Philanthropy at the cellular level
The fever was familiar: It was the third time the infectious disease biologist had contracted malaria, a treatable but often deadly disease transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.
"You have to dig deep and find out a lot about yourself," Victoria said. Admittedly, such an experience would prompt most people to avoid exposure to the disease at all costs. Not Victoria, who was more concerned with the plight of the West African people than anything else. It's a mission that is still heavy on her heart.
"Unfortunately, some of those conditions still exist today, which is horrifying," she said. This reality has caused her to run toward, not away from, the front lines of disease prevention.
Victoria returned with a resolve to minimize - even eradicate - diseases worldwide. Together, she and her husband, Quinten, partnered to create the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Clinical Trial Center, which develops vaccines for infectious diseases like malaria. They later launched the Hinckley, Ohio-based Clinical Research Management (ClinicalRM), which specializes in research and trials.
The tough work of creating a startup business ultimately led to global success, government contracts and a direct line to philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates. "We had developed a protocol, or clinical trial, to collect plasma from Ebola survivors and use that plasma to (treat) Ebola patients," Victoria said. The disease was moving fast, so she met with Bill Gates personally in November 2014 and was approved for what she called "the quickest grant in Gates Foundation history."
"The money was wired overnight, which just doesn't happen at the Gates Foundation," Victoria said. "But it was a global crisis. We've been working with them ever since on the Ebola crisis. We're still running some trials under a grant from them in West Africa with Ebola survivors, following them over the years to see how they're doing. We're still very involved in helping with Ebola prevention and surveillance overseas and preparation for the United States should cases start to appear again."
New opportunity equals charitable legacy
In the infectious disease world, the only thing that remains constant is change. Last year, a big change came for the Tifft family when global drug development solutions provider ICON purchased ClinicalRM. This enabled the Tifft family to leverage several decades of success into a permanent charitable vehicle to fight diseases worldwide and support a variety of other causes that are important to them. With the help of financial advisor Bill Manby Jr., they opened the Tifft Family Fund, a donor-advised fund at Akron Community Foundation.
"The nice thing about a donor-advised fund is that you don't have to make somany decisions right now," said Manby, president and CEO of Paradigm Equity Strategies. "So we set up a situation where (the Tiffts) can now do their giving annually through this type of structure."
A donor-advised fund is often the perfect choice for business owners who decide it's time to liquidate. It simplifies the giving process: You make gifts to the fund when it makes the most sense, like during a business sale, and Akron Community Foundation offers you the greatest deductibility of any nonprofit at a time when you need to offset your financial gains. Then, you can take your time recommending grants from the fund to your favorite causes and charities.
"(Victoria) has always been philanthropic, so when she sold the business, it was a foregone conclusion that philanthropy would be part of that process," Manby said. "We thought Akron Community Foundation would be the perfect home."
"I'm involved in a couple companies here in Akron, and then, of course, our investment fund is right here, so it made sense to really consider Akron," said Victoria, who made the decision to start the fund over lunch with Manby and Margaret Medzie, Akron Community Foundation's then-vice president and chief development officer. "At the end of the lunch, I said, 'This is it. This makes sense.'"
Looking back, looking ahead
While discussing the sale of ClinicalRM, Victoria likens the company to her first child.
She and Quinten have run the business for 20 years, with the last five years in preparation for the sale. "The timing was right. Pairing with a much larger company will help this company grow," she said. If the business were a child, she jokes, it would be time for it to leave the nest: "My husband and I always joke that it was our first baby. And now that baby has gone to college, it has a nice full-time job, and it's still at home. So it's time to get out of the house."
While she's traveled all over the globe, Victoria's family connection to Northeast Ohio has been lifelong. Victoria grew up in Hinckley, attended the University of Akron, and has a master's degree from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Even while living in Washington, D.C., she recalls longing to return to Akron.
On a recent afternoon, Victoria and Quinten, along with their son Morgan, 16, and daughter, Maggie, 14, visited Akron Community Foundation's office to discuss their charitable plans and learn about the many local needs in their areas of interest.
Manby accompanied them to the meeting and said the community foundation's deep knowledge of local nonprofits and community issues will be a vital resource to the family's fund. "They don't have the time to meet with everybody they might want to give to, so having a group like (Akron Community Foundation) to do a lot of the heavy lifting and then isolate the opportunities that really hit in their family's wheelhouse."
"My husband, myself and our three children all have strong, independent personalities and interests," Victoria said. "This gives us the opportunity for everybody to pursue what interests them. And we're really interested, also, in the collaboration opportunities with other fundholders, because something that they're doing may be of real interest to one of us. So, for several reasons, we just thought (the community foundation) offered a lot more than trying to do a private foundation or doing something solo."
Cultivating an environment of giving
For the Tifft family, giving is in their DNA, especially the children. "Our children have shared this same philosophy; they've grown up with it," Victoria said. "They haven't known anything different than you help others and you give back. This, to us, is going to be the culmination of being able to give them something that they can move and drive on their own."
"We always laugh and say we have free-range children; they're very independent thinkers and they're mature for their ages, so this was something that was important for us for each of them to have independent decisions," she added. "I think all three of them are willing to participate in some way."
Their daughter, Maggie, said she's interested in issues surrounding children, especially those who are at risk. After learning that children in Africa tie together plastic grocery bags to create makeshift soccer balls, she gave Victoria and Morgan hundreds of soccer balls to take with them on a trip to Liberia.
Morgan is also interested in helping children, specifically through music. And their older brother, Matt, 20, who is a professional NASCAR driver, became an advocate for brain tumor research after being diagnosed with his own tumor last year. He underwent a successful surgery to remove the tumor and has since made a full recovery, but Victoria still recalls how their "world was turned upside down in a couple of seconds."
Quinten expressed interest in investing in issues in Medina County, especially science-based careers for women and girls. Even within ClinicalRM, Victoria and Quinten have fostered a culture of giving back.
"Every year in the company, we (have) what we call the Make a Difference Campaign," said Victoria. "We give $5,000 gifts to one or two different school systems in the Medina area. For the past eight or 10 years, we've also worked with the Salvation Army in Brunswick. We purchase all of the angels on their tree for kids, and we take care of all of the kids for the whole community."
Victoria especially likes when their entire "entourage" goes shopping. "We go shopping in Medina, and we buy all the gifts, then come back and wrap them. At the end of the day, you see a whole lobby full of bags and gifts. That's just a good feeling," she said.
"I think just being able to see 'what are the needs in your community' is really compelling and will change (our children)," Victoria continued. "And it doesn't have to be your children. It could be your grandchildren or nieces and nephews, but you can start teaching about giving, and then you set up a whole lifetime of several folks giving."
She stresses that you don't have to have a lot of money to be philanthropic. "When I was younger, I didn't have any money, so basically I donated my time," she said. "Even if you're just giving up your time, you give what you have."