Interview with WPI Alumni, Michael & Glenn Miller

Glenn & Michael Miller
Glenn & Michael Miller

Glenn Miller ’17 and Michael Miller ’15 are both heavily involved in the successes and future of the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida. Glenn serves as the Fund’s Secretary and Grantmaking Chair, and recently partook in its Strategic Planning process. This month, the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida celebrated 5 years of success and laid out its future.

Caroline Brinton ’10 sat down with Glenn and Michael to discuss their unabated passion for giving strategically, how they engage with each other and their families in community-building, and who they look to serve philanthropically.

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Q: What do you do in your daily life?

Glenn: I’m a stay-at-home Dad to our three children, Elijah (4-years), Sandy (2.5 years), and Zoe (2.5 years). I also serve as the Grants Committee Chair for the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida.

Michael: I work with my brothers David and Daniel, class of ’10, in Brightway Insurance. David and I co-founded the company and today I’m the CEO. Currently, Brightway Insurance has 175 stores in 21 states with our home office located here in Jacksonville.

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Q: Currently, what issues are you putting your philanthropic resources toward as a couple or individually?

Michael: We give our time, talent, treasure, and ties primarily to the LGBTQ community, Jewish community, and community at-large. Organizations we support include the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida, JASMYN, UNF, and the Human Rights Campaign. I serve of the Board of the Jewish Community Alliance and am a member of the San Marco Rotary. I have also given my time as a Life Coach to three mentees for Operation New Hope and three Stein Fellows at United Way. Many of these endeavors require time and talent. For example, I helped Kaitlin Legg write the curriculum for Club Can-Do at UNF.

Glenn: Most of my time is dedicated to leading the Grants Committee and serving on the Steering and Strategic Planning Committees of the LGBTQ Community Fund. We are also slowly getting more involved in politics, behind the scenes, as a way of promoting civic leadership and policy change.

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Q: Do your giving styles (in regard to time, talent, treasure, or ties) vary or are they similar? How so?

Glen: Michael’s strength is innovating and setting things in motion and mine is following-through with the details and process. Our styles complement each other.

Michael: We are comfortable using all of our assets in order to be the most effective, when we are available to do so. We aren’t drawn to giving to philanthropy just as a relief. We always want to give as a catalyst for something more. Whether it’s a matching challenge, funding a Development Director position, or investing in software to make an organization more efficient. Everything we do is strategically leveraged to get a bigger result. There is a need for immediate relief, it’s just not our personal style.

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Q: How have you engaged with your family in strengthening our community?

Glenn: In the Jewish religion, tzedakah, which means “charity,” is a focal point. It means acts of kindness.

Michael: From a child’s perspective, it often includes a piggy bank they put money into. We talk about that a lot. We also talk to our children a lot about how they need to earn things, they aren’t just given them. When they want a new toy similar to something they already have, we use that opportunity to discuss how stuff for stuff’s sake is not good, that there are many that don’t have any toys, and that it feels good to give.

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Q: Growing up, were there any lessons your family taught you about philanthropy?

Michael: In my house, the two most important lessons I grew up with were:

  1. Fight for the underserved. In my home growing up, that started with learning about the importance of not having a racial bias. For example, it was never OK to describe a new friend by their race in my home. My mother spent her entire life volunteering and fighting for services and rights of the underprivileged. That was the culture I grew up in. My parents were always on boards and always volunteered.
  2. As you have means to give back, that should always be the highest and best use of your resources. As we become more financially able, the first thing we think about when we have more is not what we can buy, but it is what can we give?

Glenn: My parents worked hard and didn’t have the time and financial treasure to donate in a more structured setting; but their contributions of time and energy, whether it be by way of babysitting or bringing food to a neighbor or extended family member in need, was a way in which they shared their treasure. They instilled the value of relationships and family in me, modeling the definition of “it takes a village.”

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Q: What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?

Glenn: We love having our familial support system. Most of my family lives here and all of Michael’s family lives here. It is a big city with a small community feel and we like that. It is where we want to raise our family, Michael’s company is based here, and we like where Jacksonville is heading.

Michael: Jacksonville is big enough that it offers an NFL team, a large employee base, and other things associated with big cities; but it is small enough that from an impact standpoint, we can really make a difference. In New York or other cities, our impact wouldn’t be nearly as large. In Jacksonville, we really make a difference and we feel good about that. It is why we gravitate to putting essentially all of our philanthropic resources toward this community. We have the opportunity to contribute and see the community and our family reap the rewards.

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Q: What challenges concern you most about Northeast Florida?

Michael: The conservative, Bible-belt nature of Northeast Florida is a concern for our family, though having lived here since 1977, it improved from where it was on that scale. On a positive note we’ve come so far, on a negative note we have a long way to go.

Another concern about Northeast Florida’s viability going forward, whether real or simply bad-wrap, is our education system. For any community to reach its potential, it is essential to have good employees, to have good jobs, and to have bright futures; that starts with education. Education is like the gateway drug to everything. If you aren’t educated, everything else stems from that.

Glenn: Also, there are serious discrimination issues within our city. Whether it be race-relations or relations with the LGBTQ community, many people don’t feel welcome. Looking at the recent Williams Institute Survey, even with the HRO passage, more than half of the LGBTQ population still feels everyday discrimination. There are still big opportunities in Jacksonville to move the needle on discrimination. It comes down to we need to treat each other better.

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Q: How do you decide when your philanthropic investments have been successful?

Michael: We approach it much like we approach business, with a laser-focus on measurable, achievable results. We don’t value the process as much as we value the results. If you can get 80% of results for 50% of the work, that is an even bigger win. We are always cognizant of the amount of work required and how efficiently it is being done; efficient work leaves you with a bigger capacity to do something else. This is why we love the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida; it’s not just a “feel good” gift.

Glenn: From the perspective of the LGBTQ Community Fund, grantees have deliverables on their application that need to be met. We do check-ins and site visits with the grantees to see how their grants are going. We then bring the results to the Steering Committee and discuss if deliverables are being met and, if needed, brainstorm and help the grantees tweak things so that they can meet their goals.

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Q: Do you have any observations about WPI’s role in philanthropic leadership?

Michael: WPI has had a profound effect on the way we give and amount we give. We were more shotgun in our giving style prior and now we are more strategic and comfortable saying “no.” We went on to create a donor advised fund at TCF and are making a bigger impact with all of our assets, not just financial assets, by leveraging them successfully.

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Q: Like many couples, you participated in different WPI classes. Do you have any observations about how your experiences varied or were similar?

Glenn: Our takeaways were pretty similar.

Michael: I agree they were more or less the same takeaways. My brother Danny, who went through the program in 2010, had a very different experience because it was a group project. I would have to talk to him about it more, but I found that the individual projects allowed me and Glenn to learn about ourselves and what we found important, rather than having to compromise from day one. Club Can-Do wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t have been as engaged had my class done a group project.

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Q: Q: What excites you the most about the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida and how it has evolved?

Michael: I think it has helped every grantee invest in areas of their organization that they probably wouldn’t have invested in otherwise. It forces them to invest in infrastructure, systems, training, and rigor and turn that $30,000 into $100,000. It is otherwise hard for those organizations to raise money for things that aren’t “feel good right now” gifts. The grantees are doing better work, their organizations are stronger, and they making decisions differently because of this work.

We are very much in favor of the Endowment that the LGBTQ Community Fund has launched, and love the sustainability of it. People like to give in different ways and at the end of the day, we owe everyone the opportunity to give in a way they feel comfortable. Whether it is immediate relief, an endowed gift, a legacy gift, or a pledge; the answer is “yes.” Let’s not put up any barriers.

Glen: The LGBTQ Community Fund has gained a life of its own with the clout and backing of TCF. It has introduced new dollars into the organization that the grantees likely never could have received otherwise, including funding from national organizations. We owe Jeff Chartrand thanks for sharing his vision with us and inviting us to join him.