For Richard Atlas, a family foundation was a no brainer. As a new partner at Goldman Sachs in the mid-1980s, he could use the firm’s resources to set one up. He did just that, relishing the idea of a more thoughtful approach to giving. And yet, Atlas and wife Lezlie continued to respond to requests rather than chart a course of their own.
Fast-forward a decade, when Atlas agreed to raise major gifts for his Harvard Business School reunion. He put in a call to classmate Bob Haas, then CEO of Levi Strauss, who agreed to a modest gift. When Atlas pushed him, Haas explained he funded community-based programs in San Francisco. Atlas’ interest was piqued—forever. “Just that brief conversation of about five minutes totally changed the direction of not only our giving, but my life,” he says.
For Haas had helped Atlas understand how he could reach the people around him most in need. Richard and Lezlie became more focused, centering their efforts around Lezlie’s expertise in early childhood development. Rather than just write checks, Atlas is now deeply involved in his Los Angeles community, visiting housing projects, engaging in public policy debates, forging vital connections between public and private funders, and more.
With Atlas ever pushing for specifics on what grantees most need and how he can better serve them, his earnest desire to do and give as much as he can is evident. “If there are significant opportunities…available today, why would you postpone investing out into the future?” he asks. Clearly, with Atlas, there is no holding back.
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