Boston Developer Builds Human Capital

Millennium Partners has developed many of the tall buildings that dot Boston’s skyline. Its portfolio of luxury residences includes the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences and One Charles in the Back Bay, and the glassy 60-floor Millennium Tower rising from the site of the old Filene’s department store in Downtown Crossing.

While the firm was a pro at developing luxury residential complexes, it felt it needed some expert guidance when it came to philanthropy. “We made charitable contributions on a regular basis, but it was always on the basis of people approaching us,” says Anthony Pangaro, Principal of Millennium Partners-Boston. The firm’s donations typically took the form of physical improvements to the neighborhoods surrounding their properties, but three years ago, with Millennium Tower on the drawing boards, the partners began thinking about whether they could build social capital as well. Desiring to be more strategic about the firm’s corporate giving, Pangaro approached The Philanthropic Initiative.

Pangaro Human Capital

TPI helped Millennium articulate its overall goal: to be a good neighbor in the areas where it operates and to improve the quality of life and help those in need in those neighborhoods. Building on the philanthropic experience of the firm’s Boston leaders, TPI then helped the firm develop criteria for its charitable giving. “Tony and his partners have been involved in the community for many, many years,” says TPI Co-Managing Partner Leslie Pine.  “They are deeply committed to making a lasting impact, and they also understand the power of partnerships with community stakeholders and funders.”

Millennium decided to concentrate on youth development and education in Chinatown and Downtown Crossing and approach organizations working in that arena. “With the help of TPI, we felt this was a place where we could properly focus,” Pangaro recalls. It was TPI’s job to “tell us who’s out there. Who’s doing good work? Who could use the help?”

TPI vetted nonprofits working in the youth development arena and invited them to submit letters of interest outlining how they would use a grant to strengthen after-school or summer youth programs; enhance education, life skills and workforce development opportunities for young people; and raise aspirations to include postsecondary education.

Eleven organizations responded, and TPI helped Millennium Partners select four nonprofits for initial one-year grants. One of them is YouthBuild Boston, which helps young inner-city residents earn academic credentials and train for jobs in the building trades. The Millennium grant will allow the nonprofit to expand its career exploration and training program, says Executive Director Ken Smith. Going forward, Millennium Partners hopes to leverage these efforts through partnerships with other funders who share their goals.

While there are many reasons for a corporation to work with a philanthropic consultant, says Pangaro, one of the biggest should be to have someone “help you think it through. Someone who not only can focus you, but help you to see the outcomes and alternatives.”

What surprised him about working with a philanthropic consultant? “What I didn’t expect is how effective some of these [nonprofits] really are. And that’s because we didn’t know enough, which is why we turned to TPI. Knowing who’s effective. Everybody’s trying to do good, but who actually accomplishes it? It’s a hard thing to do efficiently and thoughtfully. What’s surprising is how good at it these organizations are.”