What started as a phone call and lunch for Michael Horvitz has culminated in a $258 million construction project at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
“I always loved the museum and considered it a great museum and one of Greater Cleveland’s real world-class assets,” Horvitz says.
His relationship with the institution changed in 1992 when he was appointed to the museum’s board after having lunch with the board president. By 1996, Horvitz was elected president, and in 2001, he was elected to the newly created position of chairman. He’s provided financial and intellectual leadership and helped keep the museum on course during its ongoing $258 million renovation and expansion project.
“Michael Horvitz has played an instrumental indeed, one could say indispensable role in shaping the course of the Cleveland Museum of Art over the past decade and more,” says Timothy Rub, the museum’s director. “As president and then chairman of the board of trustees, he has been deeply involved in all of the key decisions that have been made during what can be described, without exaggeration, as one of the most critically important periods in the history of this institution.
“Throughout this process, he has been a thoughtful and passionate advocate both for change whenever and wherever this was needed and for the ongoing commitment to excellence that has created the international reputation that the Cleveland Museum of Art enjoys today.”
Horvitz shrugs off any praise for his community service because he sees it as his civic duty.
“I came to the museum not so much from a love of art though I do love it but from a sense of civic importance,” Horvitz says.
“No matter where you live, each of us has a responsibility to help the community that has given us the opportunities we all have had. We all have an obligation to improve the social and cultural life of the community in any way you can. There are always people more fortunate than you and less fortunate than you, but we all have an obligation.”
Giving back to the community isn’t a one-sided affair. The contributor gets something out of it, too.
“It’s very satisfying,” Horvitz says. “What you get out of it depends on what you put in to it. I think writing a big check can be satisfying in a certain way and has some ego gratification, but getting involved and spending time and effort to help them succeed is a different level of satisfaction.”
Horvitz says the the way to begin is to get involved with something you believe in.
“The starting point is to find something that you are passionate about or think you might become passionate about,” he says. “Do something you feel you can make a difference in. There is no shortage of great causes and organizations, and they all need people.”
One way to start is to get an organization’s annual report, find out who’s on the board of directors and start making contacts to find out how you can help.
While financial support is always welcome, many organizations are short on either leadership or those who have connections within the community to get things done.
“A lot really need the guidance the CEO or businessperson can give them,” Horvitz says. “You do have to have a slightly different mind-set when you work for a nonprofit. It’s easy for a businessperson to try to evaluate something on whether it makes money, but nonprofits are more mission-driven than profit-driven.
“You have to think about the mission and how to organize things.”
Horvitz, who is Of Counsel with the law firm of Jones Day, says the organizational skills CEOs bring are critical to nonprofits, and time has to be made for giving back to the community.
“I understand the pressure today’s CEOs are under,” he says. “There is huge pressure to make the business perform, to make it responsive to the needs of shareholders and the corporation. Clearly, that’s their first priority, but some CEOs fall into the trap of almost using those pressures as an excuse for not getting involved in their own community.
“We all have an obligation to do something. There’s room in everybody’s schedule for nonprofits. The pressure of business is great, and it can easily make you put your civic responsibilities aside. Don’t let that happen.”