Meet the Couple Giving Away their Fortune to Uplift the City of Angels

After years of doing philanthropy in a standard way, the Perlmans realized that the most fulfilling type of giving was seeing their funds going to help people directly.
April 9, 2021
L-R: Brooke, Jodi and Greg Perlman (Courtesy David Crane)

Greg Perlman and his family are ready to give away their fortune — one Angeleno at a time.

Greg and his wife, Jodi, are an Encino-based couple who have amassed a substantial amount of wealth in real estate over the past 30 years as owners of GHC Housing Partners. In 2018, they called a family meeting with their three adult children and agreed that they (Greg and Jodi) would be giving away seventy-five percent of their wealth while they’re still alive. The key was giving away their fortune in the most creative and fulfilling way possible so that the whole family would be involved and make it their life’s work.

After years of doing philanthropy in a standard way (giving charitable gifts to organizations), the Perlmans realized that the most fulfilling type of giving was seeing their funds going to help people directly. In 2019, Greg and Jodi founded The Change Reaction (a play on words of “Chain Reaction”) as the first large-scale, direct giving platform focused exclusively on helping hardworking Angelenos facing financial hardships.

Greg, 55, is a straight-shooter who realized he preferred direct giving — the kind that pays to repair a single mother’s car so she can get to work on time, save a small business during a pandemic or help a veteran pay a security deposit on his new home. “Since the beginning of time, we have always valued being generous to our neighbors,” Greg told the Journal. “But how do you find the right recipients, so you’ll feel okay about giving directly, and how do you do it at scale so you can really start to move your money?”

“We realized that we needed to empower the best people in our community — people whom we call community ‘change agents,’ including social workers, teachers, therapists and even faith leaders,” Jodi said. “And when they bring us stories and connect us with recipients, we basically let them become our way of scaling to heights no one has ever done.”

To make this dream a reality, the Perlmans hired four full-time staff to help them “give away the money,” according to Greg. They created relationships with over 110 Los Angeles-based community organizations (and over 300 community change agents). When a social worker identifies a client (a hardworking Angeleno who is otherwise financially stable but is facing a critical need), the social worker reaches out to The Change Reaction with a financial request to help maintain the client’s stability. Requests are approved and processed in less than twenty-four hours.

The Change Reaction team also hand-selects and researches organizations and sets up in-house angel funds ranging from $10,000 to $250,000. When requests come in, the “team” (as Greg calls the staff) knows they are from a trusted source. When an amount is approved, the organization draws down on the fund to support the request. Grants generally do not go to clients. Instead, checks typically are sent directly to vendors.

Since its inception, The Change Reaction has made over 4,000 grants, averaging approximately $1,200 each and impacting over 10,000 Angelenos. At the start of the pandemic, The Perlman family partnered with Councilmember John Lee in Los Angeles County’s 12th District to start a small business relief fund. That fund made over $1.5 million in interest-free loans and grants available through the Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles to help small businesses. The fund also offered over $250,000 in grocery cards. Those loans, once repaid, will be recirculated to help community members in the future.

“Greg and Jodi Perlman have single-handedly provided immeasurable relief to constituents in Council District 12, and I will be eternally grateful,” Lee told the Journal. “Their strategy for direct giving minimizes bureaucratic delays and gets money and resources into the hands of those who are struggling in short order. They are truly angels in the City of Angels.”

As an owner of Section 8 and other affordable housing properties, Greg directly witnessed the pain of intergenerational poverty. One of the family’s earlier capital gifts was building a new family homeless shelter at the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission. “We saw homeless families who worked full time and had jobs yet still were homeless,” said Greg. “We started helping the families directly to move out of the shelter and into permanent housing by paying upfront costs, and ultimately, when they had a roof over their heads, we even offered to furnish their homes.”

When thank you letters from families started coming in, Greg and Jodi realized how impactful their gifts were — not just for the recipient, but for the social workers and for them as donors. “We have given seven-figure gifts and never gotten a thank you letter as powerful as the one we got for making a $3,000 gift to help a husband and wife — both working at LAUSD and living at the rescue mission with their two autistic boys — move into a new apartment after being pushed out of a rent control unit by their landlord,” Greg said.

“Nothing feels better than being able to give such underserved people hope that there is good out there in the world,” said Jodi. “We also encourage a lot of people to pay it forward and be kind in their own communities, and we hear from recipients who are helping their own communities. It makes you realize how powerful generosity is and how it can impact anyone, no matter how small or how big the act of kindness is.”

The Perlmans established their first angel fund at UCLA Health to support inpatient families in need of help. “I asked the CEO, ‘When someone’s in the hospital, who pays for things like their rent and food for their family, while the primary supporter is getting treatment for cancer?’ And I realized that’s something we could do,” said Greg. “We don’t pay medical bills, but we pay other financial hardships like rent, transportation and hotels.” The Change Reaction also has angel funds at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and City of Hope.

Greg and Jodi recall a particularly moving case in which a father and daughter were both in the Intensive Care Unit at UCLA with COVID-19. Sadly, the father died. “Dr. Thanh Neville came to us to help with the rent for the family who just lost their dad,” said Jodi. “That will always stay with me. Not just because of the impact it had on the family, but the impact it had on the doctor, who was in the middle of a huge wave of ICU patients, and how our gift literally put ‘wind in her sails’ to come to the hospital every day and do the work.”

“The name of the organization embodies a full circle of fulfillment and giving,” said Greg. “I couldn’t be more fulfilled, because I see that the money is going directly into people’s hands. And the social workers have never been more fulfilled because they get to call a family, including the elderly, veterans and foster youth, and let them know that their bills will be paid.” According to Greg, many recipients tell social workers and other agents that they feel that their faith in humanity has been restored.

Many recipients tell social workers and other agents that they feel that their faith in humanity has been restored.

The Perlmans believe that society is at an important crossroads where the wealthy should show more empathy to the hardworking people who drive their children to school, pack their groceries, clean their hospital floors and pour their coffee — all for low wages (especially in Los Angeles). “These people make up the fabric of our community, and we need to lift them up and make sure they stay on track,” said Greg. “They are doing everything they are supposed to do, yet are one missed paycheck away from being homeless. The wealthy need to become their safety net.”

Perlman hopes this new type of giving will inspire the wealthy to give at new levels. “I’ve always been inspired by the Jewish traditions of education and giving,” he said, “yet traditional philanthropy is redundant and not very fulfilling. High-impact direct giving fulfills our innate desire to be generous and has limitless potential to move money from the wealthiest people in our community.”

Greg remembers his mother’s unique form of targeted giving. When he was a child, his mother stood in line with him to order at fast-food restaurants and looked around for those who seemed unable to afford enough food. “We weren’t wealthy,” he recalled, “but one time, my mother gave a man standing with his family a $100 bill when she saw that his wallet was nearly empty. His eyes lit up when he came to order his meal.”

The Perlman children, 28, 26 and 22, have each identified organizations that they have funded with direct grants. They also approve funding requests themselves.

The youngest, Brooke, serves as Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for The Change Reaction. “My parents have taught me and my brothers how to start giving back as soon as we learned to walk,” Brooke said. “The first time I started to get involved in the nonprofit was when I was five years old, and I haven’t looked back.”

Like Greg and Jodi, Brooke has been deeply impacted by giving. “The Change Reaction has taught me that at the end of the day, all of the people that we directly help are our neighbors, having daily financial struggles, but they are no different than any of us,” she said. “We are all human, and we all deserve a fulfilling life that’s worth living, especially when we work hard for it.”

For Daphna Gerendash, program director for The Change Reaction, enabling direct giving has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift. “This is not a job; this is not work. This is a way of life,” she said. “I have found my calling and my purpose in this world, and part of the whole picture is that I get to do this with other people who feel the same way.”

Gerendash is proud that The Change Reaction helps hardworking Angelenos who are doing everything they can to stay financially stable, but who come upon a bump in the road and whose survival is dependent on outside help. As for Greg, he wants to scale up efforts. In 2021, he’s prepared to offer over 10,000 grants. “I’m just trying to lift up one Angeleno at a time,” he said. More than anything, he hopes others will join him.

“There should be a Greg Perlman in every city with more than 100,000 people, moving his or her money and lifting up the hardworking folks in their community,” he said. “If you’re a multi-millionaire or a billionaire, you don’t need to save for a rainy day; there are no rainy days. This is wealth needing to be moved, and if not now, when?”

“I want to trigger the heart of the wealthy,” he continued. “They don’t realize how much their cup is full. Focusing on this type of giving will change the narrative as everyone in society benefits when the wealthy spread their resources. Someone once told me, ‘You need to give enough that it hurts a little bit, and then it’ll be impactful for you.’ It’s absolutely true.”

Greg doesn’t see a limit to what The Change Reaction can offer: “When all the money runs out of all my bank accounts, and I lose the ability to buy food to eat, then we can talk about limits.”

For more information, visit The Change Reaction.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker and activist. Follow her on Twitter @RefaelTabby

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