Known for largesse in giving, Grands will now receive

It’s not every day that Nancy and Stephen Grand, one of the Bay Area’s philanthropic power couples, agree to be honored publicly by their friends in the Jewish community.

Normally, it’s never.

Preferring to stay out of the spotlight, the Grands finally said yes to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s invitation to honor them at the upcoming Day of Philanthropy.

What did it take to convince the two? “Serious arm-twisting,” says Stephen Grand with a laugh.

Set to take place Thursday, Oct. 30 at the Hotel Nikko in S.F., the Day of Philanthropy brings together donors, community leaders and professionals for a series of seminars, speeches and roundtable discussions on the subject of charitable giving. The featured keynote speaker will be former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

In addition to being honored, the Grands will sit for an afternoon Q&A, moderated by federation board member Jim Koshland, during which they will discuss their philosophy of giving.

It should prove fascinating, in part because of the sheer largesse of the Grands’ generosity.

Ranked 31 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2014 Top 50 givers in America, the Grands donated $67 million to charitable organizations last year alone. Many of their philanthropic dollars go to Jewish causes and many to medical research.

Most notably last year, $50 million went to Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science to launch the National Center for Personalized Medicine. That gift benefits science, human health and the Jewish state all at once.

With the decoding of the human genome as its starting point, personalized medicine fights human disease based on an individual’s precise genetics.

“Medical science is on the threshold of major breakthroughs,” says Stephen Grand, 70. “ Our recently developed ability to read the human genome and identify errors in its composition will enable us to understand diseases and how to fix them. At this point, all it takes are brilliant scientists, infrastructure and financial backing.”

The Weizmann Institute leadership understood that launching the center would generate a strong ripple effect throughout Israel and the scientific world.

Nancy and Stephen Grand

“It was important to [the Grands] that this would involve all institutions of higher learning, hospitals and scientists across Israel,” says Marshall Levin, executive vice president and CEO of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute. “It was a question of leveraged impact, where they knew this would benefit all of Israel, as well as the world, now and over the coming decades.”

Locally, the Grands support Family House, an S.F.-based organization that helps the families of children battling life-threatening illnesses by providing free lodging during their child’s treatment at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Groundbreaking took place last month on the Nancy and Stephen Grand Family House at Mission Bay, for which the Grands gave the lead gift. The new facility, scheduled for a January 2016 opening, will have 80 rooms to house up to 250 people.

From the outset, the Grands impressed Family House CEO Alexandra Morgan.

“It’s clear they use their gifts to make a deep impact,” Morgan says. “They don’t just give to something because it sounds nice. They did a lot of research and found out a lot about us.”

For the Grands, these sorts of investments are personal. Around nine years ago, Stephen Grand battled multiple myeloma, a form of cancer, and beat it. During his treatment he spent time at UCSF hospital.

“When I would walk the halls at night, [Nancy and I] would see families sleeping on the floor, in the family lounge, sleeping overnight,” he told J. last year. “It was because they had no place to stay. I know having cancer was a frightening thing for me — but can you imagine [what it’s like for] 5-year-olds or 7-year-olds? It’s scary.”

In addition to helping Family House, the Grands funded a new effort at UCSF to help discover treatments for multiple myeloma. As a result, 40 or so scientists and postdocs along with nearby biotech companies are engaged in intensive research to defeat the disease. To date, two very promising drugs are in early trials.

The Grands also are dedicated to Jewish community needs here and in Israel. They gave sizable grants to the American Technion Society, which supports the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. They helped create its Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute, and the Grand Technion Energy Program, which researches alternative energy sources.

One of their proudest moments came in June 2010 at the opening of Beit Grand, a Jewish community center in Odessa, Ukraine, to which they gave lead gifts. It serves as home to Odessa’s Hesed Shaarey Tzion Welfare organization and its Jewish Family Services program, as well as Hillel and the Odessa Regional Association of Ghetto and Concentration Camp Survivors.

The center also includes a library and community gym, an arts studio, Jewish writers’ club, Jewish kindergarten and teen club.

Nancy Grand watches as her husband’s long-lost cousin (center) helps affix a mezuzah to the new Jewish cultural center in Odessa in June 2010.

“Some of our grandparents were from there and we discovered cousins that are still living there,” Stephen recalls. “One of them was first chair in the Odessa Opera. He played a concerto for Nancy and me from the stage while the whole building was empty and under renovation. This was the opera house where my dad told me as a 10-year-old kid that he used to get up at 5 a.m. to buy tickets that he sold later in the day to people who didn’t want to wait in line. Here we were 80 years later being serenaded by our musician cousin, just the three of us in the very same opera house. Nancy and I were very teary-eyed.”

Locally, the Grands are generous donors to the S.F.-based JCF, a habit they developed in their native Detroit, where Nancy chaired the annual campaign of that city’s federation for three years.

Once the couple relocated to the Bay Area 11 years ago, Nancy joined the board of the S.F.-based federation and went on to  serve as campaign vice chair for the 2005 and 2006 campaigns. She co-chaired the 2009 campaign, and recently wrapped up a two-year term as president.

“When we moved to San Francisco, I told the people at the federation that I already had experience and was ready to go to work for them,” Nancy, 65, recalls. “I was so honored and thrilled at the opportunity to serve the community in this way.”

JCF leaders have praised the couple for their devotion to the federation ideal.

“It was a part of their philanthropic DNA long before they came here,” says federation interim CEO Jim Offel. “I tip my hat to them, because despite the reality that the [S.F.-based] federation is different, they jumped in with both feet.”

For 20 years, Nancy also has sat on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, one of the oldest and most effective Jewish aid organizations. “A big part of my personal philanthropy,” she says, “is giving my time and experience to causes that speak to me.”

Stephen Grand grew up in an ardently Zionist household. His father, the late Sam Grand, started Deco-Grand, a machining company that made precision automotive components and assemblies for diesel engines. Stephen spent a year in Israel as an engineering graduate.

“I joined [Deco-Grand] company in the late ’60s,” Stephen recalls, “and we worked together until [my father’s] retirement in the ’80s. I continued another 20 years and sold the company in 2000. In the ’80s, offshore competition heated up and as a result we diversified into real estate development activities.”

Grand/Sakwa Properties became one of the largest developers of residential and retail properties in the Midwest and helped provide the resources for much of the Grands’ philanthropy.

Meanwhile, Nancy taught mathematics, designed and implemented computer software, and taught Dale Carnegie courses in public speaking and effective communication and human relations.

The two first met at a Young Adult Division meeting of the Detroit federation. “I was taken at the time,” Nancy recalls, referring to her first marriage, “but we connected about six years later.”

The couple have two children and three grandchildren.

In 2003, the Grands made the move to the West Coast. Recalls Nancy, “We were both at the point in our lives where we were ready for a little excitement. Our kids were out of the house. We chose San Francisco for its vibrancy, beauty and fun, and we have never looked back.”

Since their arrival, the two wasted no time putting their philanthropic fund to good use.

“Stephen and I are each exposed to so many needs during our daily lives,” Nancy says. “We bring our ideas to each other, discuss the merits, and, if a gift is made, we discuss the amount. We are always looking for worthwhile causes in the areas in which we have a passion.”

The Grands consider themselves blessed with good fortune. “Given that, we believe it is our responsibility to use that blessing to do good things for others and the world,” Stephen says. “Anything else would be irresponsible, foolish or selfish.”

Part of their work with the federation is grooming the next generation of leaders. Mark Reisbaum, the federation’s chief endowment officer, says the Grands are spearheading an initiative, to be unveiled in the months ahead, designed to identify and engage potential community leaders.

“It’s never about them,” Reisbaum said. “Probably one of the reasons Stephen and Nancy reluctantly let us honor them this year is because they realize they can be role models to others. They get so much joy out of giving and volunteering.”

So even though they may squirm a bit under the Day of Philanthropy spotlight, the Grands intend to keep the joy of giving going for years to come.

Says Stephen, “We are very blessed to be able to help, and we take the effort very seriously. We try to be as thoughtful and strategic as possible while doing this work so as to have as great and positive impact as possible.”

Madeleine Albright headlines JCF’s 4th Day of Philanthropy

Calling the Jewish community’s donors, lay leaders and professionals its greatest assets, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund is bringing them together for the fourth annual Day of Philanthropy. The full day of learning and inspiration, featuring speakers, roundtable discussions, seminars and a luncheon and evening reception, takes place Thursday, Oct. 30 at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, will be the keynote speaker at the luncheon, where she will be interviewed by Michael Krasny, host of KQED Radio’s “Forum.” In 2012, Albright was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama for her work in international peace and democracy.

At the luncheon, philanthropists and humanitarians Nancy and Stephen Grand will be honored, and David Saxe, an active member of the federation’s Young Adult Division, will receive the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Young Leadership.

Saxe, a graduate of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, is the managing principal and co-founder of Calvera, a real estate investment and advisory firm. During an afternoon session, he will participate in a discussion titled “Three Generations of Giving and Leadership” with other members of the Saxe family, including Aaron, Loren and Dorothy Saxe and Ellen Saliman.

The daylong event “is entirely devoted to celebration, education and a meeting of the minds,” said Jim Offel, interim CEO of the S.F.-based JCF. “It gives us great nachas [pleasure] at the federation to honor those without whom our work to support Jewish life and care for the vulnerable would not be possible.”

Kicking off the morning at 7:30 a.m., Joshua S. Rubenstein, national head of Katten Muchin Rosenman’s trusts and estates practice, will host a 3 1/2-hour tax and estate-planning seminar.

The keynote afternoon presentation features Larry Smith, who founded Smith magazine and spearheaded the Six-Word Memoirs project. Panelists include Bay Area residents Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist; Jacob Kornbluth, an award-winning writer and film director; and Laura Sher, CREDO/Working Assets CEO. Participants will be encouraged to create their own six-word memoirs.

Afternoon roundtables and workshops include “Building a Democratic and Pluralistic Society in Israel” with Israeli philanthropist Noam Lautman and “When Hatred of Israel Crosses the Line: A Growing Bay Area and Global Challenge,” with Rabbi Doug Kahn and Abby Porth, executive director and associate director, respectively, of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Addressing “Ukraine in Crisis: How We Can Continue to Help its Jewish Population,” Shaun Goldston, global program officer of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, will discuss the shifting needs of one of the world’s largest and most endangered Jewish communities. Jill Dodd of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips will address a session on “Estate, Gift and Philanthropic Planning through the Lifecycle of Your Closely-Held Business.”

A networking reception featuring attendees and speakers will wrap up the day with complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

“The Day of Philanthropy is quite simply a remarkable moment to toast and hear from some of the phenomenal individuals in our community,” said Offel.

Four pricing options range from $36, which includes afternoon workshops, to $335, which includes the morning tax and estate planning seminar, luncheon and afternoon workshops. Hotel Nikko is at 222 Nikko St., S.F. Register online at or phone (415) 512-6207. — j. staff

He found it on craigslist: Founder works for ‘common good’

alix wall   |   j. correspondent

Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, says there’s no doubt that Jewish values have informed his philanthropy.

“Very much so,” he said in an email interview, “specifically via ‘know when enough is enough’ and tikkun olam.”

Newmark will be one of three panelists participating in creating six-word memoirs, the extremely short-form narrative, as part of the afternoon keynote presentation at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Day of Philanthropy on Thursday, Oct. 30 at San Francisco’s Hotel Nikko. Newmark will join Larry Smith, who spearheaded the Six-Word Memoirs project, and panelists Jacob Kornbluth, director of “Inequality for All,” and Laura Scher, founder of Working Assets.

Craig Newmark

The story of how Newmark, a former IBM programmer who came to San Francisco to work for Charles Schwab, created an email list of events that would be of interest to his friends 19 years ago is now part of Internet history. It became a website in 1996, and by 2000 craigslist had nine employees working out of Newmark’s apartment.

Craigslist now has 700 local sites in 70 countries and gets over 50 billion page views per month. More than 60 million people in U.S. cities use it each month, posting more than 80 million free classified ads.

Newmark, 61, who grew up Jewish in suburban New Jersey, describes himself as a secular Jew whose “rabbi” is Leonard Cohen, the Jewish singer who was ordained as a Buddhist monk but still identifies as Jewish and has written numerous songs with Jewish themes.

“My family was very much nonpracticing, but was very much part of the Jewish community centered around Speedwell Avenue in Morristown, New Jersey,” he said. “We were members of the Conservative synagogue at one end of Speedwell, but attended irregularly.”

However, self-described nerd that he was, Newmark said Hebrew school did have quite an influence on him.

“I was born nerd, and that displayed as being very serious and very literal, and so I absorbed much from Hebrew school from the start,” he said. Mainly, three principles were ingrained in the young Newmark: “Treat people like I want to be treated, know when enough is enough and tikkun olam/repair the world.”

He adds that having a friend whose mother was a Holocaust survivor may have had had an influence on him, but exactly how is “hard to say.”

Newmark’s father died when he was 13 and his mother struggled to support the family. No doubt that had a huge impact on his worldview as well.

His philanthropic interests fall into a number of categories: military families and veterans, back-to-basics journalism, public diplomacy, open government, consumer protection, technology for the common good, and voter protection.

While Newmark is on the advisory boards of One Voice, a grassroots movement of Israelis and Palestinians working toward a two-state solution, and the New Israel Fund, which supports social justice organizations in Israel, “I’m not actively involved in either,” he said, “but it’s all about being true to the values cited above, particularly the Golden Rule.”

Newmark still devotes some working hours to his “first priority,” craigslist customer service, but he noted that “for a few years my duties have been light weight. You take a lot of abuse in customer service, and, guessing, fifteen years takes a toll.”

In 2011 he launched to “connect the world for the common good,” a cause to which he says he devotes about 60 hours a week.

When asked whether he feels technology moguls are doing enough in terms of philanthropy, he said, “In the abstract, I guess leading by example might be effective, hard to say, since mostly I’m just practicing what I preach. Motivating others to participate, online, for their idea of the common good, that really is part of my strategy.  However, all this is mostly that a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.”

Given that many couples meet on craigslist, (including this reporter, who met her husband through the site), I took the opportunity to, first of all, thank Newmark, and then ask why he didn’t come to our wedding — yes, he was invited — and whether he ever envisioned himself as a matchmaker.

He skipped over the first awkward question to say the following: “We hear a lot of anecdotes about committed couples who found each other through craigslist, sometimes via furniture or sales ads, or even Missed Connections. I never foresaw myself as any big deal in any manner, much less ‘matchmaker.’ While it’s nice and flattering for a moment, then back to work.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."