As a successful former stock broker, Gene Katz understands value and knows a great deal when he sees one.
“The system that the Community Foundation set up just works,” Gene says. “Their charges are infinitesimal compared to the services you receive. They make it easy to keep up with and track our giving—what we gave, when, and to whom. I can get a request from a nonprofit we support, fill out a form, and let them know that a gift will be coming from our CFGM donor account. Within two weeks, the check is sent. What could be more convenient than that?”
Gene is referring to the high-quality and relatively low costs of a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. It’s a tool he and his wife, Carol, have used for years to target and administer their charitable giving. Gene and Carol make most of their donations through gifts of appreciated stock. The predictability and convenience that the Community Foundation offers is a major asset to both the Katzes and their grantees.
The Katzes are more than investors with the community foundation—they are evangelists about its merits and usefulness to the city they love. During his career as a stock broker, Gene frequently referred the Community Foundation’s services to clients and friends who shared his belief in the importance of philanthropy. The Community Foundation relies on the recommendations of brokers and other financial advisors to help grow their assets and open the doors of creating more charitable giving strategies for more families in the Mid-South.
Gene began his work in the financial services industry in Memphis after a short stint in New York City, where he nursed ambitions of becoming a professional actor (“That wasn’t going anywhere.”). He has appeared in 50 shows at nearly every theater in Memphis over the years, but when he is not in the spotlight, he’s playing a vital role behind the scenes as a generous financial patron of the arts. [Pictured, left: Gene onstage as Tevye in Memphis’s first-ever production of Fiddler on the Roof, at Theatre Memphis in the early 1970s]
“You’re lucky at most arts institutions is ticket sales are 40% to 50% of your revenues. Contributions make up the rest. Those donations are just so important.”
Seated on the lip of the stage at Playhouse, Gene’s passion for the arts is plainly, joyfully evident. They are, to he and Carol, more than a diversion; to the contrary, they are core to the human experience, and as such, deserve to be deeply supported and widely shared.
“We don’t consider the arts just entertainment,” he says. “We feel that they are a most important part of your life. It’s like eating and drinking to us. If you can’t enjoy a painting, if you can’t listen to music, well then what’s the use? We want to make [the arts] as available to as many people as possible.”
Gene is quick to enumerate the many causes they love: The ballet. The symphony. Memphis’s art museums and professional theater companies. Their interests extended beyond the arts into women’s health, legal aid, and animal rescue organizations, but their geographic focus generally does not.
“We give 90 percent of our donations in the Memphis area and kind of let the rest of the world take care of the rest of the world.”
Gene credits the Community Foundation for being one of the driving forces that places Memphis atop national lists of the country’s most charitable cities. For he and Carol, it’s a vehicle for realizing their personal missions: service to the city they love.
It’s an ethos that Gene credits his parents with instilling in him.
“I was brought up that way. During the Great Depression, my father was out of work for about three years. But every Friday night, my mother would put a few coins in a little box before lighting the candles and saying the prayers. That was for the Hadassah Hospital in what is now Israel. So, I grew up knowing that giving was something we just did.”
The Katzes have ensured that their tradition of giving back will be passed forward. Arrangements have already been made for their daughters to take over as trustees of their donor-advised fund after their have passed on.
“You do what you can,” Gene says simply. “If you’re going to be a part of the world, and you’re able, this is what you have to do.”
Excerpted from the 2019 Community Foundation Annual Report. Top photo credit: Jamie Harmon