Stephanie Ellis-Smith

Owner and CEO, Phila Engaged Giving

Stephanie Ellis-Smith is the CEO and owner of the philanthropic advisory firm Phīla (pronounced phyla) Engaged Giving and is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP) . She works with ultrahigh-net-wealth and high-profile individuals, families, foundations and corporations to make catalytic investments in people and organizations.

Stephanie and her husband Douglas Smith started the Rockhaven Fund in 2008 to fund the arts, humanities, and social justice causes in the U.S. She is a philanthropist, activist, and social entrepreneur. In 2020, she co-founded Giving Gap (formerly “Give Blck”), an online database of Black-founded and led organizations. Having served in a variety of capacities in the social sector–non-profit CEO, social enterprise COO, foundation and non-profit trustee, and even a corporate board member—her diverse experience and deep knowledge makes her unique among her peers and uniquely capable of being a trusted advisor to the world’s most generous families and institutions.

Stephanie has served on numerous local and national boards and commissions including the Washington State Arts Commission, appointed by Governor Gary Locke; the Seattle Arts Commission, appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels; the Central Waterfront Committee, appointed by Mayor Ed Murray, and The Museum Development Authority appointed by current Mayor Jenny Durkan. She was appointed a Dean of Philanthropy by the Purposeful Planning Institute in 2023.

She is the recipient of several awards for her public service. Among them are Artist Trust’s “Creative Catalyst Award”, “The Talented Tenth Award” by the Loren Miller Bar Association, The Microsoft Corporation’s “Community Hero Award”, and was recognized by The Seattle Weekly as “Best Expander of Cultural Boundaries” and by the Puget Sound Business Journal as a“40 Under 40” of regional leaders. Most notably, October 21, 2009 was proclaimed “Stephanie Ellis-Smith Day” by the City of Seattle.

Originally from Los Angeles, Stephanie studied the biological sciences and English literature receiving an undergraduate degree from UCLA. She lives in Seattle and is married to the Russian historian, Douglas Smith.


The Current State of Family Philanthropy: Seattle Regional Convening

Posted on September 12, 2023 by Sean Boyd, Stephanie Ellis-Smith, Sarah Cavanaugh

In philanthropy, meaningful change is the aim—it’s the purpose and the promise. But in striving for and achieving impact, have we been effective? Who decides the measures of success and what are the conditions that promote meaningful and enduring progress? Join the National Center for Family Philanthropy to explore how philanthropic families are accelerating the pace of their giving, shifting their… Read More
Effective Family Philanthropy in Action

It’s Time To Retire The Term “High Net Worth”

Posted on August 3, 2023 by Stephanie Ellis-Smith, Nancy Reid

Person opening a door
Phila Engaged Giving’s Stephanie Ellis-Smith and Nancy Reid outline the benefits of changing “worth” to “wealth” in the term “high net worth.” This piece was originally published by Phila Engaged Giving and is re-published here with permission. Here’s something radical for you to consider: let’s retire the phrase “high net worth” (HNW), and the even more obnoxious, “ultra high net worth”… Read More

Managing Family Dynamics in Governance

Posted on December 15, 2022 by Stephanie Ellis-Smith, Betsy Erickson, Katherine Lorenz

Reaching consensus is difficult, particularly during a decision-making moment that will have a real impact on your philanthropy. How do you have productive conversations during meetings and other decision points when there are relationship dynamics, conflict, or simply differences of opinion? How do you allow for individual viewpoints across generations, but ensure there is a framework in place to push… Read More
Voices from the Field

Tough Talk

Posted on November 17, 2021 by Stephanie Ellis-Smith

This article was originally published by Phila Engaged Giving and is re-posted here with permission. Having tough conversations are often a necessary part of social change — both in funding it and in carrying it out. But how do we have a tough discussion that gets our point across without it coming across as a personal affront? I was recently asked to present… Read More