Charities and Volunteers and Philanthropy

When work no longer satisfies, execs answer charity's call

December 17, 2007

When Jim Cotterill became president of the newly formed Hoosier Christian Foundation in August, it capped off six years of soul-searching for the Indianapolis entrepreneur.

Cotterill nearly died in 2001 after a horrific bicycle accident. Waking up in a hospital, he could move neither his arms nor his legs.

"I needed other arms and legs because I didn't have any," Cotterill said.

Once he recovered, Cotterill went searching for ways he could be "arms and legs" for those in need. He launched services to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Then he became president of a wheelchair company.

But both still left him yearning to have "greater impact." He wanted, more than he ever had before, to combine his Christian faith with his work. Cotterill's past business ventures included co-owning and selling IBJ in the 1980s, along with a chain of other weekly newspapers.

"I was raised in the church as a kid. I thought I knew what it was to be a Christian. But when I had my accident, things really changed for me," said Cotterill, 58. "We'd done OK [financially] in our lives, but I just wasn't satisfied."

Cotterill represents growing numbers of local business professionals who, having achieved the pay and perks of the professional and entrepreneurial world, have diverted their time and talent to charity and service. Many have done so, in large part, as an application of their Christian faith.

Men such as Doug Wilson, a former executive at Eli Lilly and Co. and Guidant Corp., and Mike Smith, former chief financial officer of Anthem Inc., have left the corporate world to pursue volunteering activities. Women are part of this movement, too, including Carmel resident Cindy Palmer, who spent nearly 25 years consulting for giant food companies such as General Mills Inc., The Procter & Gamble Co. and Sara Lee Corp.

And it's not only Christians. Larry Sablosky, 58, who is Jewish, backed away from his duties as a co-founder of The Finish Line Inc. 10 years ago. Along with his wife, Lisa, he has focused on philanthropy and service, including a stint as chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana.

These local professionals are examples of a national phenomenon, according to experts in service and philanthropy. In the last 30 years, huge economic growth, advances in health care, and a revival in both the Christian and Jewish communities have worked to spawn a generation of 50-something business professionals who have the wealth, health and religious motivation to shift their focus from success to service in the second half of their working lives.

A 2006 study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the MetLife Foundation found that more than half of people age 50 to70 say they want to pursue more significant endeavors in the latter half of their lives.

"There's probably more of it going on today," said Les Lenkowsky, professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy in Indianapolis. He added, "There are more opportunities, it's more the thing to do, more acceptable. And people are healthier. Age 65 today may be somewhere like 50 a generation ago."

Lenkowsky also acknowledged that religion is a powerful motivator for service and philanthropy. Numerous studies have shown that people for whom religion is important--typically measured by attendance at worship--give more to charity. That's true for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller consistently tithed at his church long before he started doling out millions from his business wealth, Lenkowsky said. Local Jewish businessmen, such as Gene B. Glick and Mel and Herb Simon, have given to charity for years, including multimillion-dollar gifts to Indiana University this year.

"A lot of religious traditions teach this," said Lenkowsky, who worked on President George W. Bush's faith-based initiative from 2001 to 2003.

There are also examples of businessmen who have shown little public indication of religious faith, and yet, instead of retiring and taking a yacht to Monte Carlo, have poured their time and money into service and charity. Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates is the prime example, using his foundation to dole out billions to fight AIDS in Africa and poor education in American cities.

The phenomenon, indeed, includes both religious and non-religious professionals, said Lloyd Reeb, a successful real estate developer in North Carolina who now works as the chief spokesman for Halftime, a not-for-profit that helps business professionals shift, in Reeb's words, "from success to significance."

"A generation of baby boomers revolted against materialism and then found ourselves trapped in it," Reeb said. "At some point, you feel kind of nauseated that you yourself got sucked into it, building the McMansion and all that."

Reeb spoke in Indianapolis in November to roughly 60 people--mostly 50-something men--at the Meridian Hills Country Club. It was one of 100 such talks he gave this year in cities around the country.

When people hit "halftime," they need a shift in thinking, but not always a shift in job, Reeb said. To coach them, Reeb pointed his audience to an online tool called the Halftime GPS. It asks people who they are at the core, shows them how they can create space in their life to serve, and helps them identify the proper context, based on their identity and availability, to serve.

Reeb and the founder of Halftime, Bob Buford, have deposited similar content in books they've written over the last 15 years, including "Halftime" and "From Success to Significance."

"I read that book 'Halftime,' and that was something that just really nailed me," said Indianapolis auto dealer Don Palmer, 53. The experience didn't lead Palmer to give up selling cars. But for the last decade, he's spent significant time organizing Halftime events in Indianapolis, counseling other men, and working with other Christian business professionals to coordinate their philanthropic giving.

At this stage of life, Palmer said, "People say, 'What do I do? I could go back and make money. But that doesn't hold as much meaning as it used to.' So what do you do? You serve."

Shifting priorities

Serving is what Mike Smith chose to do after he helped coordinate the $16.5 billion merger of Anthem and WellPoint Health Networks in 2004, which created the second-largest health insurer in the nation. The merger sealed what had already been a highly lucrative stint at Anthem for Smith, who previously had been CEO of the Mayflower Group Inc., a moving company. But Smith, 59, didn't use his money to pursue the good life.

"My schedule has been nuts, and I'm supposed to be retired," Smith said from his office in the Morgan Stanley building at 96th and Meridian streets.

He is serving on the boards of five public companies, one private company, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and DePauw University. He also serves as treasurer for the Indianapolis Museum of Art and has helped raise money for the Shepherd Community Center, a Christian ministry for Indianapolis' at-risk youth.

"I wanted to make the choice not to work in the corporate world, but to work in my own private enterprise or philanthropy or public service," said Smith, describing that as his "dream" from his days as a student at DePauw University.

His faith contributed to this shift to service, he said, particularly in its ability to humble him.

"The power of not putting yourself at the center of the universe is important," Smith said.

Cindy Palmer's life changed in 2003, right as her food product consulting business was booming. She thought she would stash away profits so she and her husband could serve as missionaries once their kids were grown.

Instead, she said, she sensed God was "calling" her to end her consulting business and look for service opportunities in her own community. So Palmer did her last bit of consulting in December 2004.

After a year of volunteering work, she and five other women started a group called Mornings at the Park. Two days a week, the group provides preschool teaching to the kids of poor or single mothers and conducts Bible studies and domestic-skills training with the moms.

"Every time I talk with women about [the program], it has so much resonance with them, especially as they're coming to the end of their child-rearing years," said Palmer, 51, a mother of four.

Doug Wilson spent 20 years as a manager at Lilly, five years as head of human resources at Guidant, then oversaw the integration of Guidant with Boston Scientific Corp., which acquired the medical-device maker for $27 billion in early 2006.

Since leaving Boston Scientific in April, Wilson has launched into numerous activities. He spent 40 days in China with the English Language Institute, teaching English to Chinese children. He's a fellow at the Trinity Forum, a Christian organization based in Virginia and London that conducts leadership seminars. He sits on the boards of Heritage Christian High School and the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis-based think tank.

Wilson, 55, is also counseling three Lilly employees on how to combine their work and their Christian faith, as older employees at Lilly did when he was a young manager there.

"The idea of compartmentalizing your life is totally bogus," Wilson said, "and everybody is going to try to take you down that path."

'Efficient way'

Wilson has also tried to combine his faith with his finances. That effort eventually led him to give money to the Hoosier Christian Foundation, led by Cotterill.

Wilson and his wife have given more than $400,000 to the foundation. The group of women Palmer helped organize is doing the same. Their contributions have helped Cotterill raise more than $6 million since the charity started in August.

The foundation operates donor-directed funds. Instead of raising money and then making grants, the foundation gives donors the sole right to decide where their money goes.

The Hoosier Christian Foundation is a branch of the Georgia-based National Christian Foundation. It offers the help of financial advisers, attorneys and accountants, as well as research into religious ministries and secular not-for-profits. The goal is to help donors make wise choices as they give.

"It's basically for people who want to donate in a very efficient way," said John Luginbill, CEO of Indianapolis advertising firm The Heavyweights, who has given money to the foundation. The advantage for him, he said, is hearing about worthwhile organizations from the other donors and telling them about groups he supported.

The Indiana chapter of the foundation was started by Don Palmer and 14 other local businesspeople, who provided enough capital to run the organization for three years. They plan for it to sustain itself after that. Dr. John Isch, the longtime chief of a cardiac surgeons practice at St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital, chairs the foundation.

Cotterill said the foundation is run by Christian principles and won't direct money to organizations that conflict with those principles. He cited abortion clinics as an example. But he said donors are free to give to secular organizations like schools, hospitals and symphonies.

"A person doesn't necessarily have to be a Christian to deal with us," he added.

So far, Cotterill feels as excited about the foundation as he was about any of his previous businesses.

"I pray about it every morning," he said. "And it just seems like everything is coming to us."

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