As close as San Francisco philanthropist Pam Baer was to her father’s mother, she didn’t dare call her elder “grams,” “grandmother” or anything that signified her true relationship to the woman she adored.
“She didn’t like that,” Baer reveals. “She didn’t want to feel old.” Therefore, Baer called Frances Axe by her first name. “She was such a dynamic woman. Even if she wasn’t my grandmother, I would have wanted to know her.”
Axe used to tell her granddaughter, “for goodness sake, do something.” And so, Baer did.
A year ago, the stylish and statuesque wife of San Francisco Giants President and CEO Larry Baer launched For Goodness Sake (http://forgoodsake.org), an e-commerce site and pop-up boutique that showcases a constantly evolving, highly-curated selection of goods for the community to shop with purpose. Products made by local artisans, from sustainable and recycled materials, or as a result of fair and ethical trade, are sold. There’s jewelry, accessories for men, women and pets, office products, gifts and home décor available. What’s really haute is that For Goodness Sake donates a minimum of 25 percent of proceeds from every purchase to charity partners.
The Giants Community Fund, the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation and Glide Memorial Church are permanent partners with each having specific products whose sales benefit the organization. There is also a charity-of-the-month; the Breast Cancer Research Foundation was October’s. Baer says there aren’t enough hours in the day to help every charity that has logged onto her partner page.
The pop-up shop, a sleek, eco-friendly trailer that is a labor of love to set up, makes an appearance at one or two events monthly and has been re-quested for everything from a 50th birthday party to the Academy Awards. The humanitarian has been asked to take her concept national.
“I want to go slow, but far,” she says. “I’m trying to make a good impact on this community and highlight great artisans and partner charities.”
The benevolent Baer is busier than she expected with her burgeoning business, but this Type A go-getter wouldn’t have it any other way. She operates at a New York pace, thanks to having lived in Manhattan, where she ran her own company handling philanthropies and marketing for clients such as American Express, Columbia House, Christian Lacroix and several magazines. Over the years, she’s sat on plenty of boards as well.
“I think I made a difference for the boards I sat on and raised hundreds of millions of dollars for them,” she says, adding, “but I’ve always thought there’s a large contingency of people that cannot necessarily write the really, really large checks.”
For Goodness Sake provides the platform for human kindness to be expressed in a different way. Baer trademarked the phrase, “Live big. Love hard. Give back.” A shortened version—Live. Love. Give.—is painted in large black letters on a white wall in her small office in The Presidio. On a round table sits an inviting bowl of M&Ms; each candy has one of the three aforementioned words imprinted on one side. The tiny, open workspace belies the scope of For Goodness Sake’s effort.
“I just feel like we need to love the less fortunate,” says Baer, a Fort Worth, Texas, native who hasn’t lost her southern drawl, despite the move to New York, where she met her future husband, after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. “Living in the city, we all live big. We need to give back.”
Those last two words have been a part of her vernacular since childhood, when her family helped the needy with clothing and food. At an early age, she taught Sunday school and developed a strong empathy for the underprivileged. That compassionate streak stayed with her through adulthood. She’s on the boards of the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, Family House and the Giants Community Fund as well as a variety of advisory boards. It was her youngest son Zach’s harrowing accident—she and Larry celebrated their 25th anniversary in September and have four children ages 15 to 22—that led her to help The General, as the hospital in the Mission is called.
She’s still haunted by that day in 2001 when Zach slipped while running at home and crashed through a plate glass door. Paramedics rushed the boy to the city’s only trauma center, The General. The preschooler survived and plays sports today.
“The doctors at General still walk on water as far as I’m concerned,” Baer says with conviction. “I feel, in a way, blessed and grateful, even though at the time, it was the very worst time of my life. It’s still hard if I think about that day, but it also opened my eyes to a lot. It hit my compassion veins very strongly.”
The following year, Baer became a board member of the SFGH Foundation, where she is now Vice President, Community Leader. Her objective is to increase the awareness of the hospital. “The vulnerable populations here in the city [also] use the hospital day-in and day-out; we all need to support it,” Baer says.
To do so, in 2004, she helped create the “Hearts in San Francisco” program. The initiative grew to include two signature events, Heroes & Hearts and Hearts After Dark, which, altogether, have raised more than $13 million. Baer and Larry, along with Judy and Richard Guggenhime, co-chair the Capital Campaign, which raised $150 million—half from Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan—for a new acute care and trauma center that will be dedicated Nov. 21. She’s grateful to all of the generous community leaders who contributed. As she continues her work at The General, she’ll never feel like she’s repaid the hospital.
“When your child is saved,” Baer says, “no matter what, the check is never big enough.”
Whether she’s writing checks or pushing conscious consumerism, Baer is truly doing something—just like her grandmother encouraged her to do.