Giving: Westerville North High School Classmates Join Together in Philanthropy

By launching a Columbus Foundation group fund, the friends seek to amplify their impact.

John Futty
Donny Murray, pictured here with wife Britney Peters Murray

High school classmates tend to drift apart as the years roll on following graduation. 

Hoping to avoid that fate, a group of friends from the Westerville North High School class of 2005 came up with a unique way not only to stay connected but to make a difference together. Class members Donny Murray, of Merion Village, and Laura Curtin Hazzard, now a resident of Los Angeles, had spoken several times about their shared interest in charitable giving and the possibility of finding friends to form a philanthropic group. Nothing came of it until last year, when the pandemic hit, followed by months of social unrest in the nation’s streets.  

“There were so many people in need and a lot of societal challenges were popping up, to put it mildly,” Murray says.  

He and Hazzard began reaching out in earnest to classmates to float the idea of a group fund, to be administered through the Columbus Foundation. Their Westerville North classmates embraced the idea, with a dozen of them teaming up, along with three nonclassmate spouses, to raise the $10,000 minimum needed to start what’s known as a donor advised fund at the foundation.  

Their Cultivating Success Fund was established in August 2020 to provide grants “to nonprofit organizations that focus on strong support structures for families and individuals, allowing them to learn, grow and cultivate success.”  

As the group members moved on from school to successful careers, they began to realize how fortunate they had been, Murray says. “All of us growing up in Westerville had a pretty good support structure as far as our families and our friends and, most importantly, the school, which is our common bond,” says Murray, whose wife, Britney Peters Murray, is a classmate and group member. “It was important for us to give back and give other people the opportunities we had growing up.”  

After raising the initial funding, the 15 group members decided to seek donations from their families and other friends. “That fundraising was pretty impactful,” Hazzard says. “We had no idea if others would put their faith in us to use their money for good.”  

The fund raised nearly $17,000 in its first year and provided grants totaling $9,500 to three organizations, Murray says. The largest grant went to the Westerville Education Foundation’s Many Voices project, which supplies school classrooms with books that “promote discussions about racial and social diversity.” Smaller grants went to WeSPARK, a support center for cancer patients, survivors and loved ones, and First Star, which supports foster youth in transitioning to higher education and adulthood.  

What began “as an excuse to do something together,” Murray says, has become something bigger than he and Hazzard envisioned. They want the fund to grow each year. And they’d like to see other group funds emerge.  

“We’re hoping to inspire others to get together with family and friends, their colleagues, their co-workers, to do something like this,” Hazzard says. “It’s a way to make a bigger change than any of us can do alone.” 

“It was important for us to give back and give other people the opportunities we had growing up.”

This story is from the 2022 issue of Giving, a supplement of Columbus Monthly and Columbus CEO.