Former head of endowment fund keeps the giving spirit alive

Directors of philanthropic endowment funds rarely ride off into the sunset — they just keep helping to change the world.

Such was the case for Phyllis Cook, who retired after 25 years leading the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund in June 2008. She started her own business, PLC Philanthropic Services, just one month later.

“I wanted to continue helping individuals and groups achieve their philanthropic goals,” said Cook, an experienced philanthropy consultant. “The services that PLC Philanthropic Services offers are comprehensive, confidential and specific to the needs of each funder.”

Phyllis Cook

Cook specializes in identifying her clients’ needs, doing the necessary research on philanthropic options and matching a donor to a particular cause or worthwhile endeavor.

“We identify the most effective nonprofits already working in the donor’s field of interest,” she said. “I also do the research to make sure that the donors understand the risks” involved in giving.

“This includes due diligence on grants prior to and during funding, including budget tracking,” she added, “as well as the development of appropriate public relations for a funder’s activities.”

Cook, who was also active in philanthropy before her two-and-a-half-decade stint at JCEF, prefers to be a hands-on consultant.

“I couldn’t do PLC without all the experience I have,” she explained, noting that she is still on the boards of several philanthropic foundations. “The depth of my background is in Northern California, but I see myself as an honest broker. In general, I am working for a donor.”

She said one of her most satisfying accomplishments involved a Russian émigré couple that came to the United States with $300. They increased their wealth significantly in Silicon Valley, and wanted to share it in a meaningful way. So Cook helped them start a nonprofit foundation, a venture capital fund, that will provide seed money in the form of grants for early research on alternative energy in Israel.

“This couple saw how much money poured into Arab countries for alternative energy,” Cook said, “and wanted Israel to be part of the process. The Israeli government doesn’t have extra money to give for this type of thing.”

Cook said the couple’s foundation is now requesting grants for the first round of consideration, and they have an advisory committee composed of a few Nobel Prize winners.

“I was very inspired by the example of the Russian émigrés,” she said.

Cook draws on the inspiration she gets from donors, especially in these dark economic times.

“The main challenge for us is the economic environment in the world. It makes philanthropy harder,” she said. “People with money have less to give. And some of the people who were going to start donating are waiting. They’re delaying their philanthropy.”

PLC’s model can assist donors with their philanthropic goals, Cook said. “I listen to people and just have to help them make sure their money is well spent. What is also satisfying is how people ask for me to bring them ideas.”

With such extensive and diverse philanthropic experience, PLC is able to execute on behalf of individuals, families, foundations, and groups quickly and simply, Cook said. And it helps that Cook believes so strongly in her clients.

“We are now also working with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee,” said Cook of the international organization that provides rescue and relief to needy Jews in over 70 countries. “I believe so powerfully in what they do.”

The AJJDC is the type of donor that reflects PLC’s mission as well. Both are dedicated to solving the world’s problems and bringing immediate and long-term relief to people and communities in need, Cook said.

“PLC Philanthropic Services is all about repairing the world, which is a Jewish value,” Cook added. “It’s a pleasure for me to help.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.