Collaboration, Relationships Drive KC Philanthropy
Kent Sunderland, serving as honorary chairman, opened the session with a quick look at how the Sunderland Foundation had quickly become one of the biggest foundations and funders in the Kansas City region, tipping his hat to the work of his brother, Charlie, and the other family members on the foundation board. In his role as president of that organization, he has had occasion to encounter many executives of regional non-profits.
“A lot of people in this room come and call on me,” he noted. “We still are focused on the kind of things we like to do and as we move forward, that’s going to continue to be our focus.” The main thing that may change, he said, has to do with scale for a foundation that has gone from less than $100 million in assets a few years ago to roughly $1.5 billion today. Much of its activity, he said, “has to do with the relationship we have with the organizations, what their mission is. We feel that they’re deserving.”
In explaining the mission of the family foundation and the way it goes about identifying and underwriting various causes, Kent Sunderland said that it’s not always good news for those who come looking for assistance.
But the focus on education, human services, health care and arts and cul-ture are the foundations of its giving, which often takes place in support of new construction and rehabilitation of facilities. Ash Grove, after all, was a key company in the construction sector.
With that, moderator Jack Cashill asked those around the table to address what they saw as opportunities or challenges unique to their diverse organizations.
Jill Gaikowski, founder of diaper bank HappyBottoms, said from the perspective of a young organization that finding the correct path forward would be key. “How do we continue to evolve to make sure that we are meeting the challenges in the community, or the needs that change in the community?” she said.
For Mary Anne Metheny of Hope House, which provides emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence and has benefitted in the past from Sunderland Foundation donations, relationships are both opportunity and challenge. “People are changing, they change their jobs and move to new places. It’s always an opportunity to meet new people and then build relationships to continue the work that way.”
One of her key volunteers, dentist Dan Ryder, pointed out how relationships had brought him to the shelter to treat residents. Without those connections in the Kansas City medical community, he might not have found that new calling post-retirement.
Growth, at Rebecca Welsh’s Halo Foundation, is the challenge. More precisely, managing it. Slightly more than a decade old, it already serves roughly 700 children a year at its Learning Center in the West Bottoms, it operates a home for teens and young mothers in Jefferson City, and it is looking to build in both locations. “We are getting ready to launch a capital campaign,” she said, which will be one challenge, but a bigger one for her is “the alarming numbers of homeless kids in Kansas City that has just skyrocketed in the last three years,” a result, in part, of drug abuse and the exploding opioid crisis.
At After the Harvest, the challenge presents itself every day for Lisa Ousley: Get the food out of the field or orchard, and into distribution at food banks. “We get fresh produce to feed people and we work with Harvesters, our largest produce partner,” she said. Still young as an organization, it must manage crushing demand by acquiring the resources to transport large volumes of food recovered from farms and orchards after the primary harvest has taken place.
The organization, she says, is really about health care. “Health begins with good food,” she declared. “You can’t have a healthy diet unless you have a lot of fresh, nourishing food” and the opportunities are vast, given that some estimates suggest more than half the food grown in this nation never reaches a consumer.
KVC Health Systems, said Michelle Lawrence, has been blessed by an affiliation with the Sunderland Foundation since its inception in 1970. Addressing gaps in services, especially with expansion into other states, and adding new facilities in Wichita are of primary concern at the moment.
The challenge at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, perhaps the world’s premier institute for study of and promotion of entrepreneurship and policy, is also an opportunity—especially for the Kansas City business community. Representing the foundation, Gloria Jackson-Leathers described the impact that the $2 billion in assets has on this region, particularly with its support of the Kansas City STEM Alliance. “We want to make sure that Kansas City has a strong, very robust nonprofit sector because that’s our vehicle for funding,” she said.
Meara Welch Browne is not a foundation, noted principal Julie Welch, but the accounting firm works with donors to manage planned giving programs that will fund many philanthropic causes. “It’s surprising how many people leave a lot of money to charities, as opposed to family processes,” she said. Welch also pointed out that despite fears that philanthropic giving would decline after last year’s federal income-tax reforms, she wasn’t seeing significant signs of that. In fact, she believes the primary motivation for people to give remains what it was a year ago: a desire to make a difference.
As superintendent at University Academy, Tony Kline was amid familiar faces at the table, partners who help the urban academy fulfill its mission to prepare students for graduation and college. “What I’ve noticed in the last 20 years of my career is that donors have become a lot smarter and a lot more systematic, and are really looking for scale—and they’re not wrong to do that,” he said.
The challenges for the Saint Luke’s Foundation, said Brian Moore, have roots both external and internal. The latter stems from expansion of the hospital into a health system with 10 hospitals. The external? “Many people are frustrated by the increasingly complex health-care delivery system,” he said. Much of the fund-raising effort is with grateful patients towards very specific causes, he said: “They had an encounter with a physician who saved their mother’s life or their father’s life or their child’s life. And so we find a lot of our largest gifts come in those cases.”
One bit of brilliant sunshine came from Mark Henke, representing Peter and Veronica Mallouk of wealth-management firm Creative Planning. Given the firm’s clientele of 20,000 families (many of them high net worth) in all 50 states, he was uniquely positioned to bring some good news.
“I went to a meeting last night and just looking around the room, there were about 40 people; I was pretty sure there was somewhere between $50 million to $100 million represented in the room—the Millionaires Next Door,” he said. “And so I would say if you’re running a non-profit, don’t worry, there’s plenty of money out there. But we need to figure out a better way to engage people.”
One way to do that, he said, is by remembering that many donors are giving from cash that accounts for a fraction of their net worth, perhaps 8 percent on average. “We need to remember to ask for the 92 percent, as well,” he said.
That was welcome guidance for Joanna Sebelien of Harvesters-The Community Food Network, the region’s largest and best-known food bank. It stocks more than 600 pantries, kitchens and shelters, serving 26 counties. “One of our biggest challenges,” she said, “in terms of educating about hunger and healthy eating is that hunger is everywhere. It is increasing faster in the rural and suburban communities. We have to educate people that it is not just an urban issue. The other one is the intersection of hunger and health.”
Jack Cashill interjected with an observation that, counter intuitively, many of the malnourished in America are obese. “Obesity becomes an important issue,” Sebelien acknowledged, “because when you look at most of the chronic diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular, obesity is a factor. All of these kinds of things are related to food and diet nutrition.”
Feeding the mind and soul, rather than the body, are culturally focused organizations like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Hathaway Maranda, the vice president for development there, said one challenge lies with repeat volume—“trying to get visitors to come more often and track their experience at the museum,” she said. But organizations that take such efforts too far, and become too intrusive, can turn people off.
Operation Breakthrough’s Roxane Johnson, which has served urban youth for more than 45 years, has the challenge of meeting the needs of 700 children divided nearly equally between Early Head Start and Head Start programs. One effort to meet that challenge is through collaboration with the Kansas City school district. After just three months, she said, “already we’re seeing a difference in the school district test scores.”
Kent Sunderland offered a personal note of praise for Operation Breakthrough, as his own daughters had cut their teeth on philanthropy by volunteering there.
The Truman Medical Centers Charitable Foundation’s Kirk Isenhour pointed out the natural link between the urban hospital’s mission and Operation Breakthrough. “A lot of those kids started their lives at Truman Medical Center—we are the safety net hospital for Kansas City.” More than 120,000 people receive their care through the hospitals each year, but only one in four has any kind of insurance coverage, a similar block has no insurance at all, and the rest are generally covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Result? “We are expected to be at close to $150 million in uncompensated care this year,” he said, which would be a record.
Coming at philanthropy from a different angle, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue can support various causes with donations, but it also has some-
thing tangible to serve up. “We have a given mission at Jack Stack, and it’s to feed and care for the least fortunate in our community,” said CEO and owner Case Dorman. “We try to do that while we try to support a lot of the organizations at this table—you know, we just are passionate about our city. We love being able to represent our city and because we’ve been so blessed by what we’ve received from our city.”
What’s changing at Jack Stack is the next generation of family leadership, with Dorman’s two sons purposefully exploring innovative ways to recover unused food at area restaurants and get it onto the plates of the disadvantaged. “Not just our restaurant, but every restaurant throughout our city,” he said. “They’re really passionate about finding ways to leverage that and really do a better job.”
That was welcome news to Dennis Chapman of City Union Mission, who has seen both the good and not-so-good in such efforts. “We used to have 210 dozen doughnuts every Tuesday delivered to us from Krispy Kreme. And guess what? We’d take them,” he said. But it was nothing for one particular patron to eat two dozen of them—literally, too much of a good thing. “Because they don’t know how to discipline themselves and when to stop,” Chapman said, “we had to call Krispy Kreme and say ‘Thanks, but no, thanks.’”
Through his work at the Salvation Army, Maj. Michael Thomas said the adult rehabilitation center was grappling with cases of alcohol and drug addiction. A particular challenge is getting patients through the full clean-sing regimen so they can return to useful pursuits. If they can make it past that mark, Thomas said, they can recover, get into job training, then find both work and housing.”
Janice Benjamin addressed the two decades of growth that brought the University of Kansas Hospital back from the financial precipice in 1998, and made it the most comprehensive health system operating in the state today as a public health authority. Its mission will expand significantly with the addition of the new Cambridge North Tower—completion of which will be funded by the $66 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation.
The hospital’s initial focus, she said, was not on how it would make ends meet financially, but on quality patient outcomes and hiring the right people to provide competent, compassionate care. With those two pillars in place, the system returned to financial stability.
It’s a long way from her start there as development director, when, she said, “I had the pleasure of starting the fund raising program—when I came there was no fund raising. … It’s taken 18 years to really grow, and is still growing.”
Jack Cashill gave the discussion a more introspective turn by asking: Who is giving? Who is providing the philanthropic capital to help these organizations succeed? He cited the work of Arthur Brooks, author of “Who Really Cares?” which exploded some myths about where charitable dollars originate—in fact, more giving comes from people of faith, from entrepreneurs, from those in families.
At KU Health System, at least 85 percent of gifts come from individuals who are grateful patients, and in health care, that really is what the focus needs to be on, said Janice Benjamin. “People experience a journey and many of these people have gone through a very serious illness, whether it’s cancer, heart disease or transplant, and many of them want to pay it forward.”
Brian Moore cited the classic case of the late Richard Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, whose own cancer diagnosis touched off a philanthropic effort that would last the rest of his days, particularly with cancer-fighting organizations. “Henry (his brother) had the same experience but through Marion,” his wife, Moore said, which is why the Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute exists today at Saint Luke’s.
Kent Sunderland drew the same personal connection with his brother’s cancer in recent years, and Charlie’s long service on the KU Health board, which precipitated the large donation this year. “It was the opportunity to touch other people’s lives the way ours have been touched by his care there,” Sunderland said.
Not all health systems ar created equal, though, which is why Kirk Isenhour sees Truman Med Centers as the caveat to the KU Health successes with patients. “One of our most significant gifts was a patient who left us their home, and the home was valued at $17,000,” he said. “That’s a big difference for us. However, we are benefited by tremendous supporters in the community.”
Gratitude from relatives of people served by Harvesters is also a donor driver, said Joanna Sebelien. But there’s a special appeal about feeding others, especially children, that touches the hearts of donors. “It’s those kinds of things; people understand the difficulty that other people might have to go through when they haven’t. They can give back.”
But there’s more to the giving when children are concerned said Roxane Johnson: “Children live in families and families have issues, and this may sound kind of blasé, but when you’re helping children and their families, you are helping the future. Not only are you feeling good about what you’re doing at the moment, but you feel good that you’re making an impact that will have a lasting effect.”
A secondary benefit, said Julie Welch, is the long-term influence that giving has on those children. They will grow, and they will remember what was once given to them. More over, those children brought into that giving culture as volunteers will retain those experiences into adulthood, she said. “Jill and I have children at the same elementary school and they go on to do things and they get into it,” she said. “They want to do more, they want to be more, so it’s training them.”
Case in point, Joanna Sebelien said, was the seven-year-old boy who showed up unannounced in the Harvester’s lobby, with a donation in hand to present. “I treated him just like we treat any other donor,” she said.
Touching on that individual-giving stripe, Kent Sunderland observed that the combined value of volunteer hours at non-profit organizations nationwide might well exceed the value of cash donations. “You can’t put a dollar value on the time of the volunteers that are doing it,” he said. “I think that just says a lot about our society and our desire to get back.”
Engaging entire families, said Lisa Ousley, is another way to spread the word on how individuals can make a difference. “That’s something that we’re able to do by taking people out into an apple orchards, then delivering that to agencies, but teaching children when they’re young how important it is to care for others and also teaching them where their food comes from and how good it tastes.”
A concern for Tony Kline is that a majority of those who have donated to University Academy over its first decade are getting older as a group. “It’s a big percentage coming from people over a certain age,” he said, and there’s not a strong indication that younger donors will step in to fill that void. In addition, he said, “it’s usually the matriarch of the family actually making the decision. And when it was coming to men, the pitch was missing the target.”
Major Michael Thomas of the Sal-vation Army was encouraged by donor patterns that increasingly are including more young adults. “We’re seeing a lot more young people who are giving back, which I think is positive,” he said, and their penchant for giving doesn’t stop with dollars. “They’re giving time, and eventually, I believe that they will become donors as well.”
Case Dorman addressed a component that is fundamental to giving in a largely Judeo-Christian culture: Faith. “There’s a growing wave of Christian business owners and leaders who are really trying to step back into living their faith at work, creating this generosity through their businesses as well,” he said.
A decade ago, he joined a Christian CEO group, one of just eight members at the time. “I think there are 60 members today,” he said, “so there’s a wave of this coming back into play where business owners and leaders are saying, ‘hey my faith is not just a Sunday faith, but I want to live this out through the week every day.’”
That’s why he chafes at stereotypical references to CEOs as being part of a greedy class. That cohort, Dorman said, is among the most philanthropic groups in this region.
Wrapping up, Kent Sunderland thanked those at the table, calling such meetings essential for maintaining collaborations and relationships that promote effective giving, and effective non-profits.
“It is another thing that Kansas City does well when you look around these tables to see the organizations that are helping each other. There’s cross-giving there and some collaboration as funders,” he said. “We like to see as many organizations collaborating with each other as they can.”
The assembly came to an end with a great deal of enthusiasm and collegiality.