Phillip P. Lanham, Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Vice President, Donor and Private Foundation Services, is a triple-play Cincinnatian — “born, raised and educated,” as he notes, right here in the Queen City. He received his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from the University of Cincinnati, and lives in Indian Hill with his wife and two sons.
Share a few details of your personal and professional background that helped to guide your path to GCF.
While attending the University of Cincinnati as an undergraduate, I worked as a student intern at the UC Alumni Association, which was a truly meaningful co-op experience. After graduation, I was employed by the alumni association for more than six years. I often say that it was the most fun job I’ll ever have — I was in my 20s and followed the basketball team around the country, running all the alumni pep rallies. The alumni association has played a significant role in both my career and family because I met my wife there as well.
The one common thread throughout my career has been that I am very passionate about the mission of the organization for which I work. At UC, I was very active on campus and was senior class president of my graduating class. UC will always be near and dear to my heart.
After my tenure at the alumni association, I held two additional roles in development at the university. My last role, as the UC Foundation’s Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations, introduced me to leaders at GCF. When the director of donor relations position opened, I made the move to GCF.
What drives me, being born and raised a Cincinnatian, is that there is nothing I am more passionate about than this community — except for my family, of course. GCF has a unique role in the community that is unlike any other. We get to work with the most generous individuals in, and make the biggest impact upon, the place I love.
What are your professional and community affiliations, and how do they inform your role at GCF?
I am vice president/president-elect of the Advancement Network, a national organization for community foundation professionals focused on the philanthropic services. They inform my work every time I interact with them, because they do our work in other communities such as Columbus, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. Through that collaboration I learn a lot from my peers about new ways to engage donors in our community.
I’m also vice chair of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, which is a new board for me. So far, I’ve learned a lot about the complexity — both administratively and financially — of major community projects. I recently stepped off the Ambassador Council at the zoo, on which I served for six and a half years, including two as the chair. The zoo is one of my favorite nonprofits in town, because of the role they play in our community: they’re a crown jewel.
Who or what is your inspiration, and in what ways has that driven your passion for GCF’s mission?
It sounds trite, but because I was born and raised here there’s a special place in my heart for this region and making it the best it can be for my family and for everyone in our community. That really is the driving force for me. I know I could do other jobs, but for me it’s not about the paycheck; it’s about what we are able to accomplish here. It’s a blend of personal life and professional life. They say that there’s a job and a career, I take it a step further and say it’s a lifestyle to work for a community foundation because no matter where I go, I’m representing GCF. My life experiences have uniquely positioned me for my role at GCF — from becoming a first-generation college graduate and developing a spirited devotion to all things Cincinnati to a career path that enabled me to increasingly merge those allegiances in a powerful way.
What are three things about you that most people don’t know?
Every night at dinner we have something we call “highs and lows.” Each family member talks about the best part and the worst part of their day. The whole point is to trigger conversation with our sons. We dig deeper by asking, “Why was that the worst part of your day?” and help them through that, but we also lift up the best parts. There’s only one rule: you must always have a “high” to your day. It’s our way of ensuring that our kids understand how fortunate they are.
I think most people don’t realize I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. It is remarkable to see how different it is for my kids. My older son is a high school sophomore and we already toured our first college — that didn’t happen with me.
Finally, two things we love in our home are traditions and traveling. Every time we travel we bring back a Christmas tree ornament. As we decorate the tree each year, we remember our family adventures whether it’s Sorrento, Disney World or Chicago.
What do you like most about working at GCF?
The people— our donors, our board members, our staff. They are some of the most caring people. We’re all in it together to make the region a better place, and we try to do so in ways that are the most effective.