For those who care deeply about building strong, economically viable, and healthy communities, communities whose positive evolution improves the lives of millions on a truly global scale, ULI has been since its founding in 1936 the undisputed thought leader and change maker across all disciplines in the land use space.
Half a century ago in 1970, a cohort of visionary leaders within ULI — the original 17 Foundation Governors, led by Robert Nahas — sought the most effective way to elevate ULI’s position in the transformative improvement of communities worldwide.
That path was philanthropy.
To bolster ULI’s research capabilities and meet the growing need for an accessible body of real estate and land development knowledge, each Governor donated $50,000 to establish the Urban Land Research Foundation, today known as the ULI Foundation (ULIF).
Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Foundation, Robert Nahas “would be deeply gratified by the generosity of multiple generations of ULI members and the financial resilience the Foundation affords ULI,” said his son and current ULIF Governor Ron Nahas. Most especially during times of economic uncertainty, “ULIF’s importance to our research and education programs will be keenly appreciated as we deal with the impact of the current stresses on ULI revenues.”
In its early years, the Foundation channeled its resources into the Community Builders Handbook, a guide for suburban development. To date, the Foundation has contributed more than $136.5 million to directly support and create ULI’s various mission-driven programs: the Terwilliger Center for Housing, UrbanPlan, Advisory Services, Building Healthy Places, and the Women’s Leadership Initiative, just to name a few.
Although her magnificent work pre-dates ULI, the trailblazing architect Julia Morgan — visionary behind the Hearst Castle and a namesake for one of ULIF’s new philanthropic societies — shared the Institute’s vision for the role the built environment has to improve people’s lives. According to her grand-niece Lauren Woodland, Morgan would particularly appreciate ULI’s efforts to promote sustainability in construction, develop high-quality attainable housing, and create educational programs designed to foster innovation in building.”
Charles Fraser, known for his vision of environmentally conscious, thoughtfully planned, energy efficient real estate development, was instrumental in ULIF’s early days. Those he took under his wing became crucial figures in the Foundation’s history.
Laura Lawton Fraser remembers her father’s passion for the industry and the communities he touched, particularly his knack for mentoring others. He would mentor colleagues “simply for the joy of helping another person excel and thrive on their path of life,” she said. “He was an amazing man, an amazing mentor, and the most amazing father.”
Four of Fraser’s former employees—including Peter Rummell, Harry Frampton, and J. Ronald Terwilliger—became ULIF Chairmen.
When Terwilliger joined ULI in 1974, he hoped to deepen his understanding of real estate on a national scale. Decades of involvement later, he has led a Product Council, chaired ULI, and founded the Terwilliger Center for Housing.
“I’m delighted to be involved and try to provide some leadership in the area I know best, which is housing,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it for so long.”
Frampton chaired the organization during a crucial period in ULI history — the debate over whether to expand globally. After seeing and admiring the sophistication of real estate development outside the United States, he said the decision became clear.
“The lightbulb in my mind went off: we have as much to learn from the rest of the world, maybe even more, than they have to learn from us,” Frampton said.
As the Foundation looks toward another 50 years of global impact, member generosity and unwavering commitment to ULI’s mission matters now more than ever. “As the world grows and gets more complicated, it is increasingly critical to have a ‘clearing house’ for ideas that have been tried—or not tried, and are just somebody’s daydream,” Rummell said. “ULI serves that function. In addition to making members strive for quality and all the other things that are foundational to ULI, it is a home for innovation. As the world gets more complicated and is in a strange way ‘growing together,’ there is increasing opportunity and need.”
Philanthropic investment in the ULI Foundation continues to meet those needs and opportunities with a global-scale leverage not found anywhere else.
For Nahas, his relationship with the Foundation goes deeper than business — it’s personal.
“Giving money away wisely is hard. Many of us are not programmed to do it well,” Nahas said. “When I consider how the ULI has enriched my family, my business, and my personal friendships, I am very grateful to have the Foundation, which I consider a ‘safe harbor’ for charitable giving that will make a positive difference.”