SALT LAKE CITY — Microsoft co-founder and noted philanthropist Bill Gates once noted, "With great wealth comes great responsibility, a responsibility to give back to society and a responsibility to see that those resources are put to work in the best possible way to help those in need."
While his comments were made in more recent years, that sentiment has been followed by numerous people of means, including a Utah family that is commemorating six decades of philanthropy.
This week, the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation is celebrating 60 years and just over $600 million in philanthropic giving to organizations across Utah and its many communities.
"It's really George and Lolie's vision that we're trying to continue … for the state of Utah," according to Lisa Eccles, president and chief operating officer of the foundation. Lolie was Dolores' family nickname.
The foundation was created by the namesakes to support arts and culture, community (social services), education, health and wellness, along with historic preservation and land conservation, Lisa Eccles said.
"We want to strengthen our communities, whether it's our capital city or the small rural communities throughout the state," Lisa Eccles said. Among the small-town initiatives the foundation continues to sponsor is the development of public parks that a community can enjoy year after year, she said.
"It's been rewarding to see these small cities and communities come together (and) work together to create something in their community that's an anchor and that they're proud of, and that children and their families can benefit for years to come," she said.
George Eccles and his brother Marriner Eccles founded First Security Corp. in 1928, with George serving as CEO from 1945 to 1982. At the time of its merger with Wells Fargo in 2000, First Security was one of the nation's oldest and largest multistate bank holding companies.
George and Dolores launched the foundation in 1958, and it became more active following the passing of George Eccles in 1982. It was then led by Dolores Eccles until her death in 1994.
The family has used the foundation to further causes they felt were worthy of financial backing to help uplift local communities in Utah, explained foundation Chairman and CEO Spencer Eccles. He said the philosophy of the foundation is "to make a meaningful difference long-term" in anything the foundation supports.
"It's the thrill of a lifetime. It's a humbling experience. We feel very privileged to be asked to help serve for the foundation," he said. Spencer Eccles is a nephew of George Eccles. Lisa Eccles is Spencer Eccles' daughter.
The foundation receives over 400 proposals annually from nonprofit organizations asking for financial support with their community-oriented endeavors. One of the organization's highest priority is higher education, to which the foundation has given $187.6 million over the years.
"We really think that education is the key to success," Lisa Eccles said. The foundation has given financial support to every college and university in Utah over the years in an effort to promote the importance of education statewide, she said.
"There is so much need out there," Spencer Eccles said.
The foundation also has a passion for helping youth realize their potential.
Among the organizations that the foundation provides ongoing financial support to is the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake, which has received approximately $7 million cumulatively.
"That's the future for this city, this state and this country," he said. "Education is the single most important aspect for these young kids to make sure they are training for taking care of themselves and (planning for) their future."
LeAnn Saldivar, president of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake, said thousands of young people have benefited from the Eccles Foundation's generosity through the various programs the organization has been able to provide in lower income areas throughout the metro area.
"(The foundation) has made a contribution to every one of our (eight) building facilities," she said. "They give credibility to our organization."
She said having support from the Eccles has helped the Boys and Girls Clubs prosper over the years and provide much-needed support to youth in the local community.
She said receiving support from organizations like the Eccles Foundation has a profound impact on the lives of kids who may otherwise be without programs that help them achieve academically, socially and personally.
"Those of us who provide human services in this community, we are really close to the challenges and the obstacles that face everyday people and particularly — in our case — kids," Saldivar said. "(The Eccles Foundation) really wants to understand how what we do works, how the money they provide gives us the ability to serve these kids."
Boys and Girls Club member Jeniya McCullar, 17, is a senior at West High School in Salt Lake City and national Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year finalist. He said he spent 12 years every day after school coming to the club and participating in the programs offered there. The experience "shaped my whole life," he said.
"It's an extended family more than a resource," he explained. "It's a space where you didn't have to worry about what's going on outside with your life. It doesn't matter if you don't have your parents. It doesn't matter if you don't have money or if you do. You just go there and everybody is just a kid."
He said being a beneficiary of philanthropy has given him an appreciation of how valuable charitable organizations can be to a community.7 comments on this story
"You're giving back and you're giving kids that feeling of hope for their future," he said. "(The kids) can come out of the club with the hope and ambition to be something. Stuff they maybe never saw for themselves in their future, they can have it."
Saldivar said one of the things that set the Eccles Foundation apart is the leadership's willingness to understand the human condition in the community that is being served.
"They aren't just sitting in an office somewhere writing checks from proposals," she said. "They get close to the need in the community in a way that a lot of other philanthropic organizations do not."