Across Generations: A Look at How a West Coast Real Estate Family Approaches Giving

photo:  Kit Leong/shutterstock

photo:  Kit Leong/shutterstock

Founded in 1946, Held Properties Inc. was established by the late real estate mogul Harold Held, who spearheaded office and medical office buildings in Los Angeles, including Westwood Place, 100 UCLA Medical Center, and Medical Centre of Santa Monica. Headquartered in Century City, the company is a privately held, family-owned developer, owner and operator of premier office and medical office buildings in Southern California. Held Properties is now steered by Harold's children—Robert Held, who serves as president and CEO, Joseph Held, vice president and COO, and Melissa Held Bordy, the company's CFO. 

Partners in business, the Held siblings also collectively engage in philanthropy through the Held Foundation, which gives a few hundred thousand dollars annually to quite a range of organizations in the Los Angeles area. The family gets behind education, health and Jewish causes, while also earmarking funds for disaster relief, environmental organizations and plenty more. While the charity keeps a pretty low profile, I recently spoke with Melissa to get a better sense of the siblings' philanthropic vision and the mission of their foundation.

First off, like many family foundations, the Held Foundation doesn't exactly have a firm mission. "We're sort of all over the place," Melissa says. But as I dug deeper, it became pretty clear that the Held family runs an interesting philanthropic operation and have plenty of conviction behind their approach. Take, for instance, the story of how the Held Foundation first kicked off in the mid-1980s. Their mother Louise was sick in the hospital, and the Helds experienced firsthand the challenges of adequate nursing care. That sparked their interest, and the Helds dug into their own pockets and gave grants to individual nurses and hospitals in the Southern California area. Harold also created the Louise K. Held Nursing Scholarship Fund to entice the finest graduating nurses throughout the country to join nonprofit hospitals on the Westside of Los Angeles.

Melissa explains that the foundation consistently supports about five to six organizations annually, with many others rotating in and out. One main grantee is Team Rubicon, a Los Angeles-based disaster relief organization founded by two marines. Melissa explains that her family "saw disasters happening and wanted to give, but realized that dollars weren’t necessarily being given to places who knew how to use them correctly."

Really, the Helds wanted to find an organization doing disaster relief all year round. They enlisted a consultant—the family relies on one to find new organizations with which to partner—who whittled the choice down to a handful. The Helds did research, conducted interviews, and ultimately chose Team Rubicon, which they've been supporting steadily for about a half-decade or so. Melissa sits on the finance committee of the organization as well as the finance committees of a number of nonprofits. Meanwhile, one of Melissa's brothers, whose wheelhouse is construction, serves on the building committees of various boards.

Ultimately, grantmaking tracks with Melissa, Joseph, and Robert's interest areas and their board involvements. The family is active in the Jewish community and supporting the local federation. Melissa is also a vice chair of the board of American Jewish University. And her brother Joseph is on the board of Los Angeles Jewish Home. Melissa also told me that the family recently gave a grant to City of Hope related to blood cancers. 

"There's one other area we're really proud of," Melissa goes on. While Melissa and her brothers serve as trustees of the foundation, the charity also has a next-generation board that's been active for about a decade. Melissa, Joseph and Robert have seven children between them, and they're all involved. "It started as a dinner table conversation where our kids started talking about what they were passionate about, and we gave 100 bucks or so." This work has since evolved into a formal board where the Held children get access to educational programming and interact with nonprofits. Each child has an individual allocation, and the full group has an allocation. Before gifts are activated, they need to be unanimously approved by the next-generation board.

When I asked Melissa what she thought the value of all this was, she told me that it's taught their kids how to  "work together and really thoughtfully think about philanthropy." The Held Foundation's grantmaking has also touched areas like civil rights and environmental causes, with modest sums going to places like ACLU and Environmental Defense Fund, reflecting interests of the next-generation board. Melissa's youngest daughter is a mechanical engineer, and has a passion for STEM education for girls. Grantmaking has touched places like Engineers Without Borders. And her middle daughter travels frequently, sparking an interest in global causes.

Melissa says, "It's really interesting to watch the next-gen board, because they are much more wanting to give to relevant issues right now versus, I think, my brothers and I are looking more towards things that have been going on for a longer period of time.”

While the Held children only influence a portion of the foundation's grantmaking, Melissa's last point speaks to a common theme we often report regarding next generation donors, who, rather than writing checks to traditional and long-established organizations, have a different giving approach, and are interested in tackling a new set of problems. The late Harold Held and his late wife Louise also left a philanthropic legacy, which the Held siblings have continued. 

As for getting in touch with this real estate family, Melissa emphasizes that the family primarily reaches out to organizations with which to partner and generally doesn't take proposals. Funders working in Los Angeles, however, should keep Melissa, Joseph and Robert Held on their radars.