How a Chicago Couple is Forging a Vision on Sustainability to Drive Their Giving

The foundation of George and Amanda Hanley has been around for a while, but it drew some serious attention when it gave $12.5 million last year for a university’s sustainability center. We were intrigued to learn more, so we asked Amanda Hanley about what she and her husband are up to, and what drives their giving. 

As it turns out, we checked in at a good moment, because the couple’s philanthropy has really been taking shape lately, and their recent giving has been synthesizing different interests.

Amanda Hanley told us via email: “Increasingly, our giving is directed to projects that weave together all three of our focus areas: environment, education and empowerment (social and/or economic). We are looking to foster opportunity through sustainability.” Those are some interesting threads to pull together, especially given how many funders operate in silos in each area. 

Related - George and Amanda Hanley Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

The wealth of the foundation originates with George Hanley’s trading career, during which he’s sold three companies. Amanda Hanley is an avid environmentalist, active in Chicago (the couple live in Winnetka), and blogging for her own site Wren and the Huffington Post

The foundation has three focuses, but largely merges George’s interest in funding education and schools with Amanda’s interest in the environment, clean energy, and sustainable food systems.   

How couples try to forge a joint philanthropic vision out of divergent interests is always fascinating to watch. Of course, some never succeed in this realm and instead just create separate grantmaking buckets. But those who do get on the same page can build more sophisticated foundations.   

Related - Meet the 9 Most Powerful Couples in U.S. Philanthropy

The combined interest and the synthesis Amanda Hanley references above were most evident in the foundation’s most prominent grant to date, the $12.5 million grant given to the University of Dayton to establish an interdisciplinary sustainability center. A large part of the UD grant is due to the fact that George Hanley is an alum, as he previously gave $5 million to the school.

But you can also see this strategy in a $1 million challenge grant to the Academy for Global Citizenship, a Chicago charter school that is building a green campus, with net-positive energy and its own farm. 

These school gifts are a logical expression of the couple’s joint interests, but they also hit another grantmaking criterion that George has talked about, which is leveraging his donations to create something that has a ripple effect. Matching grants or grants for infrastructure that will live on are particularly appealing.

So while the funder does give to big green groups like the NRDC and the Sierra Club, we’re likely to see more of a focus on sustainability and clean energy programs that involve schools and underprivileged populations. Certainly any green group in the Midwest would be well-advised to get to know George and Amanda Hanley.

"Our goal is to spark lasting sustainability solutions. Collaborating with creative savvy leaders, we encourage innovative models for systemic change," Amanda Hanley told us.

One more thing to note about the Hanleys: They are very committed to the fossil fuel divestment collective called Divest Invest. “Portfolios can be profitable without destroying the planet! We call on others to join this important movement,” Hanley says.

Related - Falling Dominoes: Why More Large Foundations Will Divest From Fossil Fuels

Do keep in mind that the foundation is not currently looking for new grantees, but we’ll be watching this funder for new developments.