Updated November 2016 — Carol Zaban Cooper cannot remember a time when she wasn’t involved in philanthropy.
“My father was a philanthropist in Atlanta, and he always taught us how important his philanthropy was to him, and he led by example," she says from her home in the city's suburbs. "We really didn’t have to learn, because we lived it every day with him.”
Her father, Erwin Zaban, was also an entrepreneur and executive. He and his parents founded Zep Manufacturing Co.; it merged with National Service Industries, and Zaban became CEO of that corporation.
Cooper and her sisters, Laura Zaban Dinerman and Sarah Zaban Franco, were raised with the notion that each generation must build on the heritage of its predecessor. “My father always taught me that others before us, other generations, had built this wonderful city of ours. It was up to our generation to do what we could to leave it to the next generation,” she explains.
Although Cooper’s father was a strong influence on how big a part of her life is devoted to giving back and continuing his example, she has her own, very personal motivations. “I used to think that we just did things for others, but I’ve learned in later years that we do philanthropy to build community, and we never know when we’re going to be in need of those services,” she says.”
A community of giving
Before Erwin Zaban started the foundation that bears his name, he and his peers engaged in a kind of direct philanthropy that Cooper sees as being more rare. “They would get together over lunch, and they might say, ‘This needs to be done.’ They would just put in the money, they’d call their friends; within a couple of hours, they had accomplished their mission."
Today, Cooper is part of a philanthropic community structuring its giving through grants to nonprofit agencies. She is a past president of Jewish Family and Career Services in Atlanta and past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “I trust the Federation process,” she explains. “They look at all community issues, and they decide where money should be allocated.” Federation funds may also be granted overseas to Israel and other countries.
“My latest passion is founding the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta,” Cooper says. “[My sisters and I] are all active in the fund and that’s’ been a real treat getting to work with them.
“All the trustees have one vote,” she continues. “We look at grants for women and girls. This summer we were able to allocate $100,000, and everybody who was in the room had a voice in that.”
"I hope I'll have a legacy of being a philanthropist who's thoughtful and who's strategic and who really puts my efforts where my heart leads me." — Carol Cooper
The rise of women
Cooper may be part of a trackable trend in American philanthropy: women changing the landscape of giving, according to Beth Renner, National Director of Philanthropic Services at Wells Fargo.
Renner notes that the rise in women’s influence stems from a few important factors:
- On average, women live seven years longer than men, so they have more time to make an impact in their lifetimes and leave a charitable legacy. Many women with this longer life expectancy will inherit twice: first from their parents, second from their spouse.
- Women have more financial power from their careers than they did in the past, earning advanced degrees and owning small businesses.
- More families stretch four living generations. A woman matriarch in such a family will inspire and educate her great-grandchildren on her philanthropic values.
As for the way she's remembered by those close to her and those her work touches, Cooper says: "I hope I'll have a legacy of being a philanthropist who's thoughtful and who's strategic and who really puts my efforts where my heart leads me."
A new view
Cooper would agree that philanthropic values start at home; she’s been proud to see her twin tween granddaughters in Atlanta (two of her 10 total grandchildren) volunteering at local food banks. But she still believes there are some things each generation must learn for itself.
“About 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I read that people who go to support groups do better than those who don’t,” she says. Cooper, her father, and her sisters founded a support group at Jewish Family Services, where she was serving as president at the time.
“For years and years, I had walked through the volunteer door. The first night of the support group, I walked through the client door,” she says. “It made me look at my philanthropy completely different.”