The Halls and Hallmark guide Kansas City philanthropy

The health of Hallmark Cards is important to the Kansas City community, not just as a major employer but as a leading benefactor augmented by a strong foundation established by its founder.

Hallmark-related contributions to local social service and civic projects actually come from two foundations — the Hall Family Foundation, established by founder Joyce Hall and his wife, and the Hallmark Corporate Foundation.

The family foundation is the behemoth, having grown to $861 million in assets by this month. It ranks locally behind the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation in asset size, but it is a powerhouse in local philanthropy.

The Hall Family Foundation will allocate $38 million this year to Kansas City area social welfare, education, arts and community recipients, up from 2012 grants worth $35.4 million.

That giving puts it just slightly ahead of the $2 billion Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which this year is contributing $36 million in local grants.

The $1.8 billion Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which has more than 3,300 separate donor funds, last year reported a combined grant total of more than $110 million to recipients in the Kansas City metro area, or about half of the total grants made by its donors.

Many Kansas Citians credit some of the Hall family’s unerring social conscience to the wife of Don Hall Sr., Adele Hall. She died earlier this year. Legions of social service programs and projects in the area grew because of her backing. But the Hall largesse dates to the founder, who engaged in philanthropy before the company made money.

Because of the heft of the family foundation, “people still look to Hallmark to line up their contributions. Absolutely,” said Jim Heeter, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. “The Halls will say there are other major players in the Kansas City philanthropic space, but the reality is that in this community, more often than not, almost always people will look to Hallmark for leadership.”

That responsibility is “both a curse and a blessing,” said Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation. (He takes care to remind people that his last name is a coincidence; he is not a family member.)

It’s a curse because he and his small staff feel pressured to make good evaluations of agencies and people who make funding requests. Bill Hall said he knows “we make mistakes, we misjudge programs. It is good there are other (major philanthropists), a cross section of opinion.”

The Kansas City area’s nonprofit leaders generally praise the foundation’s due diligence, fair decisions and giving record, even when the 2008-2009 market crash sent asset values plummeting.

Former Hallmarker Irvine O. Hockaday, the only non-Hall to have been the company’s CEO, a job he held from 1985 to 2001, said the city and its nonprofit sector would be far poorer without Hall and Hallmark largesse.

The giving record isn’t just about money, Hockaday said, suggesting that “there is no company in the region that contributes more in terms of employee civic engagement” through volunteering.

Even as the corporate belt tightened, Hallmark Cards remained a prime benefactor through grants from the company foundation, in-kind gifts and volunteer time given by Hallmark employees.

Open the program of nearly any civic organization or arts group and you’ll find Hallmark listed, perhaps not at the top “platinum” level where it once might have been, but at “gold” or “silver” at the least. Hallmark ranks high among local companies that give to plans and projects outside their own business interests.

Yet, giving by the Hallmark Corporate Foundation has been “relatively flat” — $25 million last year, acknowledged Carol Hallquist, the foundation’s president. That tally includes direct grants to arts and social service organizations and the value of donated products, ranging from plant forklifts donated to Heart to Heart International to tableware donated to tornado victims to party favors donated to fundraising carnivals.

“We definitely still give money, but the big growth has been in the volunteer time that our senior leaders and our employees give to organizations,” Hallquist said. “We have 13 official corporate volunteer programs, and they all have grown.”

Hallquist said the company’s “talent sharing” might not be apparent to the public, but it has a big effect in the community. A Hallmark employee, for example, conceived of the Fab Arts Collab, which brought together area arts organizations to use Hallmark’s audience-development research and do joint marketing.

“Whenever a civic issue is being discussed, (Hallmarkers) are always in the room because of the incredible intense focus and heartfelt commitment they’ve given to this community,” said Roshann Parris, this year’s chamber chairwoman. “The community wants their engagement at every turn.”

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