A Game Changer for Grantmaking

October 3, 2022

Philip Wehrheim has committed $20 million to Rochester Area Community Foundation solely to support grants that directly benefit our region — with no restrictions or strings attached.

This unrestricted gift, the largest in the Foundation’s 50-year history, will come from Wehrheim’s estate. At that time, his gift will be invested and start providing an additional $1 million annually for grantmaking, an amount that likely will increase over time.

“I’ve had a whole lifetime to think about this,” said Wehrheim, who was Tom Golisano’s first partner in the launch of Paychex. “I like to make an investment that is going to survive long after me.”

Anne Frost Wehrheim and Philip Wehrheim at their home in Pittsford. Photo by Erich Camping.

Unrestricted means the gift is not designated for a specific cause or purpose. The Foundation staff and board determine how it will be used based on community needs at the time.

“This gift is truly transformational,” said Jennifer Leonard, the Foundation’s president and CEO (through September 30), who met with Wehrheim over the years as he was shaping his philanthropic legacy. “With more flexible dollars available for grantmaking, we will be able to have more of an impact in the future.”

Wehrheim spent time getting to know the Foundation. He and his late wife, Marilyn, established an endowed donor-advised fund in 1986. Over time, he learned how the Foundation works and watched its investment performance — all the while making grants to the couple’s favorite nonprofit organizations.

“What better hands could I put this money into rather than turning it over to a family foundation. … The Wehrheim name will go on because of this,” he said.

Ten years ahead of its 50th anniversary, the Community Foundation set its sights on growing endowment dollars that provide ongoing support for the Greater Rochester-Finger Lakes region. Part of that effort included significantly increasing discretionary gifts (unrestricted or broad purpose), allowing the Foundation to more nimbly address critical community needs as they arise. More than $162.5 million in discretionary commitments has been raised, mostly in estate gifts like Wehrheim’s.

Wehrheim’s former Paychex colleague Tom Clark and his wife, Barbara, were among the first to make a substantial commitment to this quiet 50th anniversary campaign.

The Clarks, who over time created four endowed funds at the Foundation, also witnessed the value of endowment during their 40-plus years of involvement with School of the Holy Childhood in Henrietta. “The endowment provided the school with a cushion and allowed it to venture into new areas, offer new programs, and take some risks,” said Tom Clark.

While Wehrheim has long had a list of nonprofits he supports with annual grants from his fund, he and Anne, his wife of five years, do some giving in tandem. He gave a gift to Anne’s church in Canandaigua to finish the steeple after she made a donation — in honor of her late husband — to install lights.

With gifts like those, Wehrheim has seen results right away, particularly with many of his larger gifts to places such as the Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Genesee Country Village & Museum.

But as he looks ahead to the future and what our community really needs, he’s decided that “if you give money, the best kind is unencumbered.”


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