Mark Krohn: Advocate for the Common Good

Mark Krohn has for many years felt committed to ending poverty and resolving issues around education and health. Having battled systemic poverty through the charter school company he ran, Mark already cared deeply. What United Way has given him is an outlet for his passion by connecting him to promising solutions.

Now, Mark is a partner with Brouse McDowell. He is also a serial entrepreneur who’s launched a social media company, a nonprofit marketing company, a tech consulting firm and a regional private investment firm. On a personal level, Mark feels compelled to give back to his community because he knows the generations that came before him provided the platform for the success he enjoys today. He wants to help make sure others have their basic needs met so they too can turn their attention towards achievement.

His inspiring ambition won’t surprise anyone who’s met Mark, but how his passion evolved into a plan for United Way’s Tocqueville Society might. Until recently, he said he felt “little connection” to United Way of Summit County. His earliest experiences with the organization didn’t offer Mark the direct impact he craved. It didn’t ask enough of him.

“Really, before the last three years, my understanding of and involvement in the United Way was that my employer did a campaign and I was to make a contribution.”

That changed when Mark’s friend Jim Merklin, a partner at Bober Markey Fedorovich, asked Mark to Ken Stewart’s for drinks one night.

“I knew it was going to be an “ask” of some kind—I just didn’t know what and I was curious.”

Jim asked Mark to join the United Way of Summit County’s Tocqueville Society, which recognizes donors who contribute at least $10,000 annually. It was a request from his good friend he couldn’t refuse. And, soon Mark was hooked.

“What I saw once I got involved with the United Way is how the organization is beginning to break the cycle of generational poverty through Bridges Summit County. Though the Summit County Cradle to Career Alliance I started to see the initial stages of closing the education gap that exists within the core of our cities and even in some of our suburbs.”

To Mark, one success story stands out above the rest. It provides him with the most hope for an end to poverty. A single mother of five, Erica was the product of generational poverty. After her participation in the Bridges Summit County Getting Ahead program, she enrolled at the University of Akron. After graduation, she started her own business. Now, her kids are either in the military or attending universities.

“Could you have done that?” Mark asks. “I don’t think I could have had the faith and perseverance of that lady doing all that stuff on her own. Now, imagine if we could do that with hundreds and thousands of people.”

As chair of the Tocqueville Society, Mark has a billion-dollar philanthropy plan. If he finds you at a cocktail party, he won’t just tell you about it—in fact, he might not say a word about it; he will just try to make you part of it. The big picture, for him, is national in scope but it starts at home, in Summit County, and through United Way. This is where the template can be built and tested, where the good can happen first then be exported around the country, flowing out of Mark’s commitment to LIVE UNITED.

“They call me ‘The Preacher’,” Mark says, joking, “I don’t know why.”

“I believe that what we’re doing through United Way is creating a transformational model of positive change in the things that threaten our community most—and we can do that right here in Summit County, and then replicate it in the rest of the country.”

It’s hard to blame Mark for “selling” the opportunity to support United Way as others might push blue chip stocks—trust me; you’re going to want to get in on this.

“The vision for me, and I think for United Way—the reason they asked me to be chair is: This should be bigger. We have a very giving community. We have a big community—if you look at our metropolitan area it’s somewhere between 500,000 and 650,000 people. That’s a lot of people.”

A “numbers guy,” he considers the people who, he says, are capable of giving at Tocqueville donor levels—the big opportunity.

“When I showed up, we had something like 168 Tocqueville members. …Our capacity is 6,500.”

His goal is to have 500 active Tocqueville members, adding as many as 100 a year. Every time he hits that milestone, another $1 million goes to work on poverty, education and health.

“That’s a big number. That goes a long way in a community like this.”

Recognizing that his own path to United Way followed a friend’s request, he launched “Each One, Reach One,” which is a process to support current Tocqueville members as they encourage friends to join the work.

“I believe through United Way we can start chipping away at the most challenging problems that face our community, our state and our country.”

It’s a message that resonates with the potential donors he reaches. People who view their lives as a series of investments.

Once Mark proves a community like Summit County can produce and sustain 500 high-end donors, he wants to export the model through the United Way to reach 200 communities with the same big goals. The day that happens, there’ll be $1 billion dedicated annually to the end of poverty and the end of the education gap and the end of preventable health issues.

It’s a lofty goal but for anyone doubting it can be done through Summit County’s Tocqueville Society, Mark has one thing left to say: “Either kick me out, or help me achieve it.” 

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