Phillip and Gail Holloman: AFP Cincinnati 2023 PHILANTHROPISTS OF THE YEAR

Lifetimes dedicated to building strong communities

Phillip and Gail Holloman are being honored on National Philanthropy Day as 2023 Philanthropists of the Year by the Cincinnati chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals

Phillip Holloman is retired president and COO of Cintas. The Hollomans are actively engaged community leaders, known for their philanthropic efforts in establishing the Center for Social Justice at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. In 2018, they founded the 7 Principles Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofits specializing in childhood development, adult job-readiness training and social equity. Gail Holloman is chair of the foundation. 

Gail and Phillip, both 68, grew up in Middletown and have known each other since third grade. 

The Hollomans spoke with Movers & Makers contributor Byron McCauley to discuss the transformative power of philanthropy and their philosophy of giving.

Phillip and Gail Holloman (Photo by Wendell Gibbs III, Eleven27 Media Group)
Phillip and Gail Holloman
(Photo by Wendell Gibbs III, Eleven27 Media Group)

Byron: When you were younger and contemplated the impact you wanted to make on society, did you ever envision becoming philanthropists? Was there a plan?

Phillip: No, not initially, of course. We didn’t foresee the extent of our philanthropic involvement. However, the act of giving, whether through our time or resources, has always been a part of us. Our early experiences were primarily through church activities, contributing to our community, guided by our parents’ example. My father was a civil rights leader in Middletown, so we were always aware of the importance of social justice, particularly during the turbulent 1960s when we witnessed the struggles of the Black community. Philanthropy has always been ingrained in who we are.

Gail: Phil and I grew up together, and we’ve been friends since the third grade. Throughout high school and college, we were involved in various organizations, where we dedicated our time to helping others and our community.

Phillip: Upon returning to Cincinnati after a brief relocation, I became actively involved in the Bond Hill Community Council. We both supported Sands Montessori, where our children attended school. It wasn’t part of a grand plan; it was simply what we felt compelled to do.

Gail: Our focus has always been on helping, and we didn’t initially label it as philanthropy. It was about our desire to make a positive impact, a value instilled in us by our parents. Today, we quantify our efforts with dollars, but our commitment to making a difference has remained constant.

Byron: Why is philanthropy important to you?

Phillip: Philanthropy is important to us because we believe in aiding those who may not have the means to help themselves. We’ve always felt that if we are in a position to assist, we should, and we want to.

Gail: It’s also about building and supporting our community. The better our community, the better the quality of life for everyone.

Byron: How do you think philanthropy can alter the life trajectory of individuals, groups or organizations?

Gail: Well, of course it helps. And it makes that organization or that community stronger. And I think we live by what we see. And if we see a good community then we continue to move like that and hopefully, as we move like that, that other people living in that community will join us in continuing to build that organization or that community.

Phillip: Sometimes it’s just helping one person who’s a part of some organization or event. So we just look for opportunities where our contribution may make it easier for them to pursue their mission or whatever it is that they are trying to accomplish. And we do recognize now, and I’m not necessarily comfortable with it, but sometimes our involvement causes others to get involved and I never just viewed myself that way, but that’s a part of it, too.

Byron: Can you elaborate on the different levels of involvement you advocate for others?

Gail: You give what you can, whether that’s time or treasure, and whether that’s $5 or $500 or $5,000. You start based upon your budget, but the most important piece is that you start.

Phillip: What Gail and I have always talked about and always done is that, as we have progressed financially, our commitment to the community hasn’t wavered. We continue to interact at all socioeconomic levels. We have a genuine passion for helping those less fortunate than us.

Byron: Your philanthropic endeavors are well-known for focusing on social justice and economic empowerment, such as with the Urban League and your family. What drives this philosophy?

Phillip: Our 7 Principles Foundation, established in 2018 and headed by our daughter Jamia, reflects our philosophy. Over the past five years, we’ve provided over $600,000 in grants to various organizations. Some ask for $2,000, while others need $25,000. We support smaller organizations that may struggle to secure larger grants. When organizations come to us with incomplete paperwork, we assist them in making it right. Our aim is to help these smaller nonprofits thrive.

Byron: It seems like the 7 Principles Foundation focuses on meeting needs where they are.

Phillip: Absolutely, but we do reject organizations that don’t align with our mission. However, we work with them to develop strategies that better align with our mission. We operate with transparency and have a board, with Gail serving as the chair. Our goal is to ensure the foundation operates ethically and effectively while being a source of assistance.

Gail: We don’t widely publicize our board; we primarily focus on organizations we’ve assisted previously or those we’ve encountered at events. We look for organizations that may not have the sustainability needed for larger grants, but have the potential for growth. As president and CEO, Jamia works closely with them to navigate paperwork and ensure they meet our foundation’s criteria in subsequent years.

Byron: As you look ahead, what aspects of your philanthropic work do you believe you’ve executed well?

Phillip: Our hope is that we’ve established a foundation that will remain sustainable for generations to come. We aim to continue assisting in the long term. We also recognize that we can’t spend all our wealth and we don’t want to, so we want to make it available for future generations to support their endeavors. Unfortunately, the need for help won’t disappear, so we want our foundation to be there to address new challenges and issues.

Gail: I believe philanthropy will always be essential, and I hope more individuals will embrace it. We need to teach people that they are already practicing philanthropy and encourage them to do more. Additionally, I hope society recognizes individuals like us as givers who contribute to and improve our communities. I found it surprising to learn that we were the first minorities to receive the award from the AFP, because I consider that we are part of a group. I hope in the future that that recognition is more widespread because it’s actually happening and people are actually getting recognized for it.

2023 National Philanthropy Day luncheon

Thursday, Nov. 16, Music Hall Ballroom 

Presented by AFP Cincinnati, the luncheon recognizes individuals and organizations for their contributions to Greater Cincinnati nonprofits. Networking: 11 a.m. Program and luncheon: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Tickets: $100 (nonprofit) and $150 (corporate).


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