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Helping philanthropists change the world

Amid global challenges, the desire to help others has never been stronger or more necessary, Jennifer Chandler believes

A young African schoolgirl in a red sweater uniform smiling while balancing a stack of books on her head in a library.

As head of Philanthropic Solutions for Bank of America Private Bank since February 2022, Jennifer Chandler oversees one of the largest and most experienced philanthropic teams in the country, with a history stretching back 160 years.

For Chandler, the team’s deep tradition of advising philanthropists pairs well with her own lifelong passion for giving. Here, she reflects on today’s philanthropic landscape, how giving can address the world’s great challenges and why she’s made philanthropy such a central part of her own life and career.

When did you first become interested in philanthropy?

My parents grew up with very little, and they felt a responsibility to give back as soon as they could. We volunteered through our Dallas church and with local hunger organizations. When I was five or six, a man named Carl—someone we were there to help—gave me a small toy. At that young age a lightbulb went off. It didn’t matter how much or little you had, you could still give to others. From then on, volunteering wasn’t something I did because my parents told me to. It was something I wanted to do. I still have that toy and have never lost sight of the importance of giving.

Which causes are especially important to you?

I started my career as a teacher, so literacy and education are high on my list. Studies show that the ability to read at an early age increases the likelihood of a child prospering later on. In that sense, literacy on a broad scale can help address challenges such as hunger and access to health care. Long after switching from teaching to business, I’ve stayed involved with education and literacy.

How would you describe your role as head of Philanthropic Solutions?

I lead a team of nearly 200 specialists whose main focus is to help individuals, endowments, foundations and nonprofit organizations make the world a better place through philanthropy. Whatever clients are focused on—the environment, social justice, the arts, education or health care—we work with them in a variety of ways. We offer tailored investment management and provide consulting and fiduciary administration. Our goal is to be a true partner in helping our clients have a positive impact on the future.

What prepared you for this role?

When I headed our private wealth team in Dallas I worked closely with many families, getting to know them personally and seeing their desire to use their wealth to make a difference, whether through starting a family foundation or keeping one going across generations. Serving on nonprofit boards through the 2007-08 financial crisis and later during the pandemic, I saw the incredible work these organizations do amid constant change and pressure. Often, nonprofits experience their own greatest challenges just when their communities need them most.

Working closely with the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and heading and supporting the bank’s volunteer efforts has taught me how projects can be scaled up for greater impact. As Dallas market president since 2019, I’ve focused on building relationships with many segments of the community. Dallas is booming right now, but even in good times big cities struggle with inequality in income, education and health care. I’ve experienced firsthand how philanthropists, nonprofits, community leaders and businesses can work together to promote economic mobility and help close the divide.

How do the investment needs of foundations and nonprofits differ from those of other investors?

While individual investors today are increasingly interested in impact investing and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, foundations and nonprofits literally exist to have an impact, and they require customized portfolios that align with their values while supporting their overall financial needs. It’s our job to help them invest in ways that combine financial stability with growth so they can continue their missions for the long term.

Nonprofits have special complexities, in part because they have so many stakeholders. We facilitate conversations among donors, board members and the communities they serve. Nonprofits also tend to receive a complex array of donated assets—from real estate and art to private equity and other kinds of illiquid holdings. Our experts help them understand the nuances of each type of asset, and how each one fits into the overall portfolio.

Given the enormous challenges today, what makes you optimistic that philanthropy can help change the world?

The pandemic demonstrated how people rise to the occasion in times of great need. Our Bank of America Study of Philanthropy showed that giving held steady, with many donors pivoting to support basic needs such as food, shelter and health care. Nonprofit organizations showed how nimble and responsive they can be, reinventing their operations in real time. The business community, too, has increasingly recognized its opportunity and responsibility to help create a more sustainable world. Problems such as climate change, hunger and inequality are daunting, but there’s also a growing sense that, working together, we can find solutions.

It’s especially encouraging to see young people so aware of challenges in their own communities and around the world. Whether supporting a friend who’s battling an illness or sending relief to Ukraine, they’re finding joy in being part of the solution. I’m optimistic about the next generation of philanthropists.

How have you passed the philanthropic tradition along in your own family?

We have four children, and because so much of their world is digital, we’ve stressed hands-on philanthropy, whether it’s getting their hands in the dirt planting trees, distributing food at a food bank or just being there to give someone a hug. As they get older they’re exploring giving in their own ways. One by one they’ve had their own “lightbulb” moments. Now, they’re the ones saying, “This weekend, let’s do something to help.”

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