Interview with WPI Alumni, Lior Spring and Daniel Miller

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Lior Spring (Class of 2022) and Daniel Miller (Class of 2010) took some time to catch up with Caroline Brinton (Class of 2010) to discuss their experiences with the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative, the central role philanthropy plays in their immediate and extended family, and what excites them about continuing their partnership with The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida into the future.

What is unique about the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative, and do you have any observations about WPI’s role in philanthropic leadership?

Daniel: The Weaver Philanthropic Initiative is a vital bridge-building piece of our local non-profit framework. By building bonds and learning about non-profit structures, I, as a donor, can help the agencies I truly care about make a more significant impact in our community. I routinely use the skills I learned in my WPI class in the board room to help bring insight and shape the direction of creating change.

Lior: WPI came at the exact right time in my life. I had just moved into my new role as Director of Social Impact for the Miller Families after 18 years of non-profit service, most recently as the development director at the Jewish Community Alliance. WPI helped me reframe my role as a fundraiser and better understand the important philanthropy roles and responsibilities I undertake on behalf of our family. The program marked a turning point in my personal and professional career.

Like many couples, you participated in different WPI classes. Lior, you completed our most recent 2022 cohort. Daniel and I were lucky enough to be in the same 2010 cohort (Daniel, we are showing our age here!). Do you have any observations about how your experiences varied or were similar?

Daniel: First off, it could not have been 2010. We were babies! I remember leaving the WPI meetings and calling Lior, whom I was dating long distance while she lived in New York City. I was so eager to share what we discussed and learned. It set my heart on fire! It also created a bond between us as she already had a long non-profit career in NYC. Our shared passion for community impact was a large part of our relationship’s foundation. We shared our ideas for our philanthropic goals early in our relationship. I’ve seen many couples participate in the WPI class together, and that’s a great way to build your family unit. It was definitely different for me since I participated at a very different stage in my life than Lior was when she participated – she was married and a parent of two young children. I grew so much from my experience – learning from my classmates and understanding their unique perspectives to help shape my view on our community – I wouldn’t change that!

Lior: I agree! Daniel and I certainly had different experiences participating in WPI twelve years apart! I know Daniel enjoyed collaborating with his peers on a group contribution. It was a lot about consensus building and working together. My class had individual projects and many opportunities for self-reflection and introspection. I valued creating my personal mission statement and doing the various exercises about how my family’s history influenced my social impact today. In my role for the Miller Families, I’ve adapted some WPI exercises to help each adult family member better understand their personal philanthropy. Four of the eight of us are WPI graduates from four different WPI classes; it is so interesting to see how our individual experiences differ but are all equally meaningful!

How has a peer network served as a resource for your giving?

Daniel: My peer network has helped shape my value set and has helped me learn about different organizations I never would have encountered. My network has grown to include my WPI class. When we are out socially, we share a special bond, like a secret community of good-doers hidden behind our work clothes. We bring each other to our community, help share our passion projects, and have a built-in support network.

Can you recall a full-circle moment in your philanthropic journey?

Lior: Opening our Donor Advised Fund (DAF) at The Community for Northeast Florida was certainly a full-circle moment for me! After eight years in fundraising, having our own DAF to help make a difference through our philanthropy was highly gratifying and meaningful. Part of my job with Miller Families is to help each adult better understand their personal philanthropic journeys. I love that Daniel and I get to spend time together deciding what this specifically means for our family unit.

The Miller Families have been great supporters of the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative’s Family Volunteer Days, and your family has also launched your own series of Miller Family Volunteer Days starting in 2021. Please tell us about the evolution of this event and any lessons you learned along the way. 

Lior: Something extremely important to our family is to teach the next generation that it is essential to give back to your community and begin at a young age. This is a lesson Daniel and I both learned from our parents growing up. Our most recent volunteer day was with 904ward and their Little Free Diverse Libraries program. We brought people of all ages together to sort, stamp, label, tape, and paint! Together, we went through more than 2000 books to help stock the 45+ new libraries that will be built in Northeast Florida. These libraries will provide free access to books for people of all ages, promote literacy, and introduce people to other cultures, identities, lifestyles, beliefs, and ways of thinking. These are lessons that need to be learned at a young age. It is also important for us to model our investment in our local community for our children. I believe people genuinely want to give back but often don’t know where to start. A personal invitation from a friend goes a long way, and our group has doubled (and continues to grow) with each volunteer day. In many ways, we also want our volunteer days to be a way for people to connect and learn more about each other – in the same way our WPI classes provided this type of exposure for both of us!

What is it like to embark on this work as a family with three brothers, each with individual families?

Daniel: Working together as a family to better our community has never been a choice- it has always been central to our family. That started with our late mother, Sandy Miller and our late father, Richard Miller. In our home we discussed real-world issues at the dinner table. My father was the contrarian, taking the less popular side in any discussion. My mother was a bleeding heart, and always stood up for those who didn’t have a voice or didn’t know how to make their voice heard. We grew up with giving back in our home. It’s how we look at decisions in the business world. What is best for everyone involved? We do not look for how to win at someone else’s expense, but how we win together.

Lior: We’ve all committed to one another to support each other and the things we each believe in. We worked together to develop our family’s social impact areas for support: poverty, education, social justice, and public discourse. We started by putting every organization that was important to each of us up on a whiteboard and then had to explain why we chose to support them. We looked for commonalities, had long discussions, and then came up with the priorities together. So, while some may be more connected to particular organizations than others, we all work together to support one another’s work. While we all work differently, we know it all comes back to our common goals.

How do you use The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, as a whole, as a resource for your philanthropy?

Daniel: We first have a DAF through the Community Foundation. It was one of our best decisions to start our family giving fund. We have a team behind us to bounce ideas off. We both loved the Donor Forums to help add value to our dinner table conversations with our children. The whole team has a ‘yes and’ attitude. TCF’s entire team is so accommodating and willing to roll up their sleeves to help!

What challenges currently concern you most about Northeast Florida?

Sadly, antisemitism. Our family has personally felt antisemitism in our community, which is very concerning as a Jewish family whose larger family also includes Holocaust survivors. About a year ago, David Miller started the Together Strong Community Fund as a way to address hate and bias of all kinds in Jacksonville. It was in direct response to the antisemitic projections at the Florida-Georgia game and, later, on the CSX building. With the support of many community stakeholders, including CSX, Florida Blue, Jacksonville Jaguars, Vystar, Haskell, and others, we were able to make some early investments that were essential in our community. After the acts of domestic terror in our own community at the end of August, Together Strong partnered with the First Coast Relief Fund to support the aftermath of the racially motivated shooting in New Town. We stand by our family’s mission statement: To create positive change in the communities we touch by fostering innovation, collaboration, and measurable impact by leveraging resources and using our Jewish values as our guide. Our family’s vision is for our community to be an inclusive place of hope where all individuals have the opportunity to reach their personal potential in a just and equitable society.

What excites you about The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida’s future?

TCF’s new leadership is definitely exciting! Isaiah is coming in to lead an extremely successful team and we are thrilled to collaborate with him as he begins his journey here in Northeast Florida! He has huge shoes to fill with Nina Water’s retirement, but we believe he is the right leader in the right place at the right time. We’ve already had the opportunity to work with him as part of the First Coast Relief Fund. We do not know what our next opportunity will be, but we do know we have a partner in the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida. Our family is excited to be on this path with the Foundation.

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