By Liz Massey, January 2018 Issue
If you visit Bob Parsons' personal website, you’ll discover that the founder of domain-registration giant GoDaddy doesn’t primarily view himself as a philanthropist or a man of means. On that site, bobparsons.com, he prefers to discuss his roles as a Marine who served his country during the Vietnam War, an entrepreneur who has owned 15 businesses, and a guy who’s had to use his moxie to bring his aspirations to life.
And that may indeed be the key to understanding Bob and his approach to giving back to the Arizona community that has nurtured his business success. Bob and his wife, Renee, have a net worth (according to Forbes) of $2.6 billion, but it’s that interplay between all the other roles they’ve experienced that provides the clearest insight into their generosity.
Two significant beneficiaries of The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation are the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS and the local LGBTQ youth support organization one•n•ten. The Southwest Center is now located in the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness, thanks to funding it received from the couple in 2012 and 2013. The organization later received other funding from the Parsons, including $1.1 million dollars from The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation that enabled them to enhance various aspects of their operations. one•n•ten also has received several key grants from The Foundation, including a $275,000 grant during 2016-2017 that allowed the organization to complete its new 5,000-square-foot Youth Center, which is also located at the Parsons Center at 1101 N. Central Ave. in central Phoenix.
Bob notes that support for AIDS service organizations and LGBTQ youth groups fit right in with his foundation’s mission: “Anywhere we find a cause that may not appeal overwhelmingly to the public but is doing a good job, we’ll be there.”
Learning to Hustle and Following Civic Role Models
Neither member of this Valley “power couple” was born into wealth. Bob described his upbringing in a blue-collar neighborhood of Baltimore this way: “We were poor as church mice. My parents gambled, and lost, and we were always in debt.”
Bob realized early on that he would have to earn his own money if he wanted any, so he pumped gas, got groceries for neighbors and delivered newspapers to earn spending cash. Once he was old enough to hold a wage-paying job, he would always ask for extra hours – just in case. He also developed the habit of helping others whenever he could during this era.“If I was around someone who needed help, I would help, although I often had just as little as they had,” he said.
Bob credits his service in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War for giving him the discipline he needed to succeed. Upon his return from the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Baltimore and went on to start Parsons Technology, a tax software company, in his basement in 1984. – which he sold it for $64 million dollars in 1994. After that, he started Jomax Technologies in 1997, which eventually grew into the company known today as GoDaddy.
Renee, on the other hand, was raised in a college town in Michigan. Her father was a small business owner who was involved in the civic activities of the day, including service clubs and some political efforts.
“There were lots of ways to give back,” she said. “I grew up around good examples of community involvement and smaller-scale philanthropy.”
The combination of growing up in an entrepreneurial household and working in her family’s restaurant business from age 13 shaped Renee’s worldview. With a professional career in sales and marketing, Renee later joined GoDaddy as the corporate events planner and vice president of community outreach, leading GoDaddy’s philanthropic work worldwide.
Renee and Bob were married in 2009. And, as diverse as the duo’s backgrounds were, they shared a core of common values that influenced their charitable giving work.
“We root for the underdog,” Renee said. “Bob and I resonate with the needs of marginalized populations. When we give to them, it makes a larger impact, so it is more of a game-changer for them.”
Helping LGBTQ Organizations Grow
Bob and Renee formalized their philanthropic efforts with the launch of The Foundation bearing their name on Feb. 1, 2012, with the hope to change the lives of our country’s critically wounded veterans and to improve outcomes for individuals and families living in poverty. Today, the three primary areas of concentration for The Foundation's giving are veterans, youth and medical causes.
Laura Mitchell, executive director of The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation, explained the organization’s approach to vetting grant partners.
“We first ask the question, ‘is this in our wheelhouse?’ To become a partner, an organization must, at the heart of their operations, be serving people living in poverty, critically wounded veterans, or marginalized populations,” she explained. “We then begin ... reviewing an organization through the lens of financial health, accountability and transparency.”
Often, donations from The Foundation can catapult a nonprofit into unprecedented territory.
Linda Elliott, who recently announced her retirement (effective Jan.1) as the executive director of one•n•ten, noted that in addition to providing more than 80 percent of the funds to open the Youth Center, the foundation also helped boost its Promise Of A New Day (POND) program. A two-year grant allowed the organization to provide supportive housing to 29 youth experiencing homelessness, and an additional capacity-building grant enabled one•n•ten to hire a development director and to conduct an evaluation of the POND program.
“Their investment in one•n•ten is significant because it enabled the agency to grow in a responsible way with little risk to our existing programs,” Elliott said. “We would not be half of what we are today without their generous investment.”
Another advantage of the Parsons’ approach to philanthropy is that their grant-making terms require organizational recipients of the foundation’s funding to be LGBTQ inclusive, Elliot said.
“This is a value that promotes inclusiveness and equality, so that they give in a way that benefits the entire community,” she added.
Similarly, Kristin Kalla, executive director for the Southwest Center, noted that by supporting the development of The Parsons Center for Health and Wellness, The Foundation had established a space in Phoenix that focused on the health needs of LGBTQ persons.
“The Parsons Center for Health and Wellness includes organizations that serve LGBTQ and allied communities,” Kalla said. “Service providers located in the Parsons Center include the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS; the McDowell Healthcare Clinic; Avella Pharmacy; and one•n•ten. The Parsons Foundation’s support of these organizations has helped establish the Parsons Center as a focal point for LGBTQ-friendly services in the community.”
Always Moving Forward ...
As The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation celebrates its fifth year of existence, neither Bob nor Renee are content to rest on their current accomplishments.
“It’s so rewarding to meet individual leaders making a difference,” Renee said. “It’s reinvigorating, and it tells us we’re doing the right thing.”
This forward-thinking attitude fits with the 16 rules for success that Bob has posted on his personal blog. Rule No. 7 is titled “Always be moving forward,” and he advises: “Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way.”
While Bob stepped down as GoDaddy’s CEO in 2014, he remains on the board of directors and is the company’s largest shareholder.
Both of Echo’s 2017 Leaders of the Year for 2017 work together to manage The Foundation.
“Bob and Renee have a real heart for those who are marginalized,” Mitchell said. “They’ve consistently focused on causes and organizations that don’t appeal to other donors. Our tagline is true: ‘We deal in hope. And we want to do that for the people who most need it.’”
Since its founding in 2012, The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation’s mission has been to inspire “hope by providing critical funding at critical times to communities striving to make a difference.”
To date, The Foundation has donated a grand total of $135 million, worked with 96 partner organizations and made 274 grants.
The Foundation grantees include:
- Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona
- Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona, Inc.
- Girls Scouts of America – AZ Cactus-Pine Council
- Southwest Center For HIV/AIDS
- Semper Fi Fund
- National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps