By any measure, the Batten family ranks among the most impactful philanthropists of our time, playing a major role in enhancing the educational and cultural resources of Virginia.
Known for their influence and generosity, Jane (mother) and Dorothy (daughter) are presented with countless opportunities to support worthy causes. And yet, “No family has done more to accelerate the widespread adoption of focused ultrasound than the Battens,” said Neal F. Kassell, MD, the founder and chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. “They wholeheartedly share in our mission to improve the lives of millions of people with this revolutionary technology, and we have been incredibly fortunate to benefit from their devotion and philanthropy.”
The Foundation recently sat down with Jane and Dorothy to learn more about their motivation for giving and why they each believe so strongly in the potential of focused ultrasound.
Over four decades, Jane Batten has forged a reputation as an influential and discerning philanthropist. She is widely regarded as an enlightened and hard-working leader of educational, civic, and environmental organizations in the Commonwealth.
The family’s tradition of community service started with legendary Landmark Communications founder and philanthropist Frank Batten, Sr. “My husband Frank always said that if you take money out of a community, you need to put it back into the community,” said Jane. “And I could not agree more. You see, I was married to him at an early age (19), and he controlled the city’s newspaper. When you are the wife of the publisher, you are expected to be involved in the community. So when he asked me to join him in giving back, that suited me just fine.” And so Jane’s career as a philanthropist was launched, and she has never looked back.
Frank Batten Sr.’s commitment to human progress was rooted in his unfailing belief in the value of education. Support for higher education has remained one of Jane’s priorities, benefitting multiple universities throughout Virginia, including William & Mary, Hollins University, Old Dominion, Virginia Wesleyan, and the University of Virginia (UVA). Nothing delights her more than getting to know students who she finds “endlessly interesting.”
Over time, Jane has selectively expanded the scope of the family’s charitable work. “Frank’s philanthropic focus was fairly narrow; mostly supporting education. When he died in 2009, I inherited a huge job – and I must say that I have grown to love it. I’ve made changes and given to things he never would have considered,” she says.
Jane is passionate about supporting early childhood development, for example. “If you want to change the world, you need to reach kids from birth to age five,” she says. Several years ago, when she recognized that children in her community were “behind the curve” in kindergarten readiness, she co-founded E3: Elevate Early Education – a statewide initiative to raise awareness and advocate for strategic and data-driven investments in early education – and began campaigning for high quality universal preschool. In 2015, she also built Norfolk’s New E3 School, a state-of-the-art school for children (ages 1-5) to help prove the E3 concepts.
Other interests include climate change and access to public libraries. She has served as vice chair of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and on the boards for the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, the Slover Library Foundation, the First Tee of Hampton Roads, the George Washington Foundation, and Virginia Wesleyan University; she is also a lifetime trustee of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.
Jane’s service brings her great pleasure. “It may surprise you to know that I’ve spent as much time raising money as giving it away. One mentor said to me: ‘Never go into someone’s office to ask for money with your tail between your legs. You’re offering them an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference.’ That’s been good advice.”
The younger Batten is equally dedicated to the family’s tradition of service and philanthropy. A graduate of Hollins with an MBA from UVA’s Darden School and an MS in Counseling and Positive Psychology, Dorothy Batten’s life today is centered in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is a mother, designer, conservationist, and farm winery owner. Her entrepreneurial ventures include founding a nonprofit organization to benefit teens and steering her eponymous D.N. Batten Foundation.
Through her Foundation, Dorothy is involved in climate change and conservation of large animal species, innovation in healthcare, and youth development. Conservation is a passion she shares with Jane; both women speak of their childhoods spent amidst the natural beauty of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In recent years, Dorothy’s work on conservation and climate change has taken her further afield, to the likes of New Zealand and Africa and the Andes – with a mission of funding “organizations that produce a healthier planet.”
She explains, “While my father focused on education to uplift human lives, I work to advance human thriving through the healthcare, social, and emotional realms. Time has only increased my love for wild spaces, for creatures great and small. That’s why I focus on the collective wellbeing, helping all species and their habitats become resilient and sustainable.”
Inspired by her father, Dorothy also founded iThrive Games, a non-profit organization that collaborates with game developers, mental health experts, and educators to infuse meaningful, game-based opportunities informed by positive psychology, social, and emotional learning into the virtual and physical settings where teens spend time. “My father pursued a life filled with purpose; the risks that he took to forge new, meaningful paths motivated me to start iThrive Games,” said Dorothy.
Dorothy serves on a number of nonprofit boards, including Rare (the leading behavior change organization in conservation) and the UVA Alumni Board of Trustees. She has served on the board of trustees of the Norfolk Academy, the Peabody School, the Amazon Conservation Association, and the Paramount Theater. She has also served UVA on its Alumni Association Board of Managers, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Board of Directors and National Advisory Board, the Fralin Museum of Art Advisory Board, the Virginia Film Festival Council of Friends, and as co-chair of the Virginia Arts Council.
Impacting Lives with Focused Ultrasound
One of the Batten family’s greatest passions has become focused ultrasound, and the potential to help people with serious medical disorders and diseases via the noninvasive treatment. They have been involved with the Focused Ultrasound Foundation since its inception in 2006, with Dorothy serving as one of the first Board members (a position she held for 14 years) and Jane eventually serving as co-chair of the Council – the Foundation’s group of goodwill ambassadors who provide advice and assist with raising funds and awareness. While the Battens had not previously been donors in the healthcare space, it was Dorothy’s conviction about the potential of focused ultrasound that ignited her parents’ interest so many years ago: “I’ve always found it to be true that people give to people,” said Jane. “When Dorothy came to us about focused ultrasound, she was so enthusiastic, so into it; we knew we had to get involved.”
The Battens understand the potential impact of focused ultrasound as a revolution in therapy and in health and wellness. “I like to help seed new ideas. The technology fascinates me – it seems that every week there is a positive new clinical trial result,” Jane says. Focused ultrasound also fits within their philanthropic construct: Dorothy appreciates the technology as a holistic, noninvasive alternative to surgery, which minimizes risk of infection, or damage to surrounding tissue; she is particularly interested in focused ultrasound’s potential to stimulate the immune system to fight disease and to temporarily open the blood brain barrier.
Adds Dorothy, “I thought focused ultrasound was a good bet. It drew on two existing technologies (MR and ultrasound). While not a cure for a terminal illness, it could improve the quality of life. I was certain that focused ultrasound was going to provide a vastly better protocol for patients. And Neal is such a force – brilliant and determined. I thought if anybody can get this accomplished, he could.”
Looking back, Dorothy and Jane cite several factors that have contributed to the Foundation’s ability to develop the field. They believe that it succeeded faster by collaborating, not competing, with other stakeholders. “The Foundation has catalyzed a whole industry, in a very short period of time, by bringing together a wide array of stakeholders. In 2006, there were only three or four disease indications – now there are more than 130! There were only two manufacturers involved then – now there are 50,” said Dorothy.
Dorothy and Jane also appreciate the organization’s innovative culture: “I look for entrepreneurial, early–stage organizations with a lean start-up mentality. The Foundation fits that model,” says Dorothy. Jane observes, “I like the fact that when we achieve the goal (widespread adoption as a mainstream therapy), we will hand it off, turn off the lights, and lock the door.”
The Batten’s contributions to the Foundation go beyond financial support. As Council co-chair, Jane has hosted four events in the Tidewater area to recruit new donors and spread the word. She also likes to challenge others to match her giving – she established the Foundation’s largest matching gift to date, a challenge that was met in two years. And as a board member, Dorothy has cultivated important relationships for the Foundation with UVA’s Darden Graduate School of Business and Batten School of Public Policy.
Says Neal – who shares a birthday with Jane as well as a close friendship – “Both Dorothy and Jane grasped the technology’s potential from the very beginning, and their enthusiasm has been infectious. They set the standard of serious and experienced philanthropists. They also understand the urgent timetable and convey to donors the profound opportunity they have to benefit countless lives thorough their support. Our job is to repay their confidence by delivering results.”
Dorothy and Jane Batten’s stamp of approval has been essential to propelling the vision of improving the lives of millions of people with serious medical disorders. Jane says, “My instincts are always to give anonymously. But if I am persuaded that it will help the cause, I will lend my name.”
Foundation board member John Grisham agrees: “In Virginia, the Batten name on a project is the ultimate validation.”