Slavin moved from D.C. to Friendship Heights after Shackleton retired in 1987, and bought C.J. O’Shaughnessy, a real estate and property management firm that had handled properties for his father’s company.
That’s when he started getting serious about philanthropy in Montgomery County. “You don’t have to go east of the Anacostia River to find people in great need, and to find ways to give back,” he says.
Slavin since has served on the boards of several Montgomery County nonprofits, and has been active in several more.
“I love politics,” he says, “but I realized that philanthropy is how you change people’s lives.”
A decade ago, his sister, who lives in New Hampshire, and his parents, now in their late 80s and early 90s, decided Slavin should manage the family foundation. Last year, the foundation donated more than $180,000 to roughly two dozen organizations that provide services to Montgomery County residents.
“When my mission or vision sways, Jeffrey will remind me that this county needs me, that this county would be a better place if I helped out,” says Brooke-ville’s Michelle Freeman, board chair and president of the Carl M. Freeman Companies, the Carl M. Freeman Foundation and the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation. “He has this beautiful, sweet dedication to where he grew up…and an unwavering passion for what he believes in.”
With bright blue eyes and close-cropped gray hair, the 5-foot-5-inch Slavin comes with a personality that’s larger than life. He describes himself as a “shameless name-dropper” and favors brightly colored shirts and ties. “I’m not really low-key,” he acknowledges.
Slavin introduced himself to Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin by giving her public-speaking pointers after she gave a speech in 2004. Today he chairs her finance committee, and Ervin, of Silver Spring, describes him as “an angel on my shoulder.”
“He gives unsolicited advice, but it’s almost always spot-on,” Ervin says.
Friends say Slavin simply wants to contribute to the betterment of anyone and everything he comes in contact with.
“One of Jeffrey’s trademarks is making sure that the nonprofits he’s a part of are strong and well-managed,” Rudney says. “He’s very interested in building the management capacity and increasing the efficiencies of nonprofits overall.”
Recent ventures include the Nonprofit Village in Rockville, which offers affordable office space and resources to Montgomery County nonprofits. Slavin is chairman of the Village’s board of directors, and his family foundation has donated roughly $50,000 to the organization since its inception in 2006, according to Executive Director Laura Sildon.
Sharon Friedman, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, witnessed Slavin’s “Midas touch” firsthand. When he was chairman of that organization’s 50th anniversary event in 2007, Slavin culled his network to expand the guest list, and encouraged many to become donors, Friedman says.
Slavin also assisted with its “My Mental Health Day” campaign last May, recording his own video (he spent the day taking a step aerobics class—one of his passions), and getting longtime friend and National Public Radio analyst Cokie Roberts to record one, too.
The Slavin Foundation has donated $128,750 to the organization over the past several years, Friedman says.
“He didn’t just write a check,” she says. “He sat with us and gave ideas for ways we could connect to philanthropists who were interested in what we were doing, and ideas for how we could make our message more effective.”
Not long after he moved to Somerset, Slavin was recruited to run for the town council. He lost in 2001, but won the following year. He ran successfully for mayor in 2008, and is serving his second two-year term.
Somerset Town Council Vice President Marnie Shaul says the town has benefited from Slavin’s vast network of powerful people—and from his philanthropic mind-set. Since becoming mayor, he has worked to set up The Town of Somerset Community Foundation, a vehicle for residents to contribute to local charities.
“Somerset is known as being one of the wealthiest and best-educated municipalities in Maryland,” Slavin says. “I want us to also be known as a town that gives back.”
Friends say whatever Slavin puts his mind to will happen—in part because he never takes “no” for an answer. Freeman says that was the case when Slavin wanted to recruit her for a leadership seminar run by The Aspen Institute.
“He called every day until I said yes,” she says. “Every day.”
Freeman’s husband, Josh, died in a helicopter crash in 2006. He was posthumously named Philanthropist of the Year in 2007. Freeman says the seminar Slavin recommended helped her refine her own giving and connect to like-minded philanthropists.
“He always has something that you must do, but he’s very good at choosing things you must do,” she says.
Amy Reinink’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Runner’s World and Backpacker. She lives in Silver Spring. To comment on this story, email email@example.com.