After Don Liebich retired from his successful business career at Sysco Corporation, he and his wife Marcia moved to Idaho in 2002 and became full-time philanthropists. Marcia recently spoke with Philanthropy Northwest CEO Jeff Clarke about their local and global work, as part of our ongoing series of interviews with key leaders in philanthropy from across the region and around the nation. (Read Part 1 of this conversation first.)
Jeff: How did Don’s experience leading Sysco, a highly successful company, shape your approach to philanthropy?
Marcia: Although we personally supported local organizations during our time at Sysco [in New York], philanthropy at the corporation almost always had an image or marketing factor to it or supported organizations in which our employees were involved. It wasn’t until Don retired that we began to look overseas as a place to contribute. We did establish a four-year college scholarship for a child of an employee of Sysco in New York which is awarded annually and administered by the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region. This was established to honor Don’s father when he retired.
You moved to Idaho later in life, to be closer to your children. Tell us about what makes Idaho, and philanthropy in Idaho, special to you?
Since government involvement in Idaho is low, the philanthropic community in Idaho is crucial to making Idaho a good place for all of its citizens to live. We have been especially concerned about the education of our grandchildren and delighted that they are able to attend Riverstone International School in Boise. Riverstone is an accredited international baccalaureate pre-K to 12th grade school. Both of our sons serve on the board and their wives are very involved volunteers there. All six of our grandchildren attend.
How would you place your philanthropic work in the larger context of your engagement with your community?
It is just who we are. We have met many interesting people and I believe we have gained more than we have given in terms of friends, education, entertainment and our quality of life in this community.
Philanthropy Northwest has helped us learn and understand the Northwest a bit better. We come from upstate New York where the world stops at the Hudson River. We have found the annual conferences very helpful in terms of networking. We bring speakers to the College of Southern Idaho three times a year to try to provide capacity building opportunities for our nonprofits. Many of the speakers have been identified by you. Our interest in capacity building came from the study that was done by The Giving Practice.
You’ve been involved with both the Wood River Women’s Charitable Foundation and the Idaho Community Foundation. What role have these organizations played in your philanthropic work?
When we moved to Idaho in 2002, my daughters-in-law told me I should join the Idaho Women’s Charitable Foundation in Boise. It was a fairly new organization based on the model of the Washington Women’s Foundation founded by Colleen Willoughby. They were both members. I followed their advice. In 2005, I was invited to a tea given by Barbara Thrasher and Jo Murray to discuss the possibility of forming a similar organization in Blaine County. I did not know either of them, but the Idaho Community Foundation had given them my name. I became one of the founding members, served as grants chair (based on my long United Way service) for three years and then president for a term. We have given well over a million dollars since we began and now have 273 members. It has enriched and continues to enrich my life. I have met amazing women and learned so much about my community through the grants process and our educational programs.
Don served for several years on a regional grants committee for the Idaho Community Foundation.
How do you talk about giving within your family? What is your legacy of philanthropy for your children? Are they involved with your fund, or do they have their own plans?
Fortunately, our children have been very philanthropic since they graduated from college — not only as donors, but also as leaders and fundraisers. We have given each of our grandchildren $100 at Thanksgiving and asked them to pick an organization to support and to tell us who they chose and why during Christmas vacation. We have had speeches, an interpretive dance and PowerPoint presentations. This has made them aware that even a small donation can make a difference. Because they attend an International Baccalaureate school, they have been able to see how they can make a difference around the world.
Our youngest grandchild was five when we began. The younger ones tended to choose local organizations, but as they have gotten older they are thinking more globally. The best example is a gift that Jordan sent to Garbage City in Cairo. It was to help a school in the Coptic village which collects garbage from the high-rise apartments in Cairo and then sorts it in their home garages. Usually only the oldest child went to school and the others sorted. The school is teaching the skills of reclaiming plastic, but then teaching academic skills in the afternoon. We were able to take Jordan there on her 10-year old trip to Jordan and Egypt. It was an amazing experience for us all, even our Egyptian guide, to see the level of poverty. This was during the Arab Spring.
As you think about Idaho’s future — and the future of the world — what are the opportunities that keep you up at night and get you going in the morning?
The current chaos in many parts of the world and the resulting refugee crisis seem so huge and so intractable many people throw up their hands and say there is nothing I can do. Given the tendency of individuals and governments to put up barriers to keep out “the other,” the problem seems even more intractable. I am amazed that so many people say, “We have so many problems here. I would not give globally.” Our world is so connected now. We have to be concerned about poverty and injustice everywhere.
I had a mentor in AAUW who said, “I would like to keep my children at home until they are 21, but one must live in your community and the world. Therefore, one must do all one can.” If each of us followed our passions and her advice, the world would be a better place.
I am kept up at night by the tenor of the debate in this country now. It is harsh and does not look for compromise. Where is kindness and collaboration? But I am ready to live another day because I feel our hope is in the next generation. Our granddaughter is involved in OneStone, a high school service group open to all in Boise. When I talk to my six grandchildren, I have hope for a better future.