Jeffrey Slavin takes out his BlackBerry and begins conjuring a connection.
“Here,” he says, leaning close and smiling conspiratorially. “You must call this woman.”
Slavin’s friends know that when the mayor of Somerset insists they do something—whether he’s offering public-speaking advice or suggesting a potential donor—it’s a good idea to comply.
At 56, Slavin, a real estate broker who heads the Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation, is a networking whiz who doesn’t take no for an answer.
That tenacity has inspired second-generation philanthropists like himself to donate to area nonprofits—and it has helped earn Slavin the 2011 Philanthropist of the Year award from The Community Foundation for Montgomery County (CFMC).
Even as he has persuaded others to give, Slavin has donated generously himself, honing the focus of the charitable foundation his parents started in 1970—all with the goal of bettering life for needy families in Montgomery County.
“Jeffrey is genuinely interested in who philanthropists, heads of nonprofits and political leaders are as people, not just as whatever role they’re playing,” says Sally Rudney, executive director of CFMC. “He uses that deeply personal knowledge to make matches that are satisfying for the donor as well as the recipient. When he says to a philanthropist, business leader or a politician: ‘I know something you’ll love,’ he’s almost always right.”
Slavin had what he describes as the “American-dream upbringing” in Bethesda’s Bradley Hills neighborhood, with loving, attentive parents, good schools and vacations in Europe and Africa. His mother was a social worker, and his father was a civil engineer who founded Princemont Construction, the Rockville firm that helped widen New Hampshire Avenue, North Capitol Street and Georgia Avenue, and also built segments of the Capital Beltway.
Slavin says his parents taught him and his sister, Roni Slavin Pekins, the Jewish principle of tzedakah, or charitable giving. His parents individually donated to a variety of causes, and regularly helped friends in need.
But Slavin didn’t truly become attuned to community needs until the late 1970s, when he started working at U.S. Rep. Gladys Spellman’s Hyattsville office while on break from Tufts University.
“I spent a lot of my time working one-on-one with her low-income constituents,” Slavin says. “It was very rewarding, and very enlightening.”
Later, as a student at Georgetown University Law Center, Slavin volunteered with Legal Counsel for the Elderly. After graduation, he immersed himself in Democratic politics in Washington, D.C., serving as a staffer for Ward 3 Councilmember Polly Shackleton, who built a reputation helping children, the elderly and low-income residents.
Slavin says his experience working for female officials and his own experience as an openly gay man—he was “never not ‘out’ ”—made him especially sensitive “to others who are not valued, or who are discriminated against.”
“I don’t mind being the only white in the room, the only man in the room, or the only non-Asian in the room,” Slavin says. He became the first man to serve on the board of the Women’s Campaign Fund in 1991.