About Laura Lauder

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Working in software sales and management for 10 years after earning a degree in international relations, Laura Lauder never envisioned becoming a philanthropist, much less a champion of Jewish day schools. But on a vacation with friends in bucolic Big Sur, Calif., her life took an unexpected turn.

There she met her future husband, Gary. A grandson of cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder, he had graduated from Stanford Business School a year before and was living in California's Silicon Valley, working in high-tech venture capital. Laura ultimately joined Gary in Lauder Partners LLC, investing in start-ups and mezzanine-level companies. Yet there was another side of life—a concern with the community's welfare that both had inherited from their families.

In her hometown of Canton, Ohio, Laura Heller's father had been president of the Jewish Welfare Fund, while her mother taught Sunday school and served as president of the League of Women Voters. Gary's mother, Evelyn Lauder, has raised nearly $100 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation she founded. "My mother-in-law is really my role model in learning how to be an effective and persuasive philanthropist by being gracious and warm, sincere and collaborative," Lauder says.

Active in Jewish organizations before her marriage, Lauder, 43, has combined her passion for seeing the Jewish community flourish with her knowledge of venture-capitalism methods. The result is a carefully planned effort to create a cadre of teachers who are well-trained in both Jewish and secular education to fill the increasing ranks of liberal Jewish day schools nationwide. "In venture capital, the return on investment is very clear," she says. "It's financial. But you do much the same thing in philanthropy—look for great leadership, management, ideas and the ability to execute a business plan with clear, identified and measurable outcomes in mind."

With 12 other philanthropists, she raised $6 million to found the three-year-old transdenominational program called DeLeT, or "door" in Hebrew, which stands for Day-school Leadership through Teaching. "The idea is to open the door to a career commitment in Jewish day-school teaching and fill the gap in qualified teachers," Lauder explains. Since 2002, the program has trained 20 fellows each year through summer institutes at Hebrew Union College and Brandeis, yearlong text study and hands-on classroom experience with mentors. Graduates have been hired for teaching jobs across the country.

The program is modeled on Lauder's experience as a fellow of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, where she was trained to take on leadership responsibilities in the Jewish community. After her fellowship, Lauder says, "I became more and more convinced that a values-based education grounded in Jewish history and tradition and a love of Israel was a great framework in which to receive your education." When her son was still an infant and before her daughter was born, Lauder chaired a campaign that raised $6 million to build a new home for the local Jewish day school. When the school outgrew those facilities, she helped raise another $12 million to finance an entirely new campus near her home in Palo Alto. "I wanted to make sure it was a great school—not just for our kids, but for the entire community."

The Lauders are also active in Aspen, Colo., where the family has a second home. They started a young leadership group of the Aspen Institute think tank called the Socrates Society, which has grown to over 1,000 people in eight years. They also support the Aspen Community Foundation, which provides health care and services for needy families in the Roaring Fork Valley of Aspen.

In the future, Lauder says, "I dream of being able to deserve the honor of being called a philanthropist. I'm forever searching for ways to have an extraordinary impact by leveraging dollars, my time—and that of others—to really practice tikkun olam [repairing the world]."

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Laura Lauder on Philanthropy: 'The Number of Zeroes Doesn't Matter'

Laura Lauder on Philanthropy: ‘The Number of Zeroes Doesn’t Matter’

April 11, 2014 with

Venture capitalist turned venture philanthropist from the Lauder Foundation says you don’t have to be rich to effect change

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