“We’re spotlight avoiders,” John Middleton said. “We did not want to have to be outed,” his wife, Leigh, chimed in. “It’s very uncomfortable for us.”
Despite their camera-sky demeanor, the Middletons have been getting a lot of media attention these days. It's true, John is the co-owner of the Philadelphia Phillies Major League Baseball team. But now, he and his wife have emerged as the city's hot new philanthropists, putting the people of Philadelphia first. John and Leigh Middleton were recently named the 2013 recipients of the Philadelphia Award, one of the city’s most prestigious honors.
"Several people have said to us over the years that you can't maximize the good you do if you stay in the shadows the whole time and remain anonymous," John told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "We found, particularly with Project HOME, three or four of us will go meet with people, and [executive director] Sister Mary Scullion will say, 'The Middletons are giving X, we want you to give Y,' and you can see it makes a difference to someone you're trying to solicit money from that you are in there and saying we want you to give, and not staying on the sidelines. Ultimately, at some point, when you have the capacity that we have, you have to rethink what you are doing and the way you are doing it. There is a responsibility that comes with that."
But in fact, the Middletons aren’t actually new philanthropists at all. For many years now, they’ve been quietly and steadily contributing millions of dollars to local charities related to education, homelessness, youth causes, workforce development, and neurological disorder research.
In 1856, John's family established John Middleton Inc., a Philadelphia tobacco shop. In 2007, John sold his family company to Altria Group, the parent corporation of Philip Morris USA, for $2.9 billion. Altria still manufacturers and markets pipe tobacco and large machine-made cigars today. After John sold the business, Leigh convinced him to lead a life of philanthropy, using his money and experience to help nonprofits thrive.
The Middletons recently awarded $30 million dollars to Project HOME, $16.3 million to the University of Pennsylvania’s Neuroscience Behavior Initiative, as well as $16.2 million to the struggling Philadelphia School District and affiliate institutions. Homelessness remains at the focal point of the Middletons' giving, and Project HOME, which provides housing and services to chronically homeless men and women in Philadelphia, has been a huge part of that dedication. The couple will receive a $25,000 honorarium for winning the 2013 Philadelphia Award, which they’re already committed to Project HOME.
So what are the Middletons looking for in new grantees?
"I do not believe in Band-Aid solutions and short-term results,” John once explained at a press conference. John’s alma mater, Amherst College, describes him as fiercely private, unfailingly modest, and a person who values impact above all else. “We invest in organizations where we think we can help make transformative and sustainable changes that will benefit the Philadelphia region,” John Middleton said.
Both John Middleton and the Altria Group focus giving in four ways: youth development, the environment, arts & culture, and local community development. Without a doubt, Project HOME caught John’s attention because of the program’s focus on metrics. "I don't think you can be CEO of a company as long as I was CEO, and grow it from what it was to what it was when we sold it, without approaching your daily life that way,” he said.