Interview with WPI Alumnus, Dan Rice

Dan Rice and Family
Dan Rice & Family

Dan Rice ’99 served on TCF’s Board of Trustees from 2002–2013. He was a member of the first Weaver Philanthropic Initiative class and a trailblazer as the first of three WPI Alumni to serve as Chairman of the Board (2008–2009). Dan is President and CEO of Mayport Venture Partners, LLC and has lent his expertise to an array of Northeast Florida nonprofits.

Caroline Brinton ’10 sat down with Dan to discuss his current philanthropic endeavors, concerns facing Northeast Florida, and how he engages with his family on philanthropy.

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Q: What do you do in your daily life?
A: I manage my family’s venture capital fund, Mayport Venture Partners, and serve on several non-profit boards.

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Q: Currently, what issues are you putting your philanthropic resources toward?
A: Currently I put my resources toward: The Bolles School, Chair of the Board of Trustees; JU Public Policy Institute, Board of Directors; The Guardian Catholic Schools, Board of Trustees; The Community Foundation, Investment Committee; and St. Matthews Catholic Church, Strategic Planning Committee.

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Q: Do you have a philanthropic mission statement or personal motto? If so, would you mind sharing?
A: I don’t have a motto, but what I’ve learned is that nonprofits have more in common with for-profits than people realize. It is all about the leadership and the mission. If an organization has good leadership and a focused mission, that catches my interest.

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Q: What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?
A: I like that it has a small-time feel despite being a big city. With the exception of Gainesville and Clemson, where I went to school, I’ve lived in Jacksonville all of my life. When people move here, they always comment on the friendliness of the town and don’t want to leave.

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Q: What challenges concern you most about Northeast Florida?
A: Three areas concern me the most: public education, underlying problems surrounding crime, and infrastructure.

The most pressing of these, for me, is public education. My observation is that there is a disconnect with Duval County School Board governance that undermines further progress. Micromanaging and meddling is not good governance. The Board should develop a comprehensive strategic plan and give our new superintendent the opportunity and resources to implement it.

Regarding crime, my concern most deeply surrounds the underlying problems such as the breakdown of families and mental health.

Finally, I’m concerned that Jacksonville has not acted aggressively enough on improving its infrastructure. Issues such as underground power lines, reducing the number of septic tanks, resurfacing roads, and maintaining parks aren’t sexy; however, it is necessary for Northeast Florida to address these challenges. The Memorial Park Association, which is a private support organization for Memorial Park, should be the model for other parks around Jacksonville such as Boone Park, which is tragically underutilized and needs a vision and redevelopment.

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Q: What is a lesson you’ve learned about building a stronger community?
A: I’ve learned that it is always going to take more patience than you have.

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Q: How have you engaged with your family in strengthening our community?
A: My family started a foundation, The Dianne T. & Charles E. Rice Family Foundation, nearly 20 years ago. Our family worked with Andy Bell, Nina Waters’ predecessor, to develop our mission statement: The foundation’s mission is to empower individuals, particularly children, by investing in educational initiatives in Florida.

My sister, Celeste, is the Foundation’s Director and the Foundation engages two generations of our family now that the kids are involved. My children are 27, 24, and 21 years of age and my wife, Julie, and I have seen them grow and appreciate what they have more through their increased engagement in the Foundation and philanthropy.

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Q: Describe an opportunity where an organization effectively engaged with you.
A: Through our family’s Foundation and the Early Learning Coalition of Duval, we helped with the founding of Duval Early Learning Directors Network (DELDN). DELDN’s mission is to empower the directors of early learning centers through connecting, advocating and educating. There was an obvious disconnect in childcare centers providing care for VPK and young children. With a modest amount of funding, this group of Directors ran with DELDN’s mission and now 45% of all childcare centers engage in the Network’s continuing education, member support network, and advocacy opportunities. That 45% of childcare centers represents 2/3 of all VPK children in Northeast Florida. The group has gone to Tallahassee to advocate for training and even served on Senate Committees.

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Q: How do you decide when your philanthropic investments have been successful?
A: In the non-profit sector you don’t have the luxury of an income statement like a for-profit entity. It is a matter of deciding how you measure success, and some data points are easier to measure than others. For instance, it’s not hard to measure graduation rates. But it becomes more difficult when the measurements are more anecdotal. You may be helping a lot of people but find that when you dig deeper into the costs and efficacy, there is a better way to leverage your money.

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Q: You were the first alumnus of the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at TCF. Deborah Pass Durham ’99 went on to serve in that position and, currently, Ryan Schwartz ’08 is Chairman. Do you have any observations about WPI’s role in philanthropic leadership?
A: Looking back, I’m not sure we fully appreciated it at the time. It is a tremendous public service to get people to look more broadly at philanthropy and effectiveness. The more people that are knowledgeable, that are thinking strategically and asking the right questions, the better the community is in the long run.