Elise Westhoff Gives Welcome Address at Philanthropy Roundtable 2022 Annual Meeting

On Oct. 19, Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Elise Westhoff welcomed members of the Roundtable community to the organization’s Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida. In her welcome address, she highlighted some of the exceptional philanthropists within the community who are improving lives – and discussed the importance of advancing our shared values: liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility. She also discussed the Roundtable’s continued commitment to philanthropic freedom and philanthropic excellence, as well as its values-based giving and True Diversity initiatives.

Full remarks as prepared for delivery:

I want to tell you about a hero of mine. A man I deeply admire. He grew up in a tenement house during the Great Depression. Poor. The child of immigrants. He faced terrible antisemitism. He had every excuse not to succeed. And, by the time he was 48, he may have felt he hadn’t. He’d just been fired from his job. His marriage had failed. It was a dark time. And yet, in moments like this, we often find out who we truly are—what we’re capable of. You all know this person. In 1979 he founded a little business called The Home Depot. I’m talking about Bernie Marcus. He’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.   

Bernie didn’t grow up with much. But he worked hard and was able to bring his vision to life – he revolutionized an industry. And with his success came a great privilege. The opportunity to help others. To identify problems and actually do something about them.   

Take the time a woman came to his office in tears — sharing her son’s struggles with autism. At the time few people understood this disorder. And even fewer could treat it. Bernie didn’t just sit and listen. He spent the next two decades investing in research and treatment that transformed the lives of thousands of families. Or take the time Bernie read about a young service member who suffered from a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. His mother was desperate after the government-run VA system had failed him. So Bernie stepped in with a private solution that helped him walk again in just six weeks.  

That inspired him to expand his giving to help veterans around the country live the lives of dignity they deserve. Today, he is one of the most prolific supporters of veterans in this country. Bernie is an inspiration. I’m proud to say that so many of you, here today, inspire me as well. That’s because this community, in this room, is so unique and special.  

Over the last year, I’ve talked to many of you about what you care about and how you use your charitable dollars to strengthen communities, solve difficult societal challenges and provide pathways to opportunity. Earlier this year, I visited a member of our Roundtable family, Jeff Sandefer, to learn about the Acton Academy. Here’s a global network of K-12 schools that center on an innovative idea. That every student, no matter who they are, is a genius who deserves to find a calling that will change the world. Today, Acton’s schools help students succeed in more than two dozen countries. They’re able to do this because Jeff identified a challenge in his own backyard and decided to do something about it. Like Bernie, Jeff leaned into our values—liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility: the values we all share.  

And, on the topic of values, take our Roundtable friends Maureen and Kelly Hackett.  If there’s one thing that drives the Hackett family, it’s their Catholic faith. That’s the source of their deep compassion, generosity and commitment to helping others. And their giving is personal. A major priority for the Hackett Family Foundation is mental health. Maureen saw firsthand her father’s struggle with alcoholism and depression. And how that impacted her entire family. The foundation’s leading role on cancer research was inspired by her mother’s battle against breast and colon cancer.    

Like Bernie and Jeff, the Hacketts were able to identify serious problems and rise to the challenge. Their charitable efforts have helped so many others around the world. I had the privilege to sit down with each of them … and listen to these stories as part of the Roundtable’s “Doers to Donors” series, where we talk to entrepreneurs about how their experience in business has shaped their giving. Each episode highlights what makes our community so special and the importance of the work that all of you do every day … guided by our values, leading with compassion, fearlessly taking on tough challenges with courage. 

That’s Bernie, that’s Jeff, that’s the Hacketts, and that’s all of you.  

I spend a lot of time on the road talking about the Roundtable’s work. And as you might expect, I’m often asked, “What makes you different?  Why should I support you?” There are a lot of ways I could answer. But I usually just respond by talking about one thing: our community. And it makes sense, because the Roundtable community is the core of who we are. I know it’s why many of you came to us in the first place.  

And it’s what keeps you coming to our Annual Meeting every year: to gather with influential peers who share our worldview, to collaborate and strategize on common goals, to learn from each other and leading experts on the key issues, and maybe even find your personal board of directors.  

There’s nowhere else you’ll find all of these things in one place.  

It’s a singular opportunity that only the Roundtable can provide. We’re here to be your champion and your partner as we work together to build a vibrant philanthropic movement to strengthen our free society. And in the year ahead, know that we are also going to continue and improve upon the resources, services and advocacy you rely on.  

In particular, there are three ways the Roundtable can be your partner: First, there’s high-level strategic planning, or what we call philanthropic excellence. We help our donors determine what they want to accomplish with their philanthropy. And we help them to get there. We support our donors in all aspects of their giving: from governance and staffing to internal operations and crafting a mission. It takes a lot of care and intentional planning. But we can walk alongside you as a partner to ensure your giving advances your values for years to come.   

Next: We connect you with high-impact organizations … through our values-based giving program. No matter what you want to achieve—whether it’s investing in education, fighting poverty or supporting better public policy—we help you identify effective investment opportunities. We provide research and tailored guidance on best-in-class organizations to support, based on your values and goals. We are your go-to resource. In fact, we’ve strengthened our capability over the last year by adding significant grantmaking expertise to our staff. I know some of you just met them in our session on values-based giving this morning. You may have also heard about our new campaign to shine a spotlight on philanthropic initiatives that are improving lives by putting our values into action. And we’ll be talking a lot more about values-based giving this week.   

Finally, there’s our ongoing advocacy, or philanthropic freedom. As many of you know, protecting donors’ rights and freedom to give how, when and where they choose is a core part of the Roundtable’s work. We firmly believe the key to success for America’s longstanding philanthropic tradition is its voluntary nature.  

We advocate at all levels of government to protect donor freedom. That means:   

  • We fight legislative efforts to restrict or coerce giving.  
  • We oppose unnecessary regulations on flexible giving vehicles that allow us to respond quickly in times of crisis. 
  • And we defend Americans’ rights to give anonymously if they so choose.  

We’re proud of our 30 legislative victories secured around the country since 2020. But there are serious ongoing threats coming from both the Left and the Right. And we will continue our principled defense of your freedom. Ultimately, this is about more than just politics—there are broader cultural issues at play. And we’ve seen those cultural issues in other aspects of our work.   

Some of you have just come from a workshop on True Diversity. This initiative offers a positive vision for diversity—one that challenges people to look beyond the surface. Rather than reducing people to the color of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation, True Diversity values each individual for who they are.  It celebrates what makes each of us unique and special—our diverse backgrounds, personal experiences, skills and talents that we each bring to the table. Through this holistic approach, True Diversity puts the focus back on equality and pursuing the most effective ways to help those in need. And it provides charitable organizations the freedom and flexibility to advance their missions. We’re building a coalition, the tools and the resources to help charitable organizations make True Diversity a best practice in the sector. 

True Diversity. Philanthropic freedom. Values-based giving. And philanthropic excellence.  

All of this underlines a key point. There’s a qualitative difference between the work that you do and the work that others do in the philanthropic sector. And that difference is rooted in our values: liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility.  

A belief in the enduring promise of an exceptional nation.  An understanding that effective philanthropy is far better than government at solving complex social challenges. These are the beliefs that guide you—and that guide us. Because they empower individuals to reach their full potential. Because they uplift entire communities. Because they improve lives … and they work.  

We live in challenging times. But it’s moments like this where our community shines brightest. That why it is such a privilege to be here with each of you now. When I look around the room today, I realize just how many incredible individuals are here with us.  People who are finding new ways to invest in individuals and uplift communities. People who care.   

Let’s Keep in Touch

Our Values-Based Giving Newsletter helps philanthropists and charitable organizations apply their values to their giving and follow the best practices for success.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.