It’s common for emerging wealthy donors to turn to their alma maters when they embark on their philanthropy in earnest. But what does high-dollar alumnus giving look like in the midst of historic demands for social justice?
University of Michigan Law School alumnus David Breach, his wife Emily Breach, and their family recently made a $5 million commitment to the school that will permanently endow the David A. Breach Deanship, providing funds for the dean to invest in initiatives that advance the institution’s educational and research priorities. Initial efforts will center racial justice initiatives that allow law students to pursue social change.
Breach and his young Breach Family Foundation might be new to our coverage, but we’ve been covering his billionaire boss, Robert F. Smith (who made our 2020 IPPYs), for years. Breach was a senior corporate partner at Kirkland & Ellis and joined Smith’s Vista Equity Partners in 2014, where he is COO and chief legal officer. Once based in the Bay Area, the family recently relocated to Texas.
A personal trajectory
David Breach is a Wolverine and Emily Breach is a Michigan State University Spartan, which must make things interesting come March Madness. So far, the couple’s escalating philanthropy has strongly focused on the University of Michigan. In 2017, the couple made a $1 million gift and established the David A. and Emily A. Breach Law School Scholarship Fund to support students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and those who enter law school already having loans.
As other stories of alumnus loyalty go, the family, happy with their initial philanthropic move, has now doubled down with more support. “University of Michigan Law School did have a profound impact on my personal trajectory. Seeing the world opened up to me made me want others to experience this, too,” said Breach in a recent interview.
The family’s latest gift comes during a resurgent reckoning with structural racism, with protests sweeping the United States and other parts of the world since the summer. There are other examples of individual donors who have focused in the past on racial and criminal justice issues, including with their campus giving. A few years ago, Frank and Denise Quattrone gave a $15 million gift to create the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law. But the Michigan donation comes at a time when many foundations, corporations and large donors find themselves called to prioritize racial justice.
Breach was moved in part by Michigan Law School Dean Mark West, who released a statement back in June, which read in part: “The senseless killing of yet another black person, George Floyd, re-exposed disparity in policing and criminal justice. The ravages of the COVID-19 virus have demonstrated clear disparity in health care, living conditions and work circumstances. Disparities persist along so many other dimensions: in education, in income, in opportunity. It is the particular responsibility of all in our community to confront these disparities and their causes.”
We often write about how a particular campus leader can activate a donor’s interest, and West is that figure here. Breach was excited after he heard West’s goals based on interactions with campus affinity groups like the Black Law Students Association and empowering talented students to put their knowledge and training to work and make social change happen. West also has plans for a broad-based equity clinic, and intends to pull in top thought leaders to participate. These conversations led to the creation of an endowed fund that would provide the dean with an annual discretionary pool of money for such new initiatives.
“The power of the law is the ability to protect and ability to change and I’m hoping that there are students with passion for these causes,” Breach says, adding that he really felt a clear alignment with West on what the endowment would do.
He also anticipates having some voice in how funds are deployed down the line. As needs change, future law school leaders can address these, too, with a ready pool of funds.
“At least while I’m alive, I want to make sure Dean West will at least consult with me so I can continue to ensure that my desires that this be focused on racial equality, social justice, creating opportunity, continues to be fulfilled,” Breach explains.
A young family foundation
Founded in 2019, the Breach Family Foundation is just kicking off its grantmaking, with an early focus that is emblematic of its University of Michigan work—fostering equity and access to opportunity. Breach serves on the board of the San Francisco chapter of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity. “I like that they are providing focus to folks from low-income backgrounds and often first generation, providing additional support in high school to bridge the achievement gap,” Breach says.
In the realm of youth sports, with an enrichment twist, the family has also supported SquashDrive, which introduces underrepresented minorities to the game of squash. In this case, the connection is that two of Breach’s partners were working with the organization and encouraged him to get involved. This is mostly how the Breach Family Foundation has found its grantees—by word of mouth and personal connection rather than actively soliciting applications.
“We’ve been very fortunate and wanted to create a long-term platform including something our kids can be involved in at some point, too… I want my kids to understand the importance of philanthropy from a societal standpoint and how much joy it brings to be involved in giving,” Breach says.
Right now, the couple’s three kids are still in high school and college, but Breach was pretty clear that he wanted them to take a more active role in the day-to-day operations of the foundation sooner rather than later. And as the family settles into their new life in Texas, they’ll be looking at local needs to see what they can address.
Oh, and Breach also expects the couple’s philanthropy to turn to Emily’s alma mater Michigan State, as well. Go Blue! (Or Spartans.)