Philanthropy from the heart
What makes a philanthropist?
It seems like an easy question to answer, and a typical definition might describe someone who donates their time, money or influence to an organization or group of people. But is there a distinction between a "professional" philanthropist and, say, a benefactor, contributor or donor?
The Association of Fundraising Professionals would say there is.
The distinction is found, the AFP says, in whether or not someone makes contributions not because it's buys them more influence or power, but because it warms their heart and stirs their soul.
With that in mind, the organization's Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter will honor two Lake Oswego families at a gathering in Portland next week — Jim and Cathy Rudd, and Rick and Erika Miller — who go above and beyond to inspire change, promote philanthropy and improve the world around them.
By helping to raise money for causes and institutions that are dear to them, the AFP saus, the Rudds and Millers have woven themselves deeply into the fabric of life in the Pacific Northwest.
Jim and Cathy Rudd
Jim and Cathy Rudd never made a single, specific decision to become philanthropists, but over the years they have committed a portion of their personal and professional lives to helping others. The Rudds will be honored at the AFP's annual luncheon on Nov. 13 with the Vollum Award for lifetime philanthropic achievement.
For Jim, a childhood in which United Good Neighbors (now United Way) played a huge part in his life led him to have a deep passion for giving back, not only to the institutions and organizations that helped his family as a child, but also to many others that enhance life for people on a large scale.
"I grew up remembering a point in time in our life when (my family) needed help, so I just want to be there for other people," says Jim, the CEO and chairman of Ferugson-Wellman Capital Management. "I've always enjoyed making a positive difference in other people's lives, because there are people who made a big difference in my life."
The Rudds are involved with many different organizations across the state of Oregon, including Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, United Way of Columbia-Willamette and the Portland Japanese Garden, among others.
The couple has two categories in which they are vehemently passionate about creating change: higher education and health care.
Jim co-chaired OSU's most recent fundraising campaign to raise $1 billion dollars to create an endowment, fund capital construction, provide student scholarships and much more. It was the second-largest public fundraising campaign in the state's history.
He sits on the campaign steering committee for OHSU and on the Knight Cancer Council for the school's Knight Cancer Institute. He also chairs the school's "Oregon Opportunity Campaign" to retain local talent and bring world-class researchers to Oregon.
While OSU and it's mission are near and dear to the Rudds — Cathy is an alumna, while Jim served as an assistant athletic director in the late 70s and early 80s — OHSU's combination of higher education and health care makes the time and effort put into bolstering that school's financial and academic prowess even sweeter.
"It's really important to me that everyone gets the best health care they can get, particularly women and children," says Cathy, a native Oregonian and former IBM employee. "I'm part of a team with some friends of mine, and we raise money to go toward a grant at OHSU for women's health research. A lot of these doctors and professors who come to us can't get funding any other way, so these funds help get their foot in the door so they can go on to apply for some of the larger grant vehicles in the country."
For the past two years, Cathy has served as president of the Portland Japanese Gardens, a place that holds a special place her in heart for not only its magnificent beauty, but also the sense of calmness and spiritual healing it can provide to its visitors. She's been working with the garden off and on for about 12 years, and recently decided to take on a larger role to help with a recent expansion.
The Portland Japanese Garden sees more than 350,000 visitors each year, and its reputation for excellence is known worldwide.
"People say the Japanese Garden is very healing. It has this holistic quality," Cathy says. "As you walk up the path, your blood pressure goes down, your heart slows, you become one with nature. It's a peaceful experience."
The Rudds would like everyone to know that giving back doesn't have to mean a financial contribution. To be philanthropic, one doesn't need thousands of dollars or influence, they say; all you need is to give your time and energy to a cause that you deem worthy and that is near to your heart.
"I was told a long time ago, and I believe this is true, that money is very important, and you and I can work harder, smarter and longer, but no one has more time. It's finite," Jim says. "To give an organization the gift of time, that's an incredible gift. The gift of time is as important as money."
Rick and Erika Miller
Rick and Erika Miller believe that philanthropy is not just an obligation to leave the world better than they found it. Rather, it's their life's work, which has been mandated by a higher power.
"I feel personally that it's something God calls us to do, and it's an important example to our children," Erika says.
The Millers are involved with a long list of institutions and causes, including REACH Community Development, Make a Wish Foundation, the Portland Rescue Mission, Portland State University, the University of Oregon, Lions for Life, the Lake Oswego School District, the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, Portland Community Church and the Portland Art Museum.
For their efforts, AFP will honor them with the award for Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year. The award pays tribute to an exceptional individual or couple who generously provide a lead gift or substantially assist a nonprofit organization.
That description is fitting, considering the couple's $8 million gift in 2013 to the Portland State School of Business Administration, which now bears the name of Rick's grandfather, Karl W. Miller.
"I saw it as the perfect opportunity to give back to an institution that made a huge impact in my life while also honoring one of the best men I've ever known, my grandfather," Rick says. "I think we all have an obligation to leave the world a better place than we found it. We all have different gifts with which to do that. We've been fairly luckily with our businesses and have the financial means to give to organizations that are making an impact in the lives of others."
Rick, who received his MBA from Portland State in 1991, is the founder and chairman of the health care company Avamere Group and a co-founder of Rogue Venture Partners, a private equity firm that focuses on Oregon-based entrepreneurs. He is a member of the Oregon Investment Council, an officer or board member for several companies and organizations and even serves as an elder at his church.
Erika, a former banker, sits on the board of Oregon's chapter of the Make A Wish Foundation and volunteers with REACH Community Development. Both organizations are particularly special to her, she says, because of their work in the local community to enhance the lives of children and families who are facing dire situations.
"Make A Wish is very near and dear to my heart, as well as REACH," Erika says. "I was involved with (REACH) while I was in banking, and I believe what they do for the community with low income housing is unprecedented in our country."
Another key aspect of the Millers' philanthropy is that they consider themselves to be "relationship investors," which means that when someone with passion and drive comes to them with a plan of action to make change or improve something, they almost can't say no.
Recently, for example, local businesswoman Lisa Shaw-Ryan asked for their help in raising funds to improve technology at Lake Oswego Junior High .
"She came to us with so much passion that we didn't even need to hear her full pitch, we just said yes," Erika says, and the Millers agreed to donate $100,000.
"Really, she wasn't asking for enough, so we decided to give more than she asked for, and she found incredible ways put it to good use to continue improving the plan and supporting the academic mission of our schools," Rick adds.
The Millers say they're excited to continue helping organizations and individuals with big ideas wherever they can, and say they are determined to engrain that sense of moral obligation to help others in their children. Their blended family includes children between the ages of 8 and 28, who they hope will one day serve on the board of a new foundation they plan to create so they can continue giving back long after they've gone.
"Our children will be trustees for this family foundation to hopefully learn about philanthropy by watching what we do, becoming more involved and making decisions about who we give money to, why and how much," Rick says.