nationwide, so the foundation can meet the needs of service members recovering in areas where Raia doesn't own property.

To screen candidates for its housing services, Homes Fit for Heroes has formed a strategic relationship with U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition, which supports wounded, ill and injured Special Operations warriors and their families. There is no limit to the length of stay in the apartments.

Monetary donations from the organization's annual gala and online donations go toward renting units where none are available, welcome baskets, gift cards, and baskets and meals provided on Veterans' Day and Thanksgiving. "We are spending essentially everything that we raise during our annual fund-raiser, so to the extent that people are willing to make donations, just about 97 cents on the dollar goes directly to benefiting these service members," says Samuel. "And as of today we've housed over 100 service members and their families."

Homes Fit for Heroes recently expanded its reach to include the H.E.R.O. Program, recently launched by the Department of Homeland Security and Special Operations Command, which trains wounded service members to combat child pornography and child predators on the Internet. The program includes training followed by a nine-month unpaid internship at law enforcement agencies across the U.S., with the goal of employment at those agencies after the internship. Many service members have the skills to succeed in the program, but not the financial resources to pay their own housing expenses for such a long stretch.

The Raias "saw a need," consultant Baskin says. "They saw that they had an ability to meet that need. And they just started doing it. And I think that they would probably tell you it's grown in ways that were unexpected for them, but it's something they felt deeply committed to do."


A reunited family

Homes Fit for Heroes helped Sergeant First Class David Lau and his family by providing an apartment in San Antonio, Texas, while Lau recovered from severe trauma after a suicide bomber blast in Afghanistan in 2012.

To be by his side during the month he spent in the hospital, Lau's wife had left their young children with family friends back in their home state of Washington. The military's family housing had a long waiting list. Lau's wife, Hamide, needed to return to their children, but without her aid, he would have had to stay in the hospital. The family was able to reunite because of Homes Fit for Heroes.

Lau recalls the first time he and his wife saw their San Antonio home. "We go to this apartment and my wife starts crying," Lau says. "She just loses it. It's a beautiful apartment, it's in a good school district for the kids, and they already have it stocked. It's fully furnished. Lots of furniture. All we [have] to do is walk in the place. It has been one of the biggest blessings of my life."

In 2012, Lau, who was deployed with the Washington National Guard, was part of a Special Forces unit on a combat adviser mission in Afghanistan, embedded with an Afghan unit to mentor. On April 12, he was on a joint patrol gathering intelligence in the city of Meymana in northern Afghanistan.

It was market day in the city, and the streets were crowded. No one that day sensed the impending danger—not the Americans, not the Afghan forces and not the civilians who were out in numbers. "Everything went black and I woke up on my face, kind of across the street because the blast had thrown me quite some ways," says Lau, who was 37 at the time of the incident.

Lau was close enough to the bomber that all the air had been pushed out of his lungs, and he wasn't breathing. When he regained consciousness, he forced himself to inhale. "When I exhaled that first breath of air, it was a prayer, I said, 'Please, God, don't let me die,' " he says.

He was burned and his body was full of holes made by the ball bearings that had covered the suicide bomber's vest. His legs were mangled, his brachial and femoral arteries had been severed, and the meat had essentially been blasted off his hand, leaving it looking "like a Halloween prop," he says. Despite his profound injuries and blood loss, he was able to apply tourniquets to his legs and stabilize himself until help arrived. About a week later he found himself in a hospital bed in San Antonio. Somehow the surgeons were able to rebuild his legs and hand. A month later the hospital was ready to discharge him to help prevent risk of hospital-borne infections, but he needed round-the-clock care.

Lau says the last time he used a wheelchair was the day his children were able to join him and his wife in San Antonio. "They were coming in to the airport, and I was supposed to be in a wheelchair for a couple months after that, but I told my wife, 'I cannot let my kids see me in this wheelchair,' " Lau recalls. He fought through the pain, using a walker to meet his children at the airport. "I never sat back down in [the wheelchair] again because I knew how much it would affect them mentally to see their dad—to them I'm their superhero—for them to see me in a wheelchair. I didn't want what happened to me to affect them that much."

Without the apartment that Homes Fit for Heroes provided, "I wouldn't have had my kids there, and I would have sat in that wheelchair longer," Lau says. "I would have had no motivation, no reason, to get up out of that chair as fast as I did." Lau is being medically retired, and the family will return to their home state of Washington soon.

Another service member assisted by Homes Fit for Heroes, Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsberg, was honored by President Obama in the State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2014.


Philanthropy: A core value

Philanthropy is one of the core values listed on Raia Properties' website. "That family's been so gracious," Lau says of the Raias. "To me, it's so weird because all I want to do is express my thanks to them ... [but] they'll say, 'Don't thank us. We are trying to thank you for what you've done.' "

The wounded military members "have given so much, and given it without hesitation, and I think we're, we're honored to be a small part of repaying them," says Lawrence Raia.
"Our family has been extraordinarily supportive of these efforts," says Samuel Raia. "We've been really very fortunate in business and to have the success that we've had, and to be able to reach out to those that really put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis is more than we can ever hope for."

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.


Copyright 2014 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact





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