As wealth transfers, the rising generation of millennial leaders are disrupting the once ubiquitous conventional wisdom that generating competitive financial returns and achieving social impact are mutually exclusive.
Phillips Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Phillips and her husband, Phillips Management Group Managing Partner Kevin Phillips, are two such leaders who are showing the industry how the millennial perspective can unlock a wealth of high impact possibilities. Since assuming leadership of the family business and foundation in 2011, Elizabeth and Kevin have been at the forefront of philanthropic innovation, working with the local community to identify “game-changer, once-in-a-generation opportunities” for investment and activating the bulk of the Phillips Foundation’s assets for social impact. Their approach has been so revolutionary that it initially encountered some resistance, especially from their financial advisors. “We had to go a little rogue,” Elizabeth says.
The young couple had recently graduated from college, were newly married and expecting their first child when they received a call: Kevin’s grandfather, Kermit Phillips, had passed away, and the family needed them to return to Greensboro, North Carolina, to run the family real estate business and a newly endowed foundation. They hadn’t expected to be involved in the family enterprises so early in their careers, and Elizabeth, who was asked to run the Phillips Foundation, reflects, “We had no idea the scale or scope of what we’d stepped into … Looking back, it’s been just an amazing opportunity and journey.”
The Phillips’ youth and fresh perspective quickly proved to be an asset. Up to that point, the Phillips Foundation had operated fairly conventionally, with smaller grants scattered across the books. Elizabeth quickly realized that a more strategic approach, leveraging larger grants, would be required to maximize the impact of their investments in the community. Furthermore, rather than choosing to invest in the family’s thematic interests, the couple decided to honor Kermit’s legacy by orienting the grant-making process around the needs of Greensboro and Guilford County.
With an economic history rooted in textiles and tobacco, Greensboro offered significant opportunity for maximizing social impact investments. Kevin explains, “Many cities post-recession had to reinvent themselves, and Greensboro is not unique in that sense.”