PHILANTHROPY FROM ALL SIDES OF THE COIN WITH TIM LAPPENPublished: 04-26-2018
Timothy Lappen is one of those rare professionals who has experienced philanthropy from all sides of the coin. As Founder and Chair of both The Family Group and The Luxury Home Group at the law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP, he works with family offices and high net worth families worldwide on all areas of their businesses and lives, including their philanthropic giving. Tim was recently named Best Lawyer’s 2018 “Lawyer of the Year”for the region for Closely-Held Companies and Family-Businesses Law. He is currently the president of The Center for Childhood, a nonprofit organization his mother started in 1985 and ran until 1996, when he took over her role. Further, he organizes a bi-monthly lunch at the LA Regional Food Bank, an organization for which he currently sits on the Emeritus Board. Tim also has worked with numerous other nonprofits in Los Angeles where he has garnered an understanding of and empathy towards the challenges and opportunities of the nonprofit sector that we are very grateful to have him share with us in this following interview.
AWM: Your practice focuses specifically on family-run businesses and supporting high net worth families with their legal needs. Has your experience with families impacted your philanthropic endeavors and passions?
TL: I think that the biggest single impact on me has been in the area of measurable results. For many years, philanthropic efforts (including mine) frequently involved a nonprofit asking for money and a donor agreeing (or not agreeing) to send it. The era of “checkbook philanthropy” has ended as
people now want to know exactly what the nonprofit will do with the money and then hear back on the results. And the results cannot just be how much was spent toward programs and how much was for overhead, for example. In today’s philanthropy, people (myself included) want to know what the actual
impact was – how many people learned a trade and got a job, how many people were able to find a permanent home, how many people who used to be unsure of their next meal now are “food-secure”. I think that these changes have been tremendously positive and, for me, far more rewarding, especially
compared to the old pie charts which simply showed where the money was spent.
AWM: We think that it is beautiful that you work with high net worth families in your professional life and that also the nonprofit that your mother founded and of which you are the President – The Center for Childhood – supports families that are in need and helps transform their family life. Could you share with us a story or insight you have had from working with these families in need that has showed you why we all should support families who are experiencing challenges?
TL: The Center (www.centerforchildhood.org) was founded by my mother in 1985 as “The Museum of Childhood” during a time when various children’s museums were being created. Her main objective was to counteract the over- scheduling of children’s days. She was concerned that academics were prioritized at the expense of play. The Center today mostly focuses our resources on parenting classes, such a classes for teen parents, parents who are in transitional housing and parents who – unfortunately – need to attend court-ordered parenting training in order to regain custody of their children.
In today’s environment, one of our most important programs is a joint effort (since 2014) between the Center and the Salvation Army in which we provide parenting programs for parents at the Westwood Transitional Village. Located on the grounds of the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration, about 150
individuals live there, with families of veterans comprising about forty percent of the population.
Mahatma Ghandi is quoted as saying that “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members” and that never was more true than when the measure is applied to helping children. Various people (including songwriters) are credited for the phrase “Children are our future” and that’s certainly something with which no one can argue. So whether the motivation is humanistic or pragmatic, helping young parents do a better job with their children can have a hugely positive ripple effect through our society, for now and in the coming decades.
AWM: You have been involved with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank continuously since 1988, as Board member, Board chairman, Advisory Board chairman and more. You have made a very specific choice to invite colleagues and other friends to the regular lunches which you host and where they experience the Food Bank’s work without a
specific ask of volunteering or donations – could you explain why you feel this is important?
TL: The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank is the main food bank for Los Angeles County. We help feed over 300,000 people a month, distributing well over 60 million pounds of food each year through 600 nonprofit agencies which are located in over 1,000 sites stretching from southern LA County to Lancaster and Palmdale – an incredible feat of logistical effort. And yet, despite over forty-three years of successful operation (with an amazingly low overhead of about three percent), many of our fellow citizens are unaware of the Food Bank and even are unaware that one of every seven of our neighbors is “food insecure” – they don’t always know where and when – or if – they will have their next meal.
The idea of the regular lunches cameto me as I kept hearing from people about how they didn’t know about the Food Bank or much about the need which the Food Bank serves. I like the idea of treating the Food Bank as an organization which people learn about first and then usually want to help — by donating time, money or otherwise. We all receive mail and email daily about causes which are important to the person sending the communication but if people come down to our main location (in the southeast part of Downtown Los Angeles, near Vernon), and see the racks piled high with food and experience the agencies coming down to pick up their allocations, both large and small, there’s something visceral that happens. Unlike an annual report which
explains how things work, these working lunches very powerfully illustrate the tremendous need and the terrific way in which the Food Bank meets that need. Instead of reading about the organization’s success, people see both the problem and the elegant and efficient solution.
AWM: The Center for Childhood prioritizes the value of play in its work. How have you been able to infuse play in your own life and maintain your own work/philanthropy/life balance?
TL: You would have to ask my family if I actually do infuse play in my own life! I take my role as my clients’ advisor very seriously and am acutely aware that I am in the service business (not the “service when I have time for it” business).
My wife and I together have five children and eleven grandchildren and all live within about twenty minutes of us so we’re extremely fortunate to be able to see them often. My mother, who is 98, lives on the Westside so I host frequent lunches for her and other family members. Also, I do have a not-so-secret passion for cars, which I have been able to make into a work/play activity by being the Fine Autos Editor for three magazines – Haute Living (lifestyle), Haute Time (high- end timepieces) and Haute Residence (luxury homes worldwide) – and that ticks quite a few boxes for me. I get exotic cars delivered to my home, I drive them for a week or so and then give them back. I then write an article, which will be published in one or more of the magazines. The joy of driving and the love of writing are the two main benefits that I receive from those events. Occasionally, the manufacturers will fly me somewhere fun to experience their machines. My favorite experience so far was spending five days in France with Bugatti, experiencing their $2+ million Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse on the roads of Provence and on the track of Circuit Paul Ricard. Most people would agree that, for a car lover, driving a 1,200 horsepower car at over 200 miles per hour really can’t be categorized as “work”!
You have had the opportunity to work with many families who have grown their wealth over generations, some who are more accustomed than others to sharing that wealth with those in need. What words of wisdom or insight would you share with families considering an increase in their philanthropic endeavors and looking for ways to have more impact with their wealth?
TL: Philanthropy is a deeply personal issue. Many people are most involved with nonprofits which are directly related to an issue which the donor personally experienced – a loved one had a certain disease, the donor once was chronically hungry, someone was homeless, a grantor had to leave school early for family reasons and didn’t finish his/her education. I suppose that there are people who just don’t think that it’s a personal obligation, or even a personal goal, to help others but I think that helping others is an innate desire in all of us. I certainly don’t think that the Center for Childhood or the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank are the only worthwhile organizations but if everyone were to do something to make the world a better place, it would become so. Some believe in the “think globally, act locally” mantra. Others term it as “charity begins at home”. Some people want to give money to help people of their own ethnicity, religion, national origin and, of course, that’s all fine.
When I speak at venues like the Milken Institute Global Conference or innumerable family office conferences, I often focus on philanthropy. Aside from the good feeling that virtually all of us experience when helping others, it also can be an excellent way for multi-generational families to involve the younger family members. For example, it’s not unusual to have a family foundation provide that family members under a certain age each can donate up to $X per year to a charity of their choice but they must a) research the organization; b) visit its location (if possible); c) make the case for the donation to the foundation’s board and d) report back in a year about what was done with the money and what impact was achieved. I think that such programs serve as living examples of a family’s mission statement and help inculcate in the younger generation a desire to be of service to others who are less fortunate than they are. It also helps the younger family members get a better sense of how fortunate they are to lead the lives they have and, ultimately, helps instill a feeling of gratitude for what they have. And, to me, being grateful is perhaps the single most-important determinant of someone’s happiness.
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