When Jodi and Greg Perlman consider how best to direct their philanthropic giving, they think about the lives that will be directly touched. For UCLA Health, that meant the creation of the Angel Fund, designed to help patients and families cope with the burden of nonmedical needs associated with hospitalization.
As developers and owners of thousands of Section 8 housing units across the country, Jodi and Greg Perlman have been struck by the rampant generational poverty they have observed and the difficulty many individuals and families have breaking free of it. Their philanthropy began with the establishment of a foundation, All Ways Up, which provided college scholarships to young people living at their properties. After seeing the impact of this effort, the foundation expanded its scope and reach, and today, All Ways Up partners with nearly 50 non-profit organizations and provides scholarship support to more than 450 young men and women. When the Perlmans decided to become involved with UCLA Health, they wanted to keep their giving focused on individuals rather than on programs or the institution. So, in November 2018, they created the Angel Fund to support inpatient families — identified by case managers, social workers, nurses and doctors — who need assistance due to the disruption of their lives that can occur around illness. The Perlmans sat down with U Magazine editor David Greenwald to talk about philanthropy and the philosophy that motivates their giving.
Let’s start by talking about the Angel Fund. What was your motivation for creating it?
Greg Perlman: During a conversation we had with someone we met who is involved with UCLA Health, we started talking about our philanthropic giving and shared that we supported UCLA, but only on the athletic side. He offered to set up a meeting with Johnese Spisso, the president of UCLA Health and CEO of UCLA Hospital System. At that meeting, Johnese told us about some of the things the hospital was doing for its patients that were perhaps a bit under the radar, but things that directly touch the lives of patients. That really resonated with Jodi and me, and it fit in with some of the other things that we do philanthropically. All Ways Up supports people who are on an amazing path, but who need a little extra help along the way, a bridge to help them get ahead. After we met with Johnese, we started thinking about what happens when someone who doesn’t have a lot of resources is hospitalized. Maybe they find themselves in a situation where they are at risk of losing their job or their home, or they can’t take care of day-to-day needs like transportation or the cost of a hotel room for a family member to stay while they are in the hospital. So, we decided to create the Angel Fund to help people deal with these nonmedical financial burdens that occur around their hospitalization.
How are potential recipients identified?
Greg Perlman: When we worked with UCLA to create the fund, we wanted to ensure that it is the direct caregivers, the ones who hear the patients’ stories every day, who are empowered to identify potential recipients.
Jodi Perlman: We want the support to go wherever the need exists, and we gave UCLA a lot of leeway to determine how to use all of their support staff to identify patients in need of extra assistance. After seeing the success of the initial fund, and receiving some very heartbreaking requests from the pediatric oncology section, we decided to create a second, separate fund, along the same lines as the original Angel Fund, to support the needs of families with children in the pediatric oncology division of the hospital. For parents with a child hospitalized with cancer, their lives are completely stopped. They are there with their child 24/7, and many of them need financial assistance to hold their lives together during this crisis. We want to make it a little easier to get through this unimaginable ordeal.
You hear the patients’ stories. What is that like for you?
Jodi Perlman: It can be heart-wrenching, so much so that sometimes I have trouble reading them. But, we want for the Angel Fund to help as many patients as possible. We give all the credit to the nurses, the social workers and the case managers who are with the patients every day and who bring these stories to our attention.
Is there a particular story that has moved you?
Greg Perlman: They all are moving, but there was a request from a family in Las Vegas that was particularly difficult for us. A 17-year-old girl had died while at UCLA. The family needed money to bring her body back home. The Angel Fund covered those costs.
How has the Angel Fund, as well as your foundation and other philanthropic efforts, affected you?
Greg Perlman: It has made me think deeper about things. Jodi and I donate a significant amount of our personal net worth, and, sometimes, I think about some of the very wealthy people we know who give relatively very little, and I wonder why that is. They are good people, but I don’t think they are fulfilled by their giving. Writing a large check can be an empty experience if you don’t really know where your money is going. We have found that the way to get true fulfillment in giving is to see where your dollars are going and how they are working and to really know that you are touching lives.
Jodi Perlman: Giving is a drug, an amazing drug, and it is exponentially better when you can see the impact it has directly on people’s lives.
Greg Perlman: It is. Since our engagement with UCLA, we have started other Angel Funds at organizations focusing on homelessness, foster youth, recidivism — a lot of different issues, but all directly touch the lives of individuals.
Because the individual gifts from the fund to patients are not very large — they are, as you describe it, bridges to help people get past difficult times — it seems this could be a model for philanthropy in which people of more modest means can engage.
Jodi Perlman: When someone is trying to decide whether or not to give, it does not have to be a numbers game. It is nice if someone is able to give a lot of money, but people don’t realize they can give a small amount directly to somebody through a fund like this, and that can make a huge difference in that person’s life. People can be intimidated by charitable giving. They see others giving very large amounts of money and they don’t think that their contribution will have an impact, so they decide not to give anything at all. I firmly believe that any amount you can give can make a difference. It may not fund a program or a building, but it can have a direct and immediate impact on the life of someone who really needs it.
Greg Perlman: It is not just the patient or family who is helped by this kind of philanthropy; it helps the caregivers, too. We recently received a personal note from a UCLA social worker who wrote: “Your generosity has changed my life.” That is something you might expect from the person who receives the money, but this letter was from a caregiver. We’ve changed her life by empowering her to help a patient in a way that was not otherwise possible. That says so much to me about the power of what we are hoping to accomplish with the Angel Fund.
Jodi Perlman: That’s it, right there. We want to empower everyone in the chain to be philanthropists.
Greg Perlman: It’s as if the caregiver is now the philanthropist — we have transferred our philanthropy to them because they are on the ground doing the work. They are the ones who are calling the patients to our attention, and they are seeing the patient’s or family’s reaction when they receive a gift from the fund.
Did you have a model or a mentor who pointed you in this direction in your approach to philanthropy.
Greg Perlman: Since I was a young kid, my family has been doing Christmas giveaways to low-income people and foster kids throughout Los Angeles. We used to get the kids’ Santa requests and go out and personally shop for sometimes hundreds of kids. We would hand each kid their gifts and watch them open them up, and we just left feeling so overjoyed and fulfilled. That is what we are doing now, obviously on a much greater scale.
As the giver, you take responsibility for providing the resources. What do you expect back from the recipient?
Jodi Perlman: We want the recipients to show gratitude, especially when they realize these gifts came from a family.
Greg Perlman: Yes, gratitude. But that doesn’t mean gratitude to us. We have described this process as a chain. We provide the financial resource, yes, but it is the caregivers who truly are the essential links in the chain. They are the ones who carry the patients’ stories, who are empowered to bring them forward. It is to them that we would like recipients of these gifts to show gratitude, to say thank you. For us to hear back from a caregiver that the patient or the family said thank you to them is sometimes all that we need. Our hope is that the recipient knows that there is someone out there who wants to help and that one day they will pay it forward.
What is your long-term vision for the Angel Fund? How would you like to see it evolve?
Greg Perlman: We want it to grow over the next year and to increase the number of gifts that are made. When we feel it is the right time and we have established a solid track record, we will open it up to others who are interested in donating either through our funds or by setting up their own Angel Funds. My mother wants to put money into the pediatric oncology fund right now.
Jodi Perlman: (laughing): We’ll probably let mom come in right now!
Greg, your childhood experience was a model for your approach to philanthropy. Do you now see yourselves potentially as models for others?
Greg Perlman: A hundred percent.
Jodi Perlman: A hundred percent.
Greg Perlman: This is exactly why we’re doing it. I want to show people I know from different areas of our life the light of giving. They’re going to see the kinds of requests that we receive from all of our Angel Funds, and they are going to want to jump in and open up their wallets and give. I’m convinced of it.
Jodi Perlman: There are many people who want to give, but they don’t know how. It sounds funny to say that — what do you mean you don’t know how to give? It’s not that difficult. But, like we talked about before, many people are intimidated. Even people who have a lot of money can be intimidated. No matter what, no one ever thinks their gift is large enough. But what we are doing can show them that no matter what they give, it will be enough, and it will make a difference. So, yes, I definitely think that we are setting a new tone, a new direction.
Greg Perlman: It’s not just about how much impact a gift can have on the life of a recipient; it also is about changing the way that giving can be done so that more people can be fulfilled in their giving.
Jodi Perlman: Exactly.
You sound somewhat evangelical about the subject.
Greg Perlman: (laughing): My partners call me Missionary Greg! Fifty percent of my time is spent driving all over Southern California to meet with new organizations to set up Angel Funds