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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Big Ideas, Big Impact

Shelley Hoss

Each November, National Philanthropy Day honors the remarkable investments of time, talent and resources that represent Americans’ generous approach to giving. And with Americans contributing more than $300 billion annually to charitable causes, there is much to celebrate.

In Orange County, accompanying National Philanthropy Day this month will be the Orange County Community Foundation’s own celebration of big ideas that have brought significant impact to OC. Part of the foundation’s mission is to shine light on the most creative, innovative and effective models of philanthropy in our community.

Yard House USA Inc.’s Round It Up America initiative and The Village at 17th—a unique approach to providing a home for local nonprofits—are at the top of our list this year.

Harald Herrmann, chief executive of Yard House, and Jennifer Weerheim, vice president of marketing, became increasingly alarmed by the rise in needs in OC and across the country in the wake of the economic crisis.

They began brainstorming for ways their restaurants could help. The result was Round It Up America, a program that raises money to support nonprofits that provide critical services such as food, shelter and crisis relief.

The program invites diners to round up their check to the nearest dollar, with the change donated to nonprofits in the communities where restaurants are located. In just nine months, Round It Up America has generated $250,000.

“Our vision has always been for this to go far beyond Yard House,” Herrmann said. “Imagine restaurants from coast-to-coast where millions of people are rounding up every day. That’s how change happens. That’s our ultimate goal.”

Another duo of business leaders who have employed innovation to respond to unmet needs in OC are Bill Podlich, cofounder of international investment powerhouse Pacific Investment Management Co., and Warren Lortie, a successful real estate entrepreneur.

Realizing the limited resources of many local nonprofits, Podlich and Lortie brought their talents together to acquire an office building where nonprofit tenants could benefit from affordable leases and shared common spaces.

The concept of nonprofits sharing office space has been successful in communities across the country but did not yet exist in OC. With Podlich’s financial acumen and Lortie’s expertise in commercial real estate, the pair embarked on a mission to obtain a 34,000-square-foot office building in Santa Ana.

Combining their funds with contributions from several other donors—and loans provided by a local real estate investment group and the Orange County Community Foundation—the building was purchased and renamed The Village at 17th.

When complete, The Village will be home to 20 local nonprofits and include a 2,200-square-foot shared conference and resource center with a board room, training facility and copy center.

But like Herrmann and Weerheim, Podlich and Lortie have a much larger goal than establishing a single village.

“We’re hoping to bring even more shared nonprofit office spaces to Orange County,” Podlich says. “We want to help as many nonprofits as possible become stronger and more self-sufficient.”

Innovative solutions like the ones envisioned and executed by these dynamic business leaders are bringing an unparalleled charitable return on investment to our community.

With this year’s National Philanthropy Day, we have a lot to be proud of right here in OC and an even greater promise for what the future will hold.

Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation, which works with donors to coordinate giving to nonprofits.

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