Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
When Jill Blumenthal was in middle school, a classmate told her that her family was rich. “I didn’t know what she was talking about,” Jill says. She knew her family’s name on many local businesses and institutions spoke to the family’s many contributions to the Queen City, but she did not fully appreciate the extent of her family’s wealth or the family legacy of giving back to the community. It is only in retrospect that she appreciates how well her parents balanced her privileged upbringing with her commitment to philanthropy and community service. “ I was never raised with the idea that the world would be served to me on a silver platter,” Jill says. She went to private schools for all of her schooling and did not have to incur any debt for her studies at Haverford College, for which she is grateful, but “I always knew that I had to work,” Jill says.
Armed with a BA in English with a concentration in feminist and gender studies, Jill returned to Charlotte in 1997 with no clear sense of what she would do next. “I was never someone who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Jill says. She did some internships and part-time work and then got a teaching license from Queens University, since that seemed like a logical thing to do with her bachelor in English and her love of children. She taught 9th and 10th grade English at East Mecklenburg High School for two years, during which she realized that classroom teaching was not for her. “I am not good at classroom management,” Jill says. “I prefer to work with kids one on one.” Jill says that she tends to see the world as gray, whereas the kids needed her to assume a persona of “my way or the highway.”
She then went back to part-time work and volunteering with various organizations until she could figure out her next career move. She met with a career counselor who helped her figure out that she is cause-oriented. That was what attracted her to teaching, but she was relieved to learn that she could contribute to the world and to causes that mattered to her without having to be in a classroom with thirty teenagers. Jill turned instead to looking at opportunities within the nonprofit world.
While Jill was thinking through her options, she stayed busy volunteering with community organizations and through Temple Beth El, Charlotte’s Reform Jewish temple. Growing up as a Jew in the Bible Belt, where Jill says she was very conscious of being a minority, Jill and her family were very involved with Temple Beth El. But Jill gained a new appreciation for Charlotte’s Jewish community when she returned to Charlotte as an adult. “It was different living here when I came back from college,” Jill says. “I had to figure out where I fit in. Getting involved with the Jewish community helped me do that.” She also remembered her grandfather, Herman Blumenthal, repeating something that his father had often said: “If a community has been good to you, you need to be good to that community.” Her parents modeled this mantra as well during Jill’s childhood. Her mother served as President of Temple Beth El’s Sisterhood and her father served on many boards, including that of the temple. “I grew up with the expectation that this is what you do,” Jill says. She says that there was no pressure to give back, just an understanding that she would.
It was with this understanding that Jill accepted an internship at the Foundation For The Carolinas, a public charity that supports a 13-county region that includes ten counties in North Carolina and three counties in South Carolina. It offers myriad support to all of the greater Charlotte area’s nonprofit organizations and donors. As Jill’s internship was concluding, a job with the Foundation’s donor relation department opened up. Jill has been working at Foundation For The Carolinas for sixteen years. In 2016, she received a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from UNC-Charlotte.
She is not a fundraiser. “Asking for money is not my talent,” she says. Instead, she works with people who are already motivated to give or nonprofits who have endowment funds or are getting grants from the Foundation. “I find it really rewarding,” Jill says. She also gives gifts to a wide range of organizations. Jill’s contributions are not all financial; she also gives her time to causes she cares about. She has served on several boards, including the Board for Mecklenburg Ministries (an interfaith bridge-building organization) and the Hebrew Cemetery Board, and volunteers regularly with local women’s groups. Poverty has been a focus of her philanthropy and community service, with a particular interest in affordable housing. She is also determined to be more engaged civically. “I think it is important to pay more attention to local and state politics,” Jill says. She has recently become involved with You Can Vote, an organization devoted to voter registration and empowerment, and plans to volunteer with them regularly through the next election.
Jill downplays her activism and volunteering, saying that often the best contribution she can make is to simply attend meetings, forums, and events and try to share the information with others who care. “Woody Allen has a quote that eighty percent of life is just showing up,” Jill says. “I think that is really true.” She says she gets a lot of energy from giving back, learning something new, and being around people who are passionate about things. “Our world would be so much better if everyone were involved in an issue or an organization or two,” Jill says. “Communities work best when people step up and participate.”