5 Questions with PND and David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

5 Questions with PND and David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

Philanthropy News Digest recently spoke with Egner about Ralph Wilson and his vision for the foundation and the two regions he loved and called home.

Philanthropy News Digest: Who was Ralph C. Wilson? And what was his connection to Buffalo and southeastern Michigan, the two regions on which the foundation focuses most of its giving?

David Egner: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was a tremendously successful businessman and the beloved founder and former owner of the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

The four life trustees he appointed to lead the foundation decided to focus its giving in the Detroit and Buffalo regions — southeastern Michigan and western New York — where Mr. Wilson spent most of his life and was the most emotionally invested. He had called metro Detroit home since he was two, and Buffalo became a second home after 1959 through his ownership of the Bills.

But above all, he's remembered for being a lover of people and of everyday difference makers. We want the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to be a testament to his spirit, and that ethos helps guide who we are, what we do, and how we help shape communities.

PND: Why did Mr. Wilson, who lived to be 95, decide to structure the foundation as a limited lifespan foundation?

DE: It was a very personal decision. First and foremost, it was born out of his desire to have an impact on everything he touched. Doing so ensures that the foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of the people who knew him best, our four life trustees, and that its impact will be immediate, substantial, and measurable.

PND: The foundation is in the process of ramping up its annual grantmaking to $100 million or more. What are some of the challenges you've faced in going from a modestly sized regional foundation to a pretty large foundation with a lot of money to grant out over a limited lifespan?

DE: A major challenge we face as an organization is determining where we fit in the philanthropic marketplace. Given our somewhat unique life cycle, we're focused on identifying how we can add value, fill gaps, and exit gracefully...

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