Following a national search to replace the retiring Mark Pritchett, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation Board of Directors selected Phillip Lanham as president and CEO of the 27-year-old philanthropic organization.
Lanham’s first day on the job was June 1, joining Gulf Coast after serving as chief philanthropy officer of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. There, he successfully led the philanthropic partnerships team in providing strategic guidance for relationships with donors, nonprofits, businesses and private foundations.
Spending his entire career serving the philanthropic and nonprofit communities, he is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy and a member of the 21/64 Network, a nonprofit specializing in understanding and engaging the next generation within family philanthropy.
Lanham was no stranger to the area, having vacationed here frequently. On his second day on the job, he spoke with the Observer about why he accepted the new role and how he plans to further elevate the foundation’s role in the community.
Why were you interested in serving the GCCF and this community?
The opportunity presented itself at a perfect time in my career. I was looking to level up to be a CEO of a community foundation, which I had fallen in love with the model of a community foundation because of all the potential that it can create inside of a community in partnership with nonprofits and donors.
How did you know this was the right place for you?
Meeting the members of the search committee, members of the leadership team and key leaders in the community, it became very obvious to me that this is a special place because of the people. The climate doesn't hurt; it was the people, the culture of philanthropy that is in this region and the people I met during the process that just made it so special. And any time there was a hurdle put in front of me or my family during this process, the universe took that hurdle away. There was a solution within 48 hours, helping us make the decision that was right for everybody.
What were some of those hurdles?
We have a junior in high school and he wanted to graduate from the high school where he spent his entire upbringing, and we did not want to disrupt that. My wife, Tami, and our younger son are staying Cincinnati until he goes off to college, so that will be a new element in my personal life and to navigate to the next year. The hurdles were all personal.
Professionally, it was a no-brainer, knowing the type of culture, that the organization is aligned with my personal values and the type of growth mindset that the Gulf Coast Community Foundation has; it's aligned with how I want to lead an organization. And again, the culture of philanthropy in this community was really appealing to me.
Another hurdle, and this is where there's a higher power, is that my wife is an entrepreneur and has opened a second (child care) location recently, and so she was struggling with how that might be managed. Then someone who worked for her for over a decade had left town almost five years ago, and within 48 hours of us seriously considering this decision, that person reached out to my wife to say she was moving back to Cincinnati. That's one of the big hurdles we had was my wife's business, making sure she had the right team in place.
What is it about community foundations and philanthropy that appeals to you as a career?
Community foundations are a unique entity in the nonprofit world. We work with donors and their philanthropic issues and efforts that they care about and help them make the greatest impact in the community. At the same time, we have the endowment created either through donors or other entities. Gulf Coast was initially founded by the hospital sale in Venice, so that was the seed funding for it. Donors make grants out of their individual funds that they have established inside the foundation and things they care about, and then the foundation also supports key initiatives in the community. Gulf Coast is very much focused on affordable housing, the environment and mental health.
In what directions do you want to lead the foundation?
The area I'm passionate about as affordable housing. In my prior role, I was instrumental in creating an affordable housing impact investment pool. Impact investing is a tool that community foundations can use to leverage their full endowment, not just what is spun off every year, to create meaningful change and in partnership with donors and other key funders, the community impact investing program can really leverage resources to create more affordable housing units for those who need it the most.
Affordable housing seems to have many definitions. How do you define it?
Some people call it workforce housing, because affordable housing depends on one's income. Someone who's a multimillionaire, they live in a $10 million piece of property because it's affordable to them. Workforce housing is very specific on who you're seeking to help. Typically, it's 80% of area median income or below.
What do you see as the needs here that may benefit from your experience and were you like to place resources?
During the recruiting process, an area that really stood out to me, that was not known to me, was water quality, and particularly red tide over the last several years and how could the region and the state come together to understand the root cause, and then mitigate that to avoid future red tide.
Are you talking about funding research?
More than just funding, community foundations are also very astute at convening, bringing parties together who otherwise may not naturally come together. That’s the power of a community foundation. It’s that partnership as a convener that really moves the needle around the community issues by bringing all parties to the table.
What is your assessment of the foundation as you step into the leading role?
The organization that I have the privilege to lead has a great legacy along with the team that has been developed here under Mark's leadership and the board's leadership. The support of the board was a big part of what drew me here, not just as a collective, but individually. I'm inheriting an incredible organization. That’s a big burden on my shoulders to live up to the legacy of this foundation and to continue to grow its impact. I'm looking forward to working with the board and the team and looking at how we might level up everything we've been doing for the last 27 years.