As Weather Turns Cool, Milwaukee Philanthropy Heats Up

When you’re from LA, Milwaukee culture can be disorienting.

Ask John Utz.  Days after moving from Southern California, Associated Bank’s executive VP grew suspicious of Milwaukeeans.  “People were being so helpful…I kept trying to figure out what their angle was.  In LA, everyone acts in their best interest; people here do things because it’s the right thing to do.”

Utz’s comment drew affirming nods from several hundred business leaders – attendees at Milwaukee Business Journal’s Corporate Responsibility Breakfast on October 13, where Utz was a panelist on the region’s corporate philanthropy.

“In LA, everyone cares about cars and houses and brands.  You don’t realize how focused you are on ‘keeping up’ until you get off the treadmill.  Here, the competition is ‘Am I a good person?’  When that’s the competition, you naturally want to give back, set a good example, be the best leader you can be.” That culture is why “Milwaukee punches above its weight” in philanthropy, according to fellow panelist Greg Marcus, president and CEO of The Marcus Corp.

Want more on Milwaukee’s “competitive altruism?”  Join hundreds of community leaders at the Hyatt on November 20 for the National Philanthropy Day luncheon hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter (  The event will honor the area’s most inspiring philanthropists, volunteers and fundraisers – locals who exemplify the region’s giving spirit.

Shortly after Utz’s move, his mother in LA commented, “I don’t see how can you live in such weather!” Utz replied, “I don’t see how you can live in such a materialistic society!”  Sounds like one more solid convert to Midwest values – and the importance of giving back.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

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