Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Cayley Tullman & The Tullman Family Office Are Helping To Change Our World

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
20 min readMay 14, 2024

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“Disagree Better.” If we could all learn to disagree better and recognize that we have so much more in common with one another than we have differences, I think we would make a lot more progress on any issue, no matter how challenging the topic. Take immigration or abortion, for example. Even if we don’t agree at the end of the discussion on the core fundamentals — you’re here, I’m here, and neither of us is going to completely shift our stance — there’s still so much space in between. We’re currently disagreeing so poorly that this middle space has become totally inaccessible. We see this loudly in politics, but it’s true in society at large, and even in personal interactions. So, what I wish for everyone, and what I think is very achievable — though not always easy — is that we can disagree better.

I had the pleasure of talking with Cayley Tullman. Cayley serves as the President of the Tullman Family Office, a role in which she directs philanthropic, political, business, and social impact investments. Her leadership focuses on developing creative, scalable solutions to address some of America’s most pervasive issues in economic disparity, education, public health, and national security.

Raised just north of Chicago, Cayley grew up engaged in athletics and musical theater, fostering a strong sense of community and creativity from a young age. These early experiences sowed the seeds for her future in public service, which began with a decade of work within the Federal Government. During her tenure, she served in various operational and strategic roles both in the United States and internationally, focusing significantly on issues pertaining to the Middle East. Proficient in Farsi and Spanish, her linguistic skills were crucial in her government roles, which included overseeing collaborations across multiple offices to develop frameworks for special foreign programs.

In early 2022, Cayley transitioned to the private sector, taking up her current position at the Tullman Family Office while maintaining a Reserve role in national security. Her shift to the private sector marked a significant pivot from an international focus to domestic issues, driven by her observation of critical challenges within the U.S., such as economic inequities and urban violence.

A pivotal project under Cayley’s leadership is the “Let Music Fill My World” initiative. This program originated from a series of after-school workshops where Cayley, alongside Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, and a group of students from Chicago’s Farragut Career Academy, composed an original song. The initiative not only provided a creative outlet but also highlighted the role of music in addressing social issues, such as mental health challenges among youth. This project led to the funding of a full-time music educator at Farragut, as well as the creation of the “Music Matters Challenge,” a national effort aimed at raising awareness and allocating additional resources for music education in underserved schools across the country.

Tullman Community Ventures (TCV), the operational philanthropic arm of the Tullman Family Office, plays a crucial role in this effort. TCV targets investments in philanthropic causes and community efforts that promote personal growth and economic mobility, striving to create a more equitable society. Cayley’s approach often involves “kaleidoscope thinking” and consensus building, methods she refined during her government service to reimagine existing resources for greater impact.

Cayley’s work is characterized by a blend of public service dedication and a strategic approach to philanthropy, leveraging her extensive network to enhance the social impact of her initiatives. Reflecting on her career so far and the nonprofit initiatives she has spearheaded, Cayley emphasizes the transformative power of music and the arts in societal resilience and personal development. Her story is a testament to the impact of multidisciplinary approaches in tackling complex social challenges, bridging gaps between government, private sectors, and communities to foster a more connected, harmonious and prosperous society.

Yitzi: Cayley, it’s an honor and a delight to meet you. Before we dive in deep, our readers would love to learn about your personal origin story. Can you share the story of your childhood and how you grew up?

I grew up north of the city of Chicago as a middle child with two brothers. I was an athlete through college, and also gravitated towards music. Through sports and the arts, I learned I loved a challenge and valued connecting with other people to find ways forward. As an adult, I joined the federal government and was honored to serve our country for about a decade. I was raised to respect and appreciate our law enforcement and military, and feel really strongly about the value of public service. Broadly speaking, if we expect our country to continue to thrive and lead the free world, we need to prioritize finding ways to access and develop everyone’s talents and skills.

Yitzi: You probably have a lot of amazing stories and memories. Can you share with our readers one or two of your favorite stories that personify the work you’re doing?

Cayley: In my current role, I am fortunate to operate our family’s nonprofit work, which encompasses philanthropy, political advocacy, business investments with a social impact lens, and Community Ventures. I am particularly excited about our Community Ventures, which is where we work in partnership with community-based organizations to help build and scale solutions to tough, local problems within a certain timeframe. My approach often involves what some call “kaleidoscope thinking,” as well as consensus building. From my previous government experience, I’ve learned that sometimes all of the pieces necessary to meaningfully improve or solve a problem are present; they just aren’t assembled correctly or connected to one another at all. This kind of thinking helps me reimagine the resources we currently have to achieve more efficient, exponential change rather than just incremental progress.

In my previous role, I focused on keeping our country safe and strong from abroad. However, when I returned to the U.S. a few years ago, I saw the need for significant work right here at home to do the same, prompting a total shift in my focus — from the outside in, to the inside out.

One such “inside out” issue is the lack of connection among Americans, especially young people, which contributes to what many now describe as an international epidemic of mental illness. This realization led to our establishment of the “Let Music Fill My World” effort and the “Music Matters Challenge” — now ongoing (until May 31st!). This initiative promotes the power of music as a tool to break down social barriers and help young people combat rising levels of anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Despite this challenge and others, I remain optimistic in our future, believing that if we are realistic about our problems and collaborate on solutions, we can build more resilience within our communities and society at large.

Yitzi: Do you want to share more about your background in government?

Cayley: The piece that may be most interesting to readers is what led me to government service. Like many others in my generation, September 11th was a pivotal movement. That day changed how I saw the world around me. Even at a young age, I felt a strong urge to do something — to take action. This attack on our soil and the scale of human loss, made me question whether our leaders could be doing more to keep us safe. In fact, on that day, my father was supposed to be in New York for a meeting in one of the Twin Towers. Unbeknownst to me, he postponed the trip because of a volleyball game I had later that day. I initially thought my dad might be one of the fallen. It was terrifying, and it made me think that helping to prevent such events could be my calling. I was always curious, loved languages, and wondered if this could be my avenue to make a difference.

I spent most of my career focused on Iran and the Middle East. It was fulfilling, and I had incredible experiences, but it also meant a lot of time away from family and loved ones. When I returned home and started to gain more insight into the economic disparities, gun and gang violence, and homelessness in cities like Chicago, I realized the immense challenges we face domestically. It felt strange to have been so focused internationally and not as engaged with the problems at home.

Leaving an extremely fulfilling and frankly, all-encompassing government career, I feared I wouldn’t find the same mission-driven passion elsewhere. But it was surprisingly easy to transition because, unfortunately, there’s still so much to do here at home. And fortunately, there are many passionate people dedicated to improving the world. Due to the connected structure of our family office, I’m able to span many topics and fields in a single day, which offers many natural connections that enrich my daily life. One day I am connecting with a Member of Congress, the next, I am convincing will.i.am to make a video to support the Music Matters Challenge, and later that day, I’m learning about the extent of diaper insecurity and how this impacts America’s most vulnerable populations. Each of these avenues are fulfilling in their own right, but when combined, they create a profoundly satisfying blend of contributions to society.

Yitzi: You’re a very accomplished leader. Can you identify three personality traits that have led to your success?

Cayley: The first trait that comes to mind, which my dad humorously calls “turbulently active,” is my natural energy and persistence. This energy drives me to constantly be on the move and remain focused on achieving goals. It’s about having that drive to keep going and channeling that energy productively.

Another key trait is self-awareness. It’s crucial to be mindful of how you interact with others and how those interactions are perceived. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can or need to change to please others, but being aware of your presence and engagement is important. Even small exchanges can significantly impact those around you, for better or worse.

The third trait is toughness. My family sometimes describes me as a ‘sabra’ — a term describing someone who is tough on the outside but sweet on the inside. To me, being tough means not getting easily discouraged. It involves learning from setbacks and letting them roll off your back without losing your core self. It’s about resilience. Despite my sometimes tough exterior, I have a deep love for my family and close friends. I’m fiercely devoted to the people I care about, and this blend of toughness and tenderness has been vital to my success.

Yitzi: Please tell us a bit more detail about your initiative Let Music Fill My World. How exactly do you help to address the loneliness epidemic with music?

Cayley: One of the things that I think is so special about music is that everyone has a music story. You don’t have to be a musician, speak the same language, or even have a good voice. Everyone recalls a memory triggered by a song or a concert that felt powerful — and personal — to them. Music isn’t a cure-all to social ails, but research shows exposure to music can significantly reduce anxiety and foster teamwork, collaboration, and resilience amongst young people — it’s the idea of anti-fragility. How can we help young people withstand life’s challenges and succeed?

This project started with a small initiative in Chicago. Our family provided a large grant to Donors Choose for equity-focused schools to support music and arts. Rather than simply granting the funds, we involved our network to help choose the projects, encouraging everyone to learn about and engage with the needs in Chicago schools. Many were surprised to learn the number of classrooms that lacked basic resources like colored pencils or musical instruments.

My friend John Ondrasik from Five for Fighting joined in, and suggested to me we could do more. So, we partnered with the Chicago Public School system and students from Farragut Career Academy — none of whom were experienced musicians — to write a song. This song, “Let Music Fill My World,” came out beautifully catchy. Following this, we funded a full-time music teacher at the school for three years, ensuring Farragut had enough time to demonstrate the program’s value in order to secure ongoing funding.

After seeing the success at Farragut Career Academy, John suggested we take the project national to highlight the importance of music education across the country. We both feel strongly that music should not be considered extracurricular. This is how our project evolved into a national campaign to raise awareness and support for music education across the country.

Yitzi: Do you have a story about an individual who was changed or impacted by this?

Cayley: Absolutely, I can share two stories about music really quickly. The first one impacted me personally, and the second one is about how the Let Music Fill My World project impacted a young student. I’ve talked about my Uncle Stan in a video on our website. Stan was one of my mom’s brothers. I remember him as an amazing guitar player who was very kind, gentle, and inclusive. He always wanted to teach you something and make you feel like you belonged. I vividly remember sitting on the floor in my grandparents’ house while Uncle Stan played guitar on the couch. I learned later that Stan struggled with addiction and mental health challenges, but I never saw this side of him when he played music. Tragically, my Uncle Stan died by suicide when I was young. But these moments showed me how profound an impact music can have, and I want every young person who feels alone or is struggling for any reason to have the opportunity to express themselves through music.

The second story involves a student from Farragut Career Academy in Chicago. He shared that before we started the Let Music Fill My World project, he felt his voice didn’t matter and described himself as quite reserved, mostly keeping to himself. This project, in just six weeks, boosted his confidence to share his thoughts and connect with classmates he wasn’t close to before. It even inspired him to pursue a future in music. There are so many opportunities in the music industry beyond being a musician. After participating in our project, this young man, who is 17/18 years old, felt empowered. He learned more about music — how to write lyrics, record a song in a studio, and even create a music video, which completely changed his life.

That is why we’re committed to continuing the Music Matters Challenge every year. Each year, we will select a new school to provide a full-time music educator where there is not one, and we hope to join with others to expand the effort so that music education becomes a staple in every school. We’re inspired not just to continue this work but to spark broader change through initiatives like this.

Yitzi: So, looking ahead, whether five years or ten years, what would you like to see? How would you define success for the organization?

Cayley: When I first started in this space, someone gave me simple, but great, advice: the best nonprofit organizations have “shut down metrics.” Take, for example, our workforce development catalyst on the West Side of Chicago called JumpHire. Our mission is to eliminate barriers to employment for individuals without four-year degrees. It’s a unique approach where we partner directly with employers, and we’re seeing remarkable success. Our shutdown metrics are streamlining the pathways for talented individuals to access great careers in Chicago, not just dead end jobs.

In another instance, consider the Let Music Fill My World initiative and our Music Matters Challenge. Success looks like placing a music educator in every school in America. It’s unacceptable that four million American students lack access to music education. Music is a vital area where young people can explore their creativity, learn to collaborate, and confront adversity.

Yitzi: What would be your benchmark of success in terms of its mental health impact? How do you hope schools or our youth would be different in five or ten years with a music educator in every school?

Cayley: That’s the exact right question. I’m currently reading “The Anxious Generation” by Jonathan Haidt, and it’s both fascinating and terrifying. He discusses the need to shift from defend mode to discover mode. Look at our politics or what’s happening on college campuses — many people are in fight mode, not the curious mode we need for a harmonious, safe, and productive society where ideas can be challenged respectfully.

Music, I believe, is one of many tools that can help people transcend barriers they’ve erected between one another. Whether it’s differences in gender, religion, or any other identity, music offers a universal connection that can begin to break down these barriers. It’s not the sole solution, but there’s substantial research showing its importance for young people’s sense of belonging, collaboration, academic, and cognitive performance. It would be a disservice not to make music education widely available to young people in America, and in five or ten years, I hope music is more broadly recognized as an essential avenue to support the mental health of our developing youth.

Yitzi: It’s amazing that you’ve identified music as almost like a panacea for one of the most existential problems of our day. Just breaking it down a little bit, why do you think it is music, more than anything else like sports or writing? Why is music so powerful that it can heal us?

Cayley: Well, to clarify, I definitely don’t think music is a panacea, but I do see it as a crucial part of our toolkit. You might be familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” He has this quote about how the world may seem immovable, but with the slightest push in just the right place, it can be tipped. That’s how I view music — it’s one of those things that can serve as a tipping point. Sports can be a tipping point too; as it was for me. But not everyone is an athlete. If a school has a great athletic program, that’s wonderful, and it should not be replaced. However, it’s not a competition between music and sports.

Depending on where young people are in their lives, something physical like sports may not be accessible to them. Therefore, we need multiple avenues for youth to develop essential social skills. Music and the arts are definitely among those pathways. I believe they hold the power to tip things for the better, offering unique benefits that can complement other activities.

Yitzi: You probably have a very unique perspective from your work in government and then in philanthropy. There’s often a question of which levers are more powerful to impact change? Is it the private sector or the public sector? Your thoughts about that?

Cayley: I love that question. In Chicago, we’re working on an initiative that uses data to help employers understand the economic impact of tapping into overlooked talent within their city. The idea is to combine the power of data with existing training organizations to de-risk this process for employers. It’s a win-win situation where employers fill hiring gaps and under or unemployed workers can secure great careers. This initiative shows how philanthropy and business can experiment and demonstrate proof of concept to instigate sustainable change.

The government typically isn’t the first one to take on huge new risks. However, if it sees successful models backed by prominent employers and business leaders, I believe government will be more likely to adopt new strategies. We should not expect the government to initiate innovative approaches, but rather, we should use private sector experiments as a catalyst for change. The key is timing. If we can de-risk ideas, prove their effectiveness, and lead the experimentation, the government will have the opportunity to recognize these successes and consider broader implementation.

This is why I believe it’s not about choosing between public or private sectors; both are needed, but we must coordinate better with one another. My role in philanthropy often involves thinking about where government fits into our projects and preparing initiatives so they’re ready to scale once they prove successful. This coordinated approach is what excites me the most, offering a pathway to potentially exponential growth across cities or even the country.

Yitzi: It reminds me of business, where investors want you to make a minimum viable product (MVP), and then they’ll invest. So in a certain way, the private sector is making the MVP, and then the government will invest in it.

Cayley: Exactly, and that approach is crucial in areas like healthcare, which is a significant focus for us. About 60% of our overall philanthropic budget goes towards healthcare initiatives, both domestically and a few internationally. An extremely meaningful focus for our family, and many other Americans, is finding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Where there has been remarkable progress in research moving closer to a cure, we also know the skyrocketing cost of insulin, which hasn’t seen innovation since its discovery in the 1920s, is bankrupting Americans.

A prime example of how private initiative can lead to public action is Civica, an organization we support. They committed to reproducing the top three most commonly used insulins in the U.S. at cost. This decision created a snowball effect, prompting companies like Eli Lilly to reduce their insulin prices.

Following and alongside these market changes, we saw the federal government stepping in to cap the cost of insulin. This sequence of events showcases how philanthropy-funded initiatives like Civica can instigate market changes, which then lead to and support governmental policies. It’s a powerful model of how private efforts can pave the way for public investment and broader societal benefits.

Yitzi: That’s an amazing case study. So, that was a result of your investments?

Cayley: Yes, we were significant investors in Civica, although not the only ones. Sometimes, to move the needle, you almost have to force it. The situation was dire for so many Americans who had to choose between life-saving medicine and putting food on the table. It’s a harsh reality in America, but it’s true. This example because it shows that everyone has a role to play, whether it’s now or later. The government, the market, everyone needs to sequence their actions effectively.

Yitzi: Was that your intention? Like, did you, like a sniper, aim to tip the scales with your investment, or was it more of a fortunate outcome?

Cayley: Well, you’d have to ask Civica, the real masterminds behind this, but as a funder, our hope was that our support would signal a relentless commitment to addressing this cost of insulin. We aimed to be a part of sparking change in the industry, creating conditions where movement was inevitable — but in a natural way, consistent with how capitalism functions. We helped create those conditions for a very positive reason. The only ones negatively impacted by this development were the companies profiting from American suffering, and frankly, I don’t have much concern there. This is where philanthropy can step in and make a difference in ways that the government might be slower to do. Governments have their own responsibilities, and we can’t solely rely on them to effect change in our communities.

Yitzi: Beautiful. This is our signature question that we ask in all our interviews. Focusing specifically on the loneliness crisis, based on your research, experience, and work, can you share five things each of us can do to help alleviate this crisis?

Cayley: Absolutely.

  1. One thing I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately is authenticity. Creating conditions where we can all be our authentic selves can significantly improve our well-being. There’s a challenge posed by today’s social media and phone-based culture, which Jonathan Haidt discusses in his newest book. So, authenticity is crucial, and it’s something we must do our best to role model as adults and especially as parents.
  2. Another key aspect is gratitude. While it might sound a bit grim, thinking that things could always be worse helps maintain a “glass half full” perspective. This mindset of gratitude, regardless of circumstances, teaches us to appreciate what we have and recognize the opportunities around us.
  3. Then there’s national service or public service. It can take many forms — whether you’re a teacher, volunteer, or even participating in small acts within your community. Showing up and giving your time can have a profound impact. It’s not about having ample financial resources; it’s about the willingness to dedicate time and engage genuinely.
  4. Being present is another critical factor. In today’s world, distractions are everywhere. Just the other night, as we were putting our daughter to bed and about to read her a book, I caught myself on my phone. I realized that nothing was more important than that moment with her. So, being fully present in whatever you do is vital.
  5. Lastly, cultivating a sense of awe can dramatically alter our perspective. Experiencing awe, whether through nature, art, or personal interactions, can make us feel connected and less isolated. It pushes us to challenge our views and appreciate the magic in everyday life. Creating moments of awe isn’t always easy, but it’s often about opening ourselves up to the beauty around us.

Yitzi: Non-sequitur alert! (Laughs) Have you given any thought to the rising anti-Semitism in the world and in the United States?

Cayley: How much time do we have?! Yes, definitely. We’ve directed a part of our philanthropic work towards what we’ve traditionally called national security and pro-democracy efforts. Initially, this was focused on things like supporting veterans with mental health resources and exploring the benefits of ranked-choice voting and open primaries. Then, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the horrific Hamas terrorist attack on October 7th shifted our priorities significantly. On the latter issue for example, we allocated a much larger portion of our funds to ensure the safety of Jewish students on campuses, people in Jewish facilities across the United States, and support for Israeli soldiers, including boots and post-service care for those physically or mentally injured. We realized we needed to do more.

Relatedly, on the political side, we have been closely watching who is showing up in support of our ally Israel. For example, we recently reevaluated longtime support of a Member of Congress who voted against the foreign aid to Israel. Post-October 7th, we also engaged with every nonprofit we support that did not issue a public statement condemning the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel to understand why. This was revealing, as it highlighted a concerning disparity in public responses when different groups are at risk.

This whole situation has forced us to reconsider our values and pose tough questions. We believe it’s entirely possible to condemn a terrorist attack while disagreeing with a country’s leadership approach, all while still advocating for the protection of human life. Some organizations lacked the courage to express such a nuanced stance, which while disappointing, was a critical learning moment for us as funders.

We have witnessed some strong responses on college campuses cracking down on antisemitism, which, while likely challenging for university leaders, demonstrates the importance of not allowing chaos to prevail. While every American has the right to peaceful protest, no student should feel unsafe on campus. The upcoming Presidential election certainly adds another layer of complexity, but regardless of politics, our university leadership must always strive to protect democracy as well as the protection of vulnerable groups.

Yitzi: Because of the platform that you’ve built and your amazing work, you’re a person of enormous influence. If you could spread an idea or inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be right now?

Cayley: I don’t know about the whole “enormous influence” party … but I would say, “disagree better.” If we could all learn to disagree better and recognize that we have so much more in common with one another than we have differences, I think we would make a lot more progress on any issue, no matter how challenging the topic. Take immigration or abortion, for example. Even if we don’t agree at the end of the discussion on the core fundamentals — you’re here, I’m here, and neither of us is going to completely shift our stance — there’s still so much space in between. We’re currently disagreeing so poorly that this middle space has become totally inaccessible. We see this loudly in politics, but it’s true in society at large, and even in personal interactions. So, what I wish for everyone, and what I think is very achievable — though not always easy — is that we can disagree better.

Yitzi: Beautiful answer. Thank you. How can our readers continue to follow your work? How can our readers continue to support your work in any way?

Cayley: Thank you. Personally, I don’t use social media. However, you can find out about our nonprofit efforts at TullmanCommunityVentures.org. This site details all our philanthropic activities. I also encourage everyone to visit LetMusicFillMyWorld.com to learn about the Music Matters Challenge, which concludes on May 31st. It’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone to share their music story. The challenge will not only award cash prizes to individuals and grants to schools but ensure a school without a music program has the funding to start one. We need everyone’s help, so check it out and share your music story!

Yitzi: Cayley, it’s such a delight and honor to meet you. I wish you continued success.

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator